The Queer Issue
As a patriot, I believe gay marriage should be legalized--the pursuit of happiness and all that--just as I believe that all states should give gays and lesbians a fair shake with regard to adopting children, and that gays and lesbians should be allowed to serve openly in the armed forces of the United States. As a straight, single, childless, peace-loving woman in her 30s, I will also point out that marriage, child-rearing, and military service are not so much dreams to me as outright nightmares. I feel the same way about marriage, parenthood, and joining the Marines as I do about modern dance or voting Republican--people should be allowed to do those things, but why would they want to? I find it fascinating and heartbreaking that gays and lesbians must wage these ongoing legal battles to win the basic right to engage in activities (such as getting engaged) that I would cross international borders barefoot to avoid.
Saying you don't want to get married, especially if you're female, is vaguely taboo. It alarms people. (Hi, Mom.) It seems cold. Seems mean. I've never been married, but I once lived with someone for four years, and, especially toward the end, it was the meanest, coldest, most alarming period of my life. The more I rack up replenishing solitude, the nicer I become to others. I now have a reserve of sweetness that used to be taken up with resentment--resentment of the guy's mother who wouldn't speak to me, resentment of using my precious vacation time to visit the mother who wouldn't speak to me, resentment of the guy's stereo cords, his eating habits, his freakish obsession with English rockers XTC, and all-around resentment of the 24-hour surveillance of always having someone else around. (A lot of crappy romantic movies have a line of dialogue after the lovers get together along the lines of "...and I'll never be alone again." And I always shiver and think, "That's true! No more quiet time for you! From now on, it's all XTC, all the time!")
With the lone exception of George Clooney, no one in America ever comes out and says that not everyone wants to get married. The social compact, as expressed in political platforms, revolves around marriage and family life. The acceptance speeches at both of last summer's presidential-nominating conventions were addressed to only two demographic groups: "working families" and "families who work." That's fine, working families need the lion's share of social programs--the housing, the schools, the health care, the roads to get from the housing to the schools and the health care. But what about a shout-out to those of us single professionals who shell out gazillions of dollars in taxes to educate and care for all the working families' progeny? They don't need to name schools after us, but would a thank-you note once in a while kill them?
I always loved the name of the tax on wedded bliss, "the marriage penalty." Of course they should abolish that tax. People who have to spend holidays with in-laws, get dragged to another person's office parties, and pretend to like another person's cooking (even if he thinks the "clove" of garlic the recipe calls for is the entire bulb) should be made to suffer no further penalties. That, to me, is another point in favor of gay marriage. Gay couples are suffering through the same hostile claustrophobia as the straight ones, so why deny them the few true payoffs? I know one gay couple who own, I mean adopted, a child, and after I spewed my marriage manifesto, one of them told me, "Right now, gays and lesbians have all the soul-crushing aspects of living together--the 24-hour surveillance, your partner's annoying habits, in-laws--without any of the perks of marriage." He said that he and his partner "pay out the nose for house and health insurance because we're 'not related.'"
Becoming related--that's exactly what marriage is, turning a friend into a family member. Personally, I have all the family I need, but who am I, and who are the state legislatures of the nation, to decide that question for everyone else? The question of whether or not gays and lesbians should be able to get married is a no-brainer. After we take care of that, we can move on to the real question: Are you sure you even want to live together?
Sarah Vowell is the author of Take the Cannoli. She is a heterosexual.