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
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