Gay couples shouldn’t have to just ‘shack up’

My oldest sister Shirley, who was like a second mother to me, had a loving, committed relationship with another woman from the time they were high-school classmates until breast cancer killed her way too soon. From the time I can remember, her partner was just another member of our large family, just another big sister to whom we younger kids could go for all those useful purposes such siblings serve.

After both women served honorably in the U.S. Army (no one asked, no one told), they eventually settled in Denver and bought a house – the first place I ever lived other than our parents’ home. Although their first temporary jobs there involved wrapping Christmas gifts at Montgomery Wards, each did quite well in her chosen profession, Shirley as a drafts-person and photographer for Honeywell and her lover as manager of an upscale jewelry store.

They had many friends, both gay and straight, and were considered a welcome addition to their neighborhood, particularly by the older couple next door who came to regard them as members of their family. (Of course, the exact nature of their relationship was never openly discussed, since homosexuality was then widely considered a moral wrong and a psychiatric illness, as it is by many folks even now.)

Still, had they been able, I’m sure they would have wanted to wed, to formalize and recognize a relationship that was far more solid and committed than many of those between “normal” folks. Marriage would also have provided them with certain legal rights and protections and advantages not available to people living together as the best of friends. But in the middle of the 20th century, of course, such a ceremony was out of the question.

In these more enlightened times, at least in some areas of our country, it is now, or soon will be, possible for gay women and men to “make it legal,” (a term popularized in the ’60s when many heterosexual young couples were openly “shacking up” rather than marrying, much to the dismay of their parents.)

A couple weeks ago, the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court ruled that state’s constitution entitles gay couples to wed, and ordered the legislature to come up with a means of issuing marriage licenses to them within six months.

“We declare that barring an individual from the protections, benefits and obligations of civil marriage solely because that person would marry a person of the same sex violates the Massachusetts Constitution,” the majority of justices declared in a meticulously reasoned opinion.

The denial of marriage licenses had been challenged by seven gay and lesbian couples – some with adopted children and many of whom are active in their churches and communities. They, too, are people with long-term relationships who just wanted to formally recognize their commitment to one another and protect their partners and kids in matters of inheritance and so on.

Predictably, the state’s Republican governor, Mitt Romney, denounced the ruling and said he will support a constitutional amendment banning gay marriage.

“Of course, we must provide basic civil rights and appropriate benefits to nontraditional couples,” he weaseled, “but marriage is a special institution that should be reserved for a man and a woman. (Note that it is first reserved for a MAN, in the good guv’s opinion.)

Marriages between men and women are so “special” in this country that more than half end in divorce. And in at least a third of them, one or both of the special people violate the monogamous arrangement that is central to most wedding vows. (I will cleave only onto you, you special thing, you, or something . . .)

Although not going so far as supporting an amendment to the U.S. constitution, President Bush echoed Romney’s sentiments, noting that in the 3,000-year history of traditional marriage, it has only been between men and women.

Of course, what he failed to mention is that during most of those three millenia, women were treated like chattel, subject to beatings or worse at their master’s whims and, in the case of polygamous religious societies, treated like herd animals whose purpose was to bear lots of children and give their husband a little sexual variety. In other societies, a man could get rid of a wife who didn’t please him simply by walking around her three times while repeating, “I divorce you.” In this country, interracial marriage was illegal in many places well into the 20th century.

I could go on and on about such glorious traditions, but you get the point: Many historical practices involving relationships are not worthy of being preserved.

And as far as gay marriage somehow destroying the “Father Knows Best” concept of family, where the man is dominant and the woman merely a helpmate and child-bearer, I say it’s high time we all accept the fact these archaic notions are long gone. (Funny, I don’t feel that my own marriage is being threatened or undermined by the arcane beliefs of the religious right.)

Because, in a world where people are getting blown up, shot down, raped and tortured during wars involved differing value systems (Christians or Jews vs. Muslims, Catholics vs. Protestants, Shi’ites vs. Sunnis, you name it) who marries whom should be taken off the list of rational people’s pressing concerns.

As the ’60s song says, what the world needs now is love, sweet love — without regard to differing sexual equipment.

David Grant Long has been in a “traditional” marriage for 11 years and lives in Cortez.

From David Long, December 2003.