Thursday, July 09, 2015

What's Love Got to Do with Marriage Equality?

It was the first day of the UCC's General Synod when the Supreme Court's decision in Obergefell vs. Hodges was announced, the landmark case that has made it possible for LBGTQ people to marry the one they love in all 50 states. I was at home at the time, my trip to Synod delayed by an appointment to have a company come work on our house for the morning. So I followed as best I could on social media, knowing that 10:00 a.m. ET was the hour I was waiting for.

Shortly after 10 came the ruling. Finally, in my own state of Ohio as in the other states across the nation where it was not yet a reality, people have the opportunity to marry the one they love regardless of one subgroup's objection. I thought of the many committed couples I know, those who received such a license already in a state that had already allowed for it, as well as the many others yearning for such a day when their relationship could be formally recognized by civil authority, and I was overcome with emotion. I tried to keep things together since there were people working at the house, and then let loose after they left.

The closing paragraph of Justice Anthony Kennedy's opinion for the majority has been shared widely, and for good reason. He summarizes well the expression of love that underlies the yearning of so many to have their marriage recognized:
No union is more profound than marriage, for it embodies the highest ideals of love, fidelity, devotion, sacrifice, and family. In forming a marital union, two people become something greater than once they were. As some of the petitioners in these cases demonstrate, marriage embodies a love that may endure even past death. It would misunderstand these men and women to say they disrespect the idea of marriage. Their plea is that they do respect it, respect it so deeply that they seek to find its fulfillment for themselves. Their hope is not to be condemned to live in loneliness, excluded from one of civilization’s oldest institutions. They ask for equal dignity in the eyes of the law. The Constitution grants them that right. The judgment of the Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit is reversed.  
It is so ordered.
In part, Kennedy directly addresses those who have argued that marriage equality would somehow cheapen the institution as a whole. As an expression of love and commitment, LGBTQ people are just as capable of upholding it as anyone else. And many have already done so, even if they haven't been able to obtain a certificate to that effect.

This past Sunday morning, former Arkansas governor and current presidential candidate Mike Huckabee appeared on CNN to present his latest argument against marriage equality, citing our society's definition of love as one of the reasons the institution of marriage is in trouble. You can see the clip below:

Here, he seems to address Kennedy's opinion directly. People may see marriage about love, he argues, but our culture's definition of love in general has been turned into such a fairy tale that marriages of all kinds are in trouble. So to make marriage equality about love is misguided.

There are several angles to this that I want to address. The first is that I actually agree with Huckabee with his observation in a way, although I wouldn't take it as far as he does. Weddings are quite a racket nowadays, with the average cost anywhere between $8,000 and $76,000, depending on where you live and how exorbitant you really think a single day of your life needs to be. Regardless, that's a lot of money spent largely based on a cultural expectation that you make this event as fancy as you can. The sentimentality that Huckabee laments is reflected in the way the typical couple plans their nuptials.

But then again, a wedding is not a marriage. And if any member of the clergy does their job, they'll clue couples in on that long before the big day arrives.

Having said that, the second aspect of this worth addressing is Huckabee's assumption that it is only out of some naive concept of love that people have desired the right to marry for so long. A fair amount of the couples who have trekked to courthouses in states where this right was previously granted have been together for some time, be it 20, 30, or 40 years. Theirs has not been some fly-by-night spontaneous decision, but the legal recognition of a commitment that has existed for some time previously. In other words, they got over the sentimental stuff a long time ago.

In addition, before this SCOTUS ruling, many couples have not been able to receive many of the benefits of marriage including the making of important medical and end-of-life decisions, as in the story from Caleb Wilde's blog that I shared the other day. LGBTQ couples not only want to have their love celebrated, but are very much interested in building a relationship of commitment and trust that includes these sorts of decisions, not to mention family planning, insurance, and other privileges that straight couples are already able to enjoy.

This fight for marriage equality can't be reduced to sentimentality. It's been much more than that from the beginning. People haven't struggled and scraped and clawed for so long just based on a nice feeling.

Love has everything to do with marriage equality, a love deeper than fairy tales longing to build a life with another person in sickness and health, in joy and sorrow, in plenty and want. And after more than a decade of smaller victories, all finally have the right to pursue that for themselves. Thank God.