This morning, as I was walking Mrs. Wigglebottom around the neighborhood and contemplating various things, I got to wondering about gay marriage.
If churches would still be able to define marriage any way they wanted–marriage in our church must be between Catholics only; marriages in our church must be between members only; we frown on interracial marriages; we disapprove of second marriages; etc.–then what does it matter how the state defines marriage?
How, exactly, is a secular straight marriage “ruined” by a secular gay marriage?
I had an idea, though, on my walk about tattoos.
There was a time not so long ago when people who had tattoos were outside of the mainstream of society in some way. They were bikers or Marines or carnies or whatever. The point is that they were doing something most people didn’t do and it made them visibly special.
The tattoo had meaning not just because of what it looked like, or the pain withstood in order to get one, but because having one set you apart. It meant that you were a badass, willing to sacrifice in order to wear that ink.
Nowdays, tattoos are ubiquitous. If your grandma goes out and gets a tattoo, you might think it’s cool or you might not like it, but you don’t think that your grandma has gone off and become a carnie.
On the one hand, the rise in popularity of the tattoo is nice, because it means that people who wanted tattoos before but didn’t want to send the “badass” message can now get them. But on the other hand, it clearly means that the “badass” message is not completely obvious when one sees a tattoo.
I wonder how much of this feeds into our thoughts on marriage (not just gay marriage, but open marriage, and polygamy). If marriage is, to many of the people in it, a sign of sacrifice, “Yes, I gave up other sex partners and I stopped looking for other loves and I pushed out of my mind the question of whether I’m happy with you or could have been happy with someone of my same gender and I have made a commitment to you that I will try to keep until we are both dead, whether or not I still love you at that point–I made this commitment that means I gave up other shit I might have liked better,” then it has value because of that sacrifice.
Do you see what I’m saying?
I think, for many people, marriage is not just a sign of their commitment to their partner, but also a sign of them turning their back on other possibilities. And that turning their back seems like a noble sacrifice.
But if we understand straight marriage in this way, I think we can start to understand the opposition to gay marriage.
Why is gay marriage a threat to straight marriage?
One, because it suggests that you don’t have to sacrifice major parts of yourself in order to be married. Not to get sidetracked but can’t you see how the “marriage as great sacrifice” meme gets played out every time some jackass says, “Gays can get married. They can marry women just like the rest of us.”? In other words, since marriage is not first and foremost about love and caring for the person you’re with, but instead about sacrifice, why can’t gay people just make great sacrifice, too? But if gay people can marry who they want without having to sacrifice great parts of themselves, it suggests that no one has to do that. Marry who you want; make arrangements that suit you.
But two, and I believe that two, though it goes hand in hand with one, is more crucial for understanding the secular opposition to gay marriage, two is that, if people can marry who they want in arrangements that please them, I believe it makes straight people who thought that marriage was about sacrifice feel incredibly stupid. Here they were making choices that were designed to show how much they were willing to offer up to marriage, even if it meant that they’d be vaguely unhappy most of their lives, when all along they could have chosen to marry who they wanted and worked out an arrangement that pleased them.
And people will tolerate a lot, but they don’t tolerate feeling like they’ve been made fools of. And what would be more foolish than to marry in order to show your willingness to sacrifice the things that made you happy when you could have married because you are delighted in the person you’re marrying?