The Supreme Court has just issued its ruling on marriage equality, upholding the right of same-sex couples to marry in any state in the United States. Even as this becomes the law of the land, religious conservatives are trying to find ways to thwart same-sex marriages in their own state. This seems like a good time to reprise my essay from April 2013, when Rhode Island, where I then lived, was still debating the issue.
Conservative voices insist that marriage can only be between a man and a woman because the Church (or the Bible) says so. It seems to me that they’re confusing the sacrament of marriage with the sanctity of marriage. A religious institution has the right to reserve its sacrament for heterosexual couples, but not every marriage takes place in a church or a temple.
My husband and I were married by a judge in a non-denominational chapel at Brown University. The Hinduism and Catholicism of our youth didn’t interfere with our ability to become husband and wife in Rhode Island. The judge didn’t confer a sacrament upon us, but he officially affirmed the sanctity of our love.
It’s unlikely the conservatives who are arguing against same-sex marriage would claim that our marriage isn’t legitimate. The Catholic Church might feel that way and probably wouldn’t have ministered their sacrament to us. But overall, even the holiest rollers would agree that we are husband and wife.
Many of those who are against same-sex marriage claim that civil unions should be good enough for these couples. They decry efforts to “redefine” the term “marriage.” Actually, forcing gay couples to have unions instead of marriages will ultimately muddy the terminology far more than recognizing their right to be married will. Reserving “marriage” for the exclusive use of heterosexual couples will only serve to take the concept of love out of the relationship.
What should same-sex couples call their mates in a civil union? “Unionites”? That sounds so political, so Norma Rae. “Partners” isn’t much better; it sounds like a business arrangement. Like the very concept of a civil union—and in stark contrast to the concept of marriage, both terms fail to convey the emotion that’s the basis for the relationship.
If we acknowledge that all these relationships are based on love, then the singular fact that distinguishes a committed couple labeled one way from a couple labeled another seems to be either anatomy or perhaps religion.
But we’ve already covered the fact that a man and a woman can marry without religious involvement. So, it gets down to anatomy. Which means the conservative definition of “marriage” no longer has anything to do with love, or even anything spiritual; it’s just about body parts. It’s not logical to claim that this protects the concept.
I think conservatives who are against same-sex marriage are mistaking Velcro for love. It’s really quite easy to straighten out this misperception. Velcro is the stuff where one side needs to have hooks and the other needs loops if it’s going to work. Love has no such hooks-and-loops requirement.
Lasting love is a matter of the heart, not the anatomy. The more the heart is at the center of love and the less the hooks and loops are, the more likely the connection will survive the stresses of today’s life. And the more love is allowed to be at the center of marriage, instead of Velcro, the stronger the concept of marriage will be.
As Justice Kennedy’s words made clear in the Supreme Court ruling, it’s also about dignity. When people recognize this, #LoveWins.