First, I join in the general jubilation that same-sex marriage is now legal in all 50 states. It’s a great step forward for same-sex couples who want to marry. But not all do. Come to think of it, not all opposite-sex couples want to marry. Civil-rights landmark that it undeniably is, the same-sex marriage victory has left some of us behind.
Consider writer Brian Moylan, who wryly observes in a Time.com blog post that with same-sex marriage now legal nationwide, he’s already getting tired of friends and family members asking when he and his male partner are gtoing to tie the knot. “I’m going to have to start fielding this question all the time and, well, it’s a little bit annoying,” Moylan writes. Long critical of the institution of matrimony, he has no interest in hopping on the nuptial bandwagon. “If the two people in the partnership decide how it should run, isn’t that enough? And why is the government even bothering with organizing us into pairs? Let’s just abolish the federally recognized institution altogether and let churches bless unions and have every individual file her own taxes.”
Hear, hear. As longtime readers know, I’ve long been opposed to traditional matrimony, with its heritage of a father transferring property rights in his daughter to the groom and its weird entanglement of church law with civil law. I’m crazy about my wife, but I was crazy about her during decades of cohabitation; when we finally married, a big part of our motive was qualifying for joint health insurance. And until, oh, eight years ago or so, I was looking forward to the day when, thanks to pressure from the LGBT movement, a serious — and secular — alternative to traditional matrimony would be hammered out. You know, civil unions with real teeth: community property, unquestioned hospital visitation rights, firm entitlement to all tax and insurance benefits attached to matrimony, and so on. I couldn’t wait till real gay civil unions had been forced into being, so that Sue and I could be one of the first to demand the same privilege for straight couples. (FREE INQUIRY subscribers can sample my thinking on this issue from the Aug/Sep 2009 issue.)
Even by 2009, it was clear that my dream that the nation’s most powerful social-change movement would force the creation of an alternative to matrimony was doomed. The LGBT movement had committed itself to securing real marriage, and triumphed in doing so last Friday. As I noted in FI’s Aug/Sep 2012 issue, social conservatives should exult, because what the LGBT movement actually achieved was that it saved traditional matrimony. Straights had been losing interest in marriage for years; if the LGBT lobby had succeeded in creating robust civil unions, the rise of an alternative institution without matrimony’s considerable baggage might have doomed tired old matrimony. But no, rising activism for same-sex nuptials made matrimony sexy again.
Now that the Supreme Court has spoken, formal-wear renters, banquet facility owners, wedding planners, and DJs in all fifty states can start cashing in on the most ironic social-justice development of the last half-century. Without meaning to, LGBT activists have tugged traditional matrimony back from the grave’s edge and positioned it for the most amazing second life imaginable.
Those of us who were really eager for an alternative to matrimony — Brian Moylan, myself, and (I’m sure) a great many others– will simply have to wait for the next swing of the social pendulum.