guest blog: why marriage matters

Juan and Darrow—aka The
live in Baltimore, Maryland and are in the process
of adopting a child through a local social services agency. Their
blog recounts their journey through the maze of both the
bureaucracy of public adoption as well as their own thoughts and
emotions as they venture into parenthood.

Today is our union day—that sounds kind of silly. Today is our
wedding day—that doesn’t sound right either. Is there a
difference and why do I care? Why is gay marriage such a big deal?
A few years ago it seemed gays and lesbians were content or at
least made do with the status quo. Then all of a sudden courts are
thrown into action, gays and lesbians are racing to get marriage
licenses, and conservatives are freaking out! “Oh my God, the
gays are getting married and hosing-up our beloved institution.
Let’s re-write the constitution so that we can protect the
sanctity of marriage.” Wow, a constitutional amendment, really?
How did we get here? No one asked me if I wanted to get married or
even get unioned? When and exactly how did all of this happen? Well
let’s step back in time for a moment.

I remember seeing a film in the early 1970s while in grade school
called Future Shock. I was sitting in the very back of the
auditorium—probably a ten-year old then. As the film moved from
the impacts of technology to societal changes it wasn’t long
before—there we were—in full black and white on the big screen:
two clean-cut, tuxedo wearing grooms holding hands before a
minister. As the narrator spoke the ceremony ended and the two men
turned in unison and holding hands, they skipped down the aisle.
The tongue-in-cheek nature of the scene was strangely ironic. There
may be a lot of things in our future: flying cars, travel to the
planets, houses that clean themselves, technology aplenty—but the
conditions that would enable society to not only accept same-sex
relationships but to sanction them on the same level as marriage
was a preposterous thought. I am sure there was giggling and real
shock—two men holding hands, how funny is that to a bunch of 6th,
7th and 8th graders? I am also sure that I did not equate those two
men, to me or anything I would ever be doing in the future.

Throughout my life marriage seemed like sort of an alien tradition,
with all of the white dresses and veils, sniffling mothers, lots of
flowers, and bad tuxes. When you strip away all of the costume and
ceremony though, at its core is the marriage license—an
indication that something official has happened. A government
entity has sanctioned the action, taken and made it something that
can be relied upon in court; can be documented for tax purposes;
can make the family tree sprout a new branch.

For gays and lesbians the commitment ceremony has become our
version of marriage or at least the tradition of it. Though to me,
it has never been very appealing since there are no rights
associated with it. Why should I participate in something with
great sentiment but legally is a shell of the real thing? And to be
honest, even though it is “our” version of the tradition of
marriage, which by definition makes it very untraditional, I have
an aversion to participating in anything that resembles their
practices. Call it sour grapes or that I have been jaded a bit by
watching the reality of this tradition as the people around me
marry, divorce and remarry. It sort of dulls the whole sanctity

We have made do with legal “fixes” that address some but not
all of the deficiencies in our version of marriage through the
power of attorney, medical directives and wills. It isn’t any
different than the compromises that many of us have had to make
throughout our lives in order to be gay in a largely homophobic
society. In a sense this is how I think of civil unions. It is a
compromise that appeases some of the border-line dissenters in the
gay-marriage debate. They can maintain the sanctity of
marriage—whatever that is—but bestow to gays and lesbians some
type of status under the law. The problem though is that implicitly
there must be a difference between a marriage and a civil union. It
is insufficient for a marriage license and a civil union permit to
only differ in name or even the application criteria (one being for
couples of the opposite sex, the other being for same-sex couples).
In order for there to be a difference they must be unequal. While
we might be granted rights to visit a partner in the hospital, we
may not receive the tax benefits of a married couple; while we
might be allowed to have community property, we may not be granted
immunity from testifying against our partner in court. Civil Unions
might provide some of the protections that we need as couples, but
not all and they may not convey any of the benefits.

Because my partner and I are in the process of adopting, the right
to marry—the legal standing, the protections and benefits
provided by that license now have a whole new meaning. Parents do
everything to construct a home as a safe and nurturing place for
their children. In having the government sanction us as a married
couple, legal weight would be placed behind custody and adoption
proceedings. Discrimination by individual States against gays and
lesbians in adoption would quickly disappear. However, as long as
we are denied this right there is the sense that our families are
vulnerable. It is cause for activism even among those who
wouldn’t normally see themselves that way.

In the book,
Gay Dads: A Celebration of Fatherhood
, male couples who having
taken the difficult step of becoming parents, described not only
how their lives were changed by parenthood but their ideas about
family and their place in society. In it one father described how
he, “used to think the world consisted of gay and nongay; now I
see it as people without kids and people with kids….” Another
father described a new found sense of activism: “family is the
center of the political revolution. Family takes us from being a
sterile to a vibrant community. Without children, a community
simply dies out.”

What I’ve come to realize is this: I am no longer ambivalent
about the notion of gay marriage or unions. After the Maryland
State Court of Appeals reversed a lower court’s decision to allow
same-sex couples to obtain a marriage license, there is now talk
that the Maryland State legislature may entertain a civil unions
bill. The idea that we could be granted an inferior version of
marriage is no longer acceptable. I want what everyone wants—to
be free to live my life secure in my home with the belief that my
family has the protections afforded every other family in this
country. I have worked since I was sixteen, paid taxes for close to
thirty years, I obey the law, and help people in my community. I am
neither young, nor idealist, nor fringe—I am part of that very
thick strata of society called the middle class, it just so happens
I am gay, have a spouse and am about to become a father. I am also
about to turn activist on this issue, or, maybe I already have.