On Marriage

An American and rainbow flag flying over the Supreme Court building today in Washington, D.C. Credit: TIME Magazine.

Today, much of the United States celebrated the Supreme Court’s landmark ruling in the Obergefell case that resulted in the legalisation of gay marriage across the country. I myself am happily married; my husband and I had a big wedding to celebrate it because it was important to us to sanctify our union with a ceremony, make a public declaration to our community, and have a giant party with our friends and family. Anyone who wants to should be able to do the same.

We signed all the legal paperwork for tax purposes and insurance purposes and visa purposes, et cetera. But during all of that, I wondered why marriage had anything to do with government at all. We signed the paperwork because it removed a lot of obstacles for us, not because we’re bothered whether or not the state approves of our union. Disclaimer: One could certainly make the case that it’s easy for me hold this view because my own right to marry has never been debated or under fire, and one would be right. Please note that the following is not intended to trivialise the outcome of the court ruling or the significance of legal and social recognition of unions within the gay community. What I’m talking about is the institution of marriage–anyone’s marriage–as it relates to any legal status at all.

The brilliant English playwright and novelist Oscar Wilde, looking dapper as ever.

Why is our marital status tied up with our legal status in the first place? The fact that the two are still intertwined seems to me to be a sort of archaic holdover from the old days when it was all to do with who could own land and the mechanics of inheritance and political strategising and whatnot. Of course, disentangling the two in a practical sense would involve figuring out new ways of dealing with the aforementioned taxes and insurance and visas and all manner of things, and I certainly won’t pretend to have all that worked out. But the idea that any government has this kind of power over or influence in the status of our relationships seems as ridiculous as Parliament criminalising the sexuality of Oscar Wilde in 1895, or Alan Turing in 1952. It seems as ridiculous the forced segregation of the Jim Crow laws in the first half of the twentieth century. It seems as ridiculous as the People’s Republic of China still dictating how many times its people are allowed to procreate. It seems as ridiculous as government agents bursting into our kitchens at dinner time to check if we’re eating our vegetables, or putting trackers in our toothbrushes to make sure we’re brushing for a full two minutes. What these things have in common is that none of them are any of the law’s business. Who, if, and how we love, marry, procreate, laugh, eat, and brush our teeth shouldn’t have anything to do with the state. I reckon that our marital status is a sacred, personal and/or religious matter that ought to be outside of any governing body’s jurisdiction.

We western democracies (the U.S., at any rate) like to talk a lot about individual liberties and the separation of church and state and all that. But it’s 2015 and not only have we only just legalised gay marriage, but we’re still talking about “legalising” marriage at all?

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