To date, same-sex couples can marry in Connecticut, Iowa, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, New York, Washington, D.C. and Vermont. Civil unions can be entered in Delaware (starting Jan. 1) and New Jersey.
As we brainstormed ideas, there was an ongoing discussion about marriage and its importance in the LGBT community. Among us, there are gays, lesbians and heterosexuals, marriage skeptics and marriage supporters, never-marrieds and marriage veterans (divorced and/or on a second marriage). And we run the gamut from traditional to nonconformist.
From our small sampling, we found that those who had been married (to opposite-sex partners) believed it conveyed family in a way that might not be immediately apparent. That by taking this step — marriage license and ceremony of whatever sort — solidified the couple’s relationship to others in ways that buying a house or starting a family together did not.
Certainly there are factions of the LGBT (and feminist) community that want nothing to do with marriage — considering it a leftover from patriarchal society that seeks to exert ownership and control (sexual and otherwise) over women by men, an institution that reeks of heterosexism by longstanding definition and practice.
But there are others who want to (re)claim the institution, to redefine it — not to say that this is “gay” — to say that this is about love and commitment. That if heterosexuals can set up homes and establish family ties — which is what marriage legally does — then sexual minorities should have that right also. That if the state is going to involve itself in personal lives to bestow rights and benefits, then it can’t arbitrarily pick and choose who is entitled to those benefits based on gender.
Regarding familial ties, members of the LGBT community have long sought to establish and define their own families, often because they were estranged from their own kith and kin.
Marriage too is still a rite of passage in American society and has long been denied gays and lesbians. Indeed, marriages are one of those life events that newspapers still publish, along with births and obituaries.
Prohibiting same-sex marriage — particularly when a state offers civil unions — establishes a “separate but equal” status, which has been out of favor for more than half a century.
Though it’s infrequently discussed, likely because of the sweeping changes that would be required, perhaps the most even-handed approach would be to separate religious marriage from state-sanctioned partnerships: establish civil unions/domestic partnerships that would give state benefits and allow churches to marry individuals, following their religious beliefs.