Deprivation and Gratitude: Musings on Marriage

I was recently in Washington DC, and some of the work I did there involved reviewing documents that support same-sex marriage on the basis of loads of research. Bottom line – there are mountains of psychological evidence pointing out the idea that this is a fine idea. (now, I think marriage is a bad idea, but there is nothing supporting the idea that if we are going to have marriage – that same sex marriages are any better or worse than those involving a man and a woman).

Discussions about this topic with gay colleagues led to informal conversations about why they personally chose to marry. I expected them to say that they wanted to get married for financial reasons, tax reasons – non-romantic practical stuff.

I was surprised by their answer. One in particular said that getting married “meant something”. It meant he was making a permanent commitment to someone, that it was for him and his partner. The financials weren’t that interesting to him, he figured an attorney could help manage that, but a marriage license means an acknowledgment that this relationship was deeper than any that came before.

I am a cynic about marriage – and his eloquent description reminded me of what it was about – not bridesmaids, dresses, stifling commitment, tax breaks – but rather a personal commitment. But I also believe that things that are hard-won are more cherished.

So – for all those “save marriage” advocates – let me propose a suggestion.

Ban all heterosexual marriage for a year. Make it against the law, impossible. No marriage licenses, no tax benefits. Any wedding ceremonies would be window dressing – but with no legal commitment at the end. Just like for the thousands of gay couples who would have a commitment ceremony, but no legal rights at the end of it.

Things are too easy for us straight Americans. We have freedom of speech, religious freedom, marital freedom, sexual freedom. We can screw who we want, marry who we want, worship who we want, talk smack about who we want. Not too long ago, I was in Tibet where the ability to talk openly about the Dalai Lama has been silenced. After 2 weeks of remaining mum about the elephant in the room, coming into the freedom of the US and all of its permissions was like breathing after being underwater. I am not a person of faith, and being so profoundly affected by having my ability to communicate about these issues highlighted the idea that appreciation can be cultivated by deprivation. (nothing like cheesecake after a fast)

The straights screwed up marriage. We got greedy – it was too easy to have, and the government even gave us incentives to do it. If we were told no for a while – then perhaps once we got the right back we would cherish it, enter it with care and gratitude, hold it like the delicate egg it is.

I have no doubt that when gay marriage legislation passes, time passes, and the fight to get married is forgotten – gays will treat marriage with the same complacence and resignation as the straights. They will be discontent, and enter it frivolously, and get divorced. It wasn’t too long ago that cross-racial marriages were illegal – and as someone who was in a cross-racial marriage and ended it – that historical legacy did little to make me work harder at it than anyone else. Our collective memory is short.

Every so often – take a leap and see what it feels like to lose a freedom. It may be the fastest track to gratitude you will ever find.

Happy New Year.

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This entry was posted on Sunday, January 2nd, 2011 at 2:55 pm and is filed under Relationships and Sex. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. You can leave a response, or trackback from your own site.

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