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James Peron

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Rachel Maddow's Marriage Mistake

Posted: 10/08/11 12:24 PM ET

I've never seen Rachel Maddow's show. I don't watch any of the commentary shows. I'm not interested in hearing the opinions of talking heads on television. I either want facts, from which I draw my own conclusions, or I want entertainment. Maddow, Napolitano or Limbaugh don't give me what I'm looking for. I read instead.

Reading is how I discovered Rachel Maddow's comments on marriage equality in an interview with The Hollywood Reporter:

Maddow keeps an apartment in Manhattan, but she decamps to the solitude of Northampton, Mass. on weekends, where she lives with her girlfriend of 12 years, artist Susan Mikula, and Poppy, their black Labrador. ...

Gay marriage was legalized in Massachusetts in 2004, but Maddow says she and Mikula have no immediate wedding plans. "We know a lot of people who have gotten married but I don't think we feel any urgency about it."

Later she admits that she's actually ambivalent about the cultural impact of gay marriage.

"I feel that gay people not being able to get married for generations, forever, meant that we came up with alternative ways of recognizing relationships," she explains. "And I worry that if everybody has access to the same institutions that we lose the creativity of subcultures having to make it on their own. And I like gay culture."

Maddow is guilty of blinkered thinking. Everything she says may well be true, for people such as she, but it is not true for many other gay couples -- perhaps most other gay couples.

Maddow is not saying she opposes marriage equality, just that she worries about it, because gay culture, which was created in inequality, might lose something. If you think about that, it is rather astounding. Yes, human experiences, even harmful and oppressive ones, shape a people's culture, but that is no reason to keep injustice going. Even mentioning it, in this context, shocks me.

Whether Maddow feels an urgency to get married or not is entirely subjective and personal. There certainly are people who find little reason to marry legally. And there are others who have urgent, legitimate reasons for marriage. People in Maddow's situation don't have urgent reasons to marry legally, but many gay people are not so fortunate.

Let me put it mildly: Maddow is not financially hurting. She has an apartment in Manhattan and a home in Massachusetts. Her partner is an artist who has showings around the country. They are probably rather well off financially. There are no children, just a Labrador.

She can afford to worry about whether "gay culture" will lose something if gay people can marry. Lots of gay couples can't.

Simply put, Maddow's wealth and position insulates her from many of the worst injustices of marriage inequality.

Mikula is U.S.-born. That helps. Maddow doesn't have to worry that Susan could be deported because their relationship is not legally recognized. She can afford to worry about "culture," instead of deportation. Binational gay couples might see it differently.

There are gay couples, raising children together, where one partner is the "legal" parent of some of the children, and the other is the "legal" parent of the other children. They aren't allowed to marry, and aren't allowed to jointly adopt those children. In the event of the death of one of them, their family could be split up with children being ripped away from the only other parent they know. Marriage isn't quite so urgent when the issue is custody of a Labrador.

The cost of legal contracts, mimicking some, but not all, of the protections of marriage cost gay couples between $5,000 and $10,000 dollars. A highly paid television personality and her artist partner, with homes in rural Massachusetts and Manhattan, probably don't find that onerous. Other gay couples are not so fortunate and find themselves powerless when things go wrong.

Some gay families include spouses who work full-time, while the other partner stays home and cares for the kids, the house and even the dog. When the wage-earning partner dies, they are in deep trouble. The partner doesn't receive the pension, or Social Security, of the deceased partner, as would happen with straight, married couples.

Just recently, not far from my home, a man lost his spouse. With the death of the spouse, Social Security income dropped dramatically, far more than it would have if the federal government recognized their legal marriage. The surviving spouse was denied the pension benefits that a "wife" would have received. His only option was to sell the home they had lived in for so many years. I suspect the last thing he worried about was whether "gay culture" would lose something if this were not the case.

Maddow's wealth and atypical situation insulates her from much of the reality that other gay people, in relationships, have to worry about. Based on what I know of her situation, she will probably continue to be legally secure up until either she or her partner dies. Then the surviving partner will find inheritance tax laws treat her differently and she will pay significantly higher amounts. In the meantime, Maddow can indulge herself in the luxury of worrying about "culture" instead.

What irks me most about Maddow's comments is what will be done with them. There are people, who would happily stamp out gay culture if they could, who will now latch onto her comments in order to justify the injustices they inflict on others.