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Freedom to Marry and the Pursuit of Happiness
by Roger Winters
© 1997, Roger Winters

Marriage is the paramount adult relationship in our world. It is considered so fundamental and intimate it has primacy over citizenship. For example, in most states, you cannot be compelled to testify against your spouse. Thus, the relationship between mates is more important than the relationship of a citizen to government or society.

Hardly anyone argues that people must be married. Few today support compelled or arranged marriages. Marriage is nevertheless encouraged by every means of persuasion society has.

It is easy to enter legal marriage. Marriage has no substantial qualifications. There is no test of competence as partner or parent, no requirement that there be sex, no penalty for failing to have children, no proof that love be present. Marrying persons must be of opposite sexes, able to complete the applications, take required blood tests, competent to make a contract, and not too closely related by blood.

Criminals, prisoners, child molesters, serial batterers, the infertile, and asexual are able to get legally married. Even gay and lesbian people are allowed to marry legally … provided they marry the opposite sex.

Marriage is the ticket of admission to true adulthood. There are many responsibilities and protections of law in marriage. To be free to choose to marry gives you material access to much that is important in life, especially at life’s most difficult moments: the crisis of divorce, illness, or death.

Resistance to legal same-sex marriage is at root an effort, conscious or not, to keep lesbians and gay men a fringe, less-than-grownup class, not allowed to be full partners in adult society. One simply cannot be an adult without freedom to marry (legally). Another key example: same-sex couples do not get to choose their next of kin. Their kinship is determined solely by blood, whether relatives are supportive and loving or hostile and punitive.

That many same-sex couples are involved in long-term relationships indicates people are able to be really married, though considered legal strangers. That many churches hold ceremonies and since friends and neighbors attend these “weddings” shows same-sex “marriages” today often are socially and religiously affirmed and supported. Many same-sex couples wear traditional signs of marriage, such as rings on the wedding ring finger, and have the same surnames (by hyphen or by law).

Freedom to marry is a huge part of the pursuit of happiness. It is wrong to deprive people of this fundamental American value based solely on their sex.

Employee benefits, anti-discrimination policies, abolition of sodomy laws, and other equality issues should be easier to achieve once gay men and lesbians are acknowledged as real persons, grownups with rights, responsibilities, and real life issues. This comes when all, including same-sex couples, are free to choose whether and, if so, whom to marry.

© March 30, 1997, Roger Winters
Seattle, Washington

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