Imagine a Hallmark card with two women on the front. The verse inside reads: "To my partner for life, with all my love. Happy Valentine's Day." It's disconcerting to think about same-sex couples because eventually our minds wind up wondering what they do in bed. It's more disconcerting to contemplate same-sex marriages because we get a migraine trying to figure out who's the "wife" and who's the "husband."
One of the conveniences of opposite-sex marriages is that each partner knows what her or his jobs are. She does the laundry, and he takes out the garbage. Same-sex marriages aren't so clear-cut. We lesbians and gays have to figure out for ourselves how to divvy up the chores. My own marriage has been a breeze because I do the laundry and put out the trash.
Once we've slogged past the mundane matter of gender-based division of labor, we're left with the more entertaining concerns about marriage as it pertains to family, society, law, religion and politics. Every attendant issue, however, boils down to this: What is the purpose of marriage, and is it worth bothering with?
In attempting to answer this two-part query for myself, I began with an analysis of the only model for marriage presently available - the heterosexual model. This institution has traditionally been about two things: power relations and procreation. Lesbian and gay critics point to the oppressive history of marriage as a compelling reason for gays to shun it. To most cultures in most times, marriage has been a socially mandated method of controlling women, mainly by confining them to the parameters of their reproductive functions.
Columnist Victoria Brownworth notes that weddings herald misogynist acts worldwide. The brutalities incited by matrimony include battery, rape and bride-burning. Brownworth admonishes same-sex couples not to rush to embrace "this most repressive and repugnant of heterosexual rituals." While I find this estimation a bit harsh, I agree that an institution that has the subjugation of women by men as its original intent has no meaning for gays.
The adaptability of heterosexual marriage for gay people is also dubious since it currently seems to be losing popularity even among straights. Heterosexual marriages are dissolving faster than Alka-Seltzer. In addition, fewer and fewer straights, particularly women, are finding the prospect of marriage attractive or rewarding enough to embark on it.
Straight critics of same-sex unions argue that marriage was designed by God for the purpose of procreation and that, since lesbians and gays cannot reproduce, they should not marry. While I can only speculate on the Almighty's intent, I do respect marriage as a sound option for producing and caring for children. I soundly reject the bogus assumption that lesbian and gay pairings cannot foster children. We produce and rear children all the time through artificial insemination and adoption, as well as by co-parenting the children a spouse has had by a previous heterosexual relationship. …