“To have and to hold from this day forward, for better, for worse, for richer, for poorer, in sickness and in health, to love and to cherish, till death us do part, according to God’s holy law, and this is my solemn vow.”
I have been thinking a lot of the wedding vows since an anti-gay marriage amendment will go on the ballot in Minnesota in 2012. Since as long as I can remember, in my 30 years as an out gay man, we have always talked about keeping the government “out of the bedroom.” We consistently try to win people over by exclaiming our right to privacy, but in the end gay marriage is not about sex in the bedroom (it is legal in all 50 states), nor is it about privacy (we can hide our other halves if we really need to). Instead, it is about the right to be public about who we have chosen to live with and love – until death do us part.
The traditional wedding vow is one of many contradictions, but I believe its most important message (and the reason why we need gay marriage) relates to life’s harsh realities. It is when things are better that relationships are easy. It is when things are worse that we need a strong bond to make it through. And although it is possible to make it through tough times without being legally married, I believe it is the legal bond of government or church/synagogue that may help protect our promise.
When you are rich, you can afford the legal help that you need to protect your relationship, as much as possible. Mark and I can afford the necessary attorneys to attempt to protect each other from losing our joint assets in case of our deaths, and in case our families decided they wanted the money. (This is fortunately not the case because we are very lucky to have the incredible families that we do.) It is in fact the poor, those who cannot afford the necessary legal costs, who need marriage to protect and respect their wishes.
I suppose that when we are healthy, we really don’t need to be legally married. It is in fact in sickness that hospitals, and the people who work there, can deny us the right to not only make the important medical decisions we have entrusted in each other – but to receive any news of what is happening to our loved ones behind hospital doors. Here is just one tragic example of what happened to a real, loving family: http://www.lambdalegal.org/in-court/cases/langbehn-v-jackson-memorial
And in the end, it is when love has lasted “until death do us part,” that gay and lesbian people can suffer most. There will be a day when either Mark or I will need all of the legal protection that only marriage can give. Without marriage, there will be extra taxes to pay, and less social security to receive. Again, this may be the time when a family member of the deceased decides that our lifetime together is meaningless and attempt to challenge our wills in court. It is at that time that we need protection the most, that, without legal marriage, we will be the most vulnerable.
There is no question we will see legal gay marriage throughout this country, but for better or for worse, I would rather see it before death does make me part.