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Web Editorial--May 2006


By Michael Dover

In honor of the 2nd anniversary of the legalization of same-sex marriage
in Massachusetts--MD

Last September I got married. It's my second marriage, my wife's first. One wag congratulated us on our "whirlwind courtship": we've known each other since 1991 and been living together for more than seven years. We're still getting used to using, and hearing, the words "husband" and "wife" instead of the more generic--and almost businesslike--"partner." (I'm noticing how much more power those conventional terms carry when needed: talking with a nurse the other day about my wife's mother, she asked, "Are you her husband?" And I realized in my "Yes" the authority to tell her what my wife wanted her to hear.)

It's not enough to say we got married because we love and care for each other. Plenty of unmarried couples love each other just as much but choose for whatever reason not to make their commitment in that particular way. For me there was an emotional force in both sanctifying and formalizing our relationship as a marriage that I felt ready, actually drawn, to take in. There was something about standing before our small gathering and saying our chosen words that told me, inside, Here is where I belong and here is where I intend to stay.

Making this choice let me say more clearly who I am as a man, as a human being: I am one who believes in commitment and in keeping commitments. There are lots of jokes about men not being willing to commit, but I believe the truth is that most of us want to be in committed relationships, want that sense of holding, and being held by, one person who matters in a special way. I'm not sure what to call that sense of steady, thoughtful, patient care that goes into serious commitment, since "love" in this culture usually means what I call romantic love, conjuring up images of starry-eyed devotion rather than everyday "being there." But I don't feel the need to measure my marriage against any standard but our own: we're satisfied that we've taken the right path for ourselves and each other, and that's all that matters.

I can say that I was influenced in my decision by the many gay and lesbian couples whom I know--and the many more I've heard about--who have been so grateful for the chance to get married since same-sex marriage became legal in Massachusetts two years ago this month. The joy and excitement of these couples, and of their friends and families, have been palpable and inspiring. If the religious right thinks that straight folks will feel the institution of marriage somehow "cheapened" by allowing our gay brothers and sisters access to it, I at least can say here's one on whom the effect was quite the opposite. My commitment has only been enriched by the appreciation I've gained from seeing my friends and others take part in what was once denied them. And judging from the weekly listings of weddings and engagements in my local paper, I'd say not too many straight couples have been deterred by the presence of gay couples' names on the same pages.

Perhaps the most curious aspect of the opposition to gay marriage is the inherent conservativeness of the movement to legalize same-sex marriage. At the very moment that the right wing is prophesying the end of civilization as we know it, gays and lesbians are knocking on the door of conventionality and saying, "Let us in!" They want to raise families, pay mortgages, buy life insurance, stay together for a lifetime. Conservative columnist William Safire gets it: he went so far as to say gay marriage would save the institution, not destroy it. But then he describes himself as a libertarian conservative, not a religious one.

I was also influenced by some of the rights and benefits that gay-marriage advocates have emphasized, though they certainly weren't the reason for my decision to ask my wife to marry me. (Hmm, does that make me a conservative?) I know of some straight couples who said they wouldn't get married until gay couples had the same rights. We were not among them; our decision to get married was as personal as the choice up to last September not to be married. But I do feel better knowing my gay and lesbian friends have the option, though--so far--only in Massachusetts. And I don't fool myself: our rights as a heterosexual couple extend to such federal benefits as Social Security, and they are recognized without question in every state and in other countries. There's a long way to go.

Meanwhile, there's a move afoot to turn back the clock here and pass a constitutional amendment defining marriage as between a man and a woman. That's what a bunch of states did in the 2004 election, enshrining the denial rather than the guarantee of rights into their constitutions. What are these people afraid of? Let me reassure them: the sky hasn't fallen in Massachusetts. Our laws, our families, our values, our bedrooms remain as safe as ever. And there are even men and women still willing to marry each other. Let's just all go home and take care of each other.

Michael Dover is manager of the MRC website and a former board member and co-director of the MRC. To read his commentary published just before same-sex marriage became legal in 2004, click here.


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