Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Gay marriage and North Carolina

There's some good news and some bad news about North Carolina and gay marriage. The good news is that, on the question of a same-sex marriage, North Carolinians are no more in favor of a constitutional ban than the rest of the country. The bad news is that we're all bigots. An Elon University poll (the pertinent questions are on page 10) released earlier this week found that just over 50% of those polled would oppose (or strongly oppose) an amendment to the constitution to ban same-sex marriage. This is more or less in line with the national trend.

I know that the issue of gay marriage and rights bothers some of my readers. Clearly it bothers half of America. And yet this baffles me. I am still surprised - shocked even - when I hear that someone is against gay marriage, because there is no good reason for it. Some moderates try to compromise by saying that civil unions should be allowed, but not marriages. While I generally applaud compromise, I don't think I approve of this one, because it confuses the issue. For me, the issue is not the definition of marriage, but the rights that are granted to some people but not to others. The thing that makes all of this bigotry and discrimination absolutely indefensible is that once you strip away the transparently obvious religious motivation, there is no reason for any of it. There is absolutely no secular, logical or legal reason why same-sex couples cannot enjoy the same rights and recognition as heterosexual couples.

I am not gay, so the issue has little actual impact on my life. And to be honest, I'm not sure how I feel about the entire convention of marriage. Sure, I am married, (and very happily so) but I don't consider myself to be married in the eyes of any god. My marriage is about me and my wife, not about god or the government. I would be very frustrated if we were not allowed to participate in benefits that others in the same situation had access to. That is why allowing same-sex marriage is a complete no-brainer for me.

My solution is hardly unique. I say that marriage should be divided into two parts - legal and cultural. Legal marriage would be a contract between two citizens that would impose a selection of rights and responsibilities to both - tax benefits, for example, and hospital visitation rights and so on. Legal marriage would handle divorce, alimony, prenuptial agreements, child-care, and would exist simply on paper. No priest, no swearing on a Bible, no photographers - just a notary, a stamp, some witnesses and a signature. Cultural marriage would be everything else. Catholics could go to a priest, Jews could go to a Rabbi, atheists could go to their local biologist - whatever they wanted to do. The priests and Rabbis could marry whomever they pleased - or didn't please. They could refuse to marry same-sex or mixed-race couples. They could even consent to marry one man and fifteen lucky brides, but none of those would have any legal merit.

It doesn't matter anyway, because the North Carolina constitution already defines marriage as one man and one woman, so any constitutional ban would be nothing more than a vibrant 'fuck you' to the gay community. I am heartened, however, to know that at least 50% of North Carolina is open to the idea of same-sex marriage - at least, 50% opposes a reactionary and hateful ban. I'm sure that, in a generation or two, gay marriage will be legal and the citizens of the United States will look back on these times with a mixture of amusement and shame.

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