I Do, I Don’t: Gay Marriage Charades and Human Rights

by David King on June 21, 2012

I’ve avoided writing about the gay marriage debate because I thought my stance was too obvious. I’m gay, and more importantly, I’m a human being in favor of equal rights – and so I obviously support gay marriage.

And I do. But this debate has become a distraction of sorts, particularly in North America.

Historically, marriage actually started out as something much closer to civil union, particularly in Ancient Greece and later throughout Europe. Hereditary lines and property rights were the priorities of the times. Until the late 16th century, even Christian marriages required only mutual consent and physical union, without the presence of a priest or witnesses.

Appropriately, a verbal promise between the parties took place, called the verbum. It could be stated privately, without witnesses: “I marry you.” It was binding, legally, and recorded as such (often by the church, but not necessarily so).

In 1563, everything changed, and Roman Catholic politics led to the requirement that marriages take place before a priest and two witnesses. This is really when things got religious, and it would have long-term consequences for Western perspectives on marriage. While the Bible and other religious texts had always held the act of marriage in high regard, from a social perspective, marriage was not founded on religious practices.

The story is surely more complicated than this, but the point remains – there is absolutely nothing that fundamentally requires the involvement of religion in marriage. And we haven’t completely lost sight of this. In North America, a man and a woman are able to legally marry without religious involvement.

So why, then, has this become a religious issue? According to religious fundamentalists of the Judeo-Christian sort, marriage is sacred, and so the sanctity of marriage must be preserved – which apparently requires the involvement of 1 male and 1 female. Great, everyone’s free to believe what they want.

For women, marriage once meant unconditional devotion and obedience to men. During biblical times, wives were considered the property of their husbands and expected to perform regular household chores. The Old Testament also describes many polygamous marriages. For most opponents of same-sex marriage, however, these rules of marriage are hypocritically rejected, while those defining marriage as between a man and a woman are accepted, supported, and shoved down our throats (along with the rule that a man must not lie with another man). But this is par for the biblical course – some things are rejected, understood to be conditions of their time, while others are accepted without further consideration or intellectualization.

I guess we should not expect too much intellectualizing from anyone who believes that dinosaurs once lived with people, or that their bones were placed in the ground to entertain human curiosities. Nevertheless, this really isn’t what the debate is (or should be) about. Separation of church and state is a well-established principle in both Canadian and American law. We do not allow our religious beliefs to shape our legal fabric.

Except we do – or we did. Canada has managed to overcome this, legalizing same-sex marriage in 2005. The United States have not.

It’s all charades, really – ignorant fears masked as a moral and political debate. The only question that needs to be asked is this: Why shouldn’t two people of the same sex be able to marry? Or three, for that matter? Fundamentally speaking (unstable religious values aside), there is nothing logically or rationally dangerous about such a proposition.

But here’s what really has me bothered. These ridiculous, nonsensical charades of gay marriage are doing nothing but distracting us from real human rights issues. In Canada, same-sex marriage may indeed be legal, but there isn’t a gay teenager who feels any safer bringing his boyfriend to prom, or a lesbian woman who is any less fearful of coming out to her co-workers. The reality is, we still live in a society where being gay is deemed potentially unsafe (for example, as a gay man in Canada, I am not allowed to donate blood), and at the very least, something to be judged. This is what people should be getting upset about. By extension, gay marriage is a worthy cause, but only by extension. Let’s not let it distract us. Let’s not let it be the pinnacle of this particular assault on human rights.

I want the right to get married, but I’m confused as to why I was not born with this right. It’s time to end the charades and address the warped values and morals that made such a debate necessary in the first place.

NOTE: I originally intended to write about the ironies of gay marriage; about how we are ‘buying into’ a religious, conservative, and heteronormative institution. But marriage is only these things if it continues to be defined and viewed as such. I consider myself very liberal, but my morals and values are no more conservative or heteronormative for wanting to share legal rights with another human being. To those who criticize gay marriage as supporting a conservative institution, I say this: Liberal values do not necessitate that I adopt extreme or frequently judged behaviors – they simply dictate an acceptance and openness to them. In line with this thinking, I should not be judged for wanting the right to marry.

So call it marriage or civil union, I really don’t care. Participate in it or not. In the end, it’s up to you and what’s best for your relationship. Just don’t criticize (ATTN: left) or restrict (ATTN: right) my desire to create and secure a life with the one I love.

{ 2 comments… read them below or add one }

Carole June 22, 2012 at 7:25 am

Once again always enjoy the fruits of David getting “bothered”… most especially… “It’s all charades, really – ignorant fears masked as a moral and political debate.” I wholeheartedly agree with that statement and applaud its candor and beautiful simplicity.


drei June 25, 2012 at 2:55 am

Thank you for switching the trajectory of your discourse and for calling out the ‘lefties’!! I used to be one of them and say the same thing about the ‘modern family’-esque couple and their desire to accept heteronormative lifestyles just as much as I would criticize the ‘gay republican’.. I think we can all stand to be a little more open-minded and accepting. Both left and right, as you said.


Leave a Comment

Previous post:

Next post: