I got email the other day from a friend who got married to their partner in San Francisco this weekend; the message included a scan of the marriage license with both men’s signatures. While this person wasn’t closeted, he wasn’t very out front about being gay. But getting married made such a difference that he sent a copy of the marriage license to a bunch of folks. This confidence and pride in being able to make a public commitment is why gay marriage is an important issue for anyone who believes in equality.
For a while, I was on the fence about the distinction between “marriage” and “civil union.” Having seen the unfettered joy on the faces of people getting married in San Francisco and seeing the kind of pride of relationship that my friend, I think it is important that the term marriage be opened up. The fears expressed by President Bush and others about the sanctity of marriage ring hollow in the face of the human need to declare love and commitment in public, striking me like the assertion that blacks should be kept in the back of the bus. The president said today he was troubled by “activist judges defining marriage” but the fact is that it is the people getting married who define the meaning of marriage; judges merely pass on the validity of the statement by gays that they want to marry. I don’t care if the percentage of people who might exercise their right to marry is one-tenth of a percent of the population or 10 percent—we should acknowledge their humanity by recognizing their commitment to another person through marriage.
If “marriage” can get a boost in respectability by extending the opportunity to make a serious lifetime commitment to another person, we should embrace this as progress, not the end of civilization as George W. Bush knows it.