What tipped the scales for marriage equality? While it is still difficult to answer that question fully, two groups of people are crucial to the continuing work to secure marriage equality. Lesbians and gay men have been at the forefront of imagining marriage equality for ourselves and our relationships. In particular, visionaries like Evan Wolfson and Mary Bonauto put their minds and their hearts into articulating the legal case for marriage equality along with the intellectual and emotional cases for same-sex marriage. So queer people support marriage equality.
Equally as important are young people. Young people overwhelmingly support the rights of gay men and lesbians to get married, and they have been influential in persuading their parents to support marriage equality. This is great, of course, but young people as a group continue to delay marriage and consistently choose co-habitation over marriage. Young people remain unmarried for longer than any previous generations.
Unable to get married, delaying marriage, choosing of not to get married, co-habitating instead of marrying. Why do the unmarried support marriage?
A corollary question is why don't married people promote marriage?
By asking these questions, I do not mean to be cynical about marriage, although perhaps I am. Cynical, that is. I am mindful of the old chestnut: Why would I want to be part of any group that will have me as a member? Yet, I think it is important to think about who is promoting marriage and why.
When lesbians and gay men and young unmarried people support same-sex marriage, what exactly are they supporting? An image of marriage? An illusion about marriage? A belief that marriage has something important to offer them in a distant future?
The fact of the matter is that marriage has problems. For every two marriages in a given year, there is one divorce. Marriage solves some legal problems but creates others. Talk to people recently married or married for many years and their ideas about marriage are more measured. They are not euphoric about marriage; they are not enthusiastic about marriage as a solution for people seeking stable, meaningful connections with other human beings. They understand marriage is not a panacea as it appears from the perspective of those excluded from the institution by age or erotic desire. The married understand marriage from the perspective of those embroiled in it; living in the center of its meaningful yet not quite perfect, not entirely wonderful, flawed, evolving, and uncertain state, married people are not evangelists or advocates for marriage. Do they know something we should?
At the end of September, the beloved and I will celebrate three years of connubial bliss on top of our 15 years of unauthorized loving. It has its ups and downs, its pluses and minuses. I am a married person, but I'm not advocating marriage. Marriage is a human construction. It is what humans make it: the two humans in the marriage and all of the humans around it, believing in it, undermining it, living it up, berating it. Marriage is a process, a conversation among couples, within communities. When I was unmarried, I supported marriage. Married, I support conversations about marriage; married, I support remaking and re-imagining marriage for us all.