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Voice Male Spring 2004

Marriage for All--or Not?

by Michael Burke

Editor's Note: The following was written before the first round of the Massachusetts Constitutional Convention in February 2004. The convention narrowly approved a constitutional amendment in its final session that would prohibit gay marriage but allow civil unions that include the same rights as marriage except, of course, portability across state lines. But the struggle is far from over: a second convention must approve the amendment in 2005, followed by a referendum in 2006 before it can become law. For links to sites that can both keep you informed and tell you how to help, see our home page.

The situation was extremely fluid, to say the least, as Voice Male went to press, with the state of Massachusetts poised to possibly allow gay marriages-or not-and hundreds of gay and lesbian couples lining up outside City Hall in San Francisco to get marriage licenses that will-or will not-remain valid. With lawmakers in Boston and Washington getting ready to rumble-or already rumbling-about state and federal constitutional bans on gay marriage, and with "social" conservatives everywhere, especially the Catholic Church and the religious right, up in arms about defending the "sanctity" of the "institution" of "traditional," heterosexual marriage from the barbarian hordes (read: queers and their allies) who want to tear it down.

But for just a moment, let's get real. What's ailing heterosexual marriage has nothing to do with the "institution" (not to be confused with Leavenworth or Sing Sing) being "under attack" by gays and lesbians. They're not attacking marriage; in fact, they want to join the ranks of the married-something fewer and fewer straight adults are choosing to do.

Laura Kipnis pointed out in The New York Times recently that only 56 percent of all adults are married today, down from 75 percent 30 years ago. And Kipnis, a professor of media studies at Northwestern University and the author of Against Love: A Polemic, also notes, "The fact is that marriage is a social institution in transition, whether conservatives like it or not."

"The rise of the new economy," she writes, "has gutted all sorts of traditional values and ties, including traditions like the family wage, job security and economic safety nets." Quoting political scientist Francis Fukuyama's description of the "great disruption" of economy and society since the 1960s, she adds that "it was postindustrialism, perhaps even more than feminism, that transformed gender roles. "The increasing economic self-sufficiency of women has certainly been a factor in declining marriage rates: there's nothing like a checking account to decrease someone's willingness to be pushed into marriage or stay in a bad one."

Doubtless there are all kinds of reasons not to get married--the public radio program Marketplace reported recently that the average cost of a U.S. wedding is about $25,000, which combined with the divorce rate should give one pause--but there remain many good reasons, or at least compelling inducements, to tie the knot. What married people know, and what all people in long-term relationships know, whether they're gay or straight, is that keeping the relationship going has nothing to do with white weddings and bridesmaids, and only a little to do with hearts and flowers and sex and even love. Because to make it work, you've got to do the work: the work of communicating, sharing, compromising, balancing both partners' needs, desires, schedules, energy levels, and vulnerabilities. And where children are involved, the work increases--exponentially.

So marriage is hard. It can bring joy and solace, comfort and contentment, even happiness--but it has to be worked at, and it's not to be taken lightly (Britney Spears notwithstanding). It's not for everyone--but it should be open to all who truly want it. We should salute, encourage, and give our full support as a society to any two people who are willing to take it on--gay or straight, male and/or female--and stop denying equal rights to those who sincerely seek to embark on the demanding journey of the committed couple.

Michael Burke is Voice Male's managing editor. To reach him or editor Rob Okun, email

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