What Lucille Ball and Desi Arnaz could tell gay couples

June 29, 2011

New York is about to become the sixth state to recognize same-sex marriage, doing so by decision of its legislature, not judicial fiat. Gay marriage is gaining in social acceptance. Two generations ago, interracial marriage was viewed as scandalous, and often proscribed by law. Today it’s legal everywhere in the United States, unremarkable, and endorsed even by most religious conservatives. Same-sex marriage is likely to follow the same progression.

But as the saying goes — be careful what you wish for.

Advocates of gay matrimony speak entirely of the privileges received by those whose unions are recognized by the state. Human Rights Watch phrases same-sex marriage as a “right to equality.” The New York Times editorialized that New York’s new law expands the chance to “enjoy the legal rights of marriage.”

Marriage indeed brings privileges — community respect, health care benefits for spouses, improved credit ratings, the presumption of fitness for parenthood. I’ve been married for 23 years and am glad of that fact every day. (You’d have to check with my wife for her side of the story.)

But advocates of same-sex marriage speak as if wedded bliss were all wine and roses. There are many negatives attached to matrimony:

  • Married people accept significant restrictions on personal freedom. (In theory there can be open marriages, but my guess is that about 15 people in world history have achieved an open marriage with two happy partners). Even in successful marriages, the restriction on freedom can be a source of stress.
  • For a not inconsiderable number, marriage becomes a cause of misery. It can be sad to be alone; to be married to the wrong person can cause wretchedness. On “I Love Lucy,” marriage was a laugh a minute. Many wedded people experience marriage quite differently.
  • You’re not just marrying a person, you are marrying his or her family. Two single people in a romance are motivated primarily by attraction to each other. Once marriage happens, families on both sides may invite themselves in. Gays and lesbians beware, marriage can mean lifelong close connection to people you have not chosen and perhaps haven’t even met.
  • Raising children is far harder than your worst-case analysis. Spouses have two-way obligations to each other; parents have one-way obligations to children. My wife and I raised three children, all wonderful. But Lord almighty there was a lot of work, expense and obligation involved.
  • Children may be romanticized by the unwed, including by unwed gays, as an exciting delight. The reality is that kids take over your life, even if all goes well. If things go poorly, children can bring unhappiness, and the ethical parent cannot under any circumstances walk away. This is also true legally. A spouse may be divorced. A child is your responsibility till age 18, regardless of what happens in the marriage.
  • Married people have financial obligations that single persons are spared. In most states, spouses are responsible for each other’s debts — even debts of which they are unaware. Your spouse buys a Rolex watch without consulting you? Has a gambling debt you were never told about? You are liable. Same-sex marriage advocates speak often of money-related benefits of matrimony, such as that married people in most transactions are viewed as better credit risks than single persons. But if your spouse makes financial mistakes, they become your mistakes. Marriage, legally, is a contract. Part of the contract is liability for each other’s debts. There’s no out clause.

Concerns like these should not faze advocates of same-sex marriage. A fair guess is that men who marry men, and women who marry women, will end up either happy or miserable in about the same proportion as men and women who marry each other.

But with same-sex marriage gaining acceptance, gays and lesbians should begin to assess the negatives of matrimony, as well as yearn for the positives. Many who marry later go to fantastic expense and inconvenience to become single again. This isn’t some weird coincidence.

Postscript:

What made me think gay marriage is on its way to general acceptance was the Miss USA Factor.

In 2009, favorite Carrie Prejean was denied the Miss USA crown when she told judges she thought same-sex marriage is wrong. Once, no woman who supported gay marriage could have won a beauty-queen title. Now a woman must favor same-sex unions to wear the tiara.

If beauty-pageant answers are a barometer of evolving public opinion, consider that the new 2011 Miss USA, Alyssa Campanella, in her questions, competition more-or-less endorsed the legalization of marijuana.

Photo: A girl holds a sign reading, ‘New York, Will You Marry Me?’ as she takes part in the Gay Pride Parade in New York June 26, 2011. REUTERS/Jessica Rinaldi

14 comments

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” Same-sex marriage is likely to follow the same progression”

Sure, same sex marriage has become socially acceptable to the mainstream. But I think there will always be a significant number of religious conservatives that oppose homosexuality in general. It takes some real twisting of Christian scripture to validate racism. While, in the bible, Jesus himself never once mentions homosexuality, homophobia is a much easier sell if you look back to the old testament.

This is probably why christian believers were at the forefront of the fight for racial equality in a way they were not for gay rights.

For gay marriage to become as accepted as interracial marriage, you will need a large decline of religiosity in the US. Don’t hold your breath.

Posted by Dafydd | Report as abusive

Dafydd’s comment ‘This is probably why christian believers were at the forefront of the fight for racial equality in a way they were not for gay rights.’ is absolutely wrong. I guess he never lived in southern USA.

I did. And I heard throughout the ’60s and ’70s many Baptists and Methodists quoting the bible to rationalize segregation, separation of the of the races, and even go so far as to say the blacks were inferior. Many of the whites who lynched and terrorized blacks in the south for decades were avid church goers.

Actually the only religious groups at the forefront of the civil rights movement in the south, besides the black churches, were the catholics and jews. It was such a surprise to me when I moved to the north to meet catholics and jews who were just as racists as white protestants in the south.

Posted by Acetracy | Report as abusive

As a churchgoing Christian, one thing that puzzles me about Christian fundamentalist attitudes about homosexuality is that the verses cited are Old Testament, and Christians believe the New Testament amends the Old. The homosexuality-is-an-abomination verses occur in Leviticus, which also says it is an “abomination” to eat shellfish, trim your beard or pay interest. Leviticus also says that unruly children should be stoned to death. No contemporary fundamentalist would hesitate to shave, then go to Red Lobster for dinner and pay with a Master Card. By the terms of the early Bible books, all these acts are abominations. The New Testament declares, “You are now set free from the sins you could not be freed from in the days of Moses.” Why don’t fundamentalists apply this thinking to ancient statements about homosexuality?

Posted by Gregg Easterbrook | Report as abusive

I remember reading your take on the Carrie Prejean case in TMQ back when it happened. I think you can also apply that standard to assess changing social mores by looking at the general Republican reaction to the New York legislation. In the 2004 election cycle, Republicans were incenced by the decision to legalize same-sex marriage in Massachusetts, and George W. Bush explicitly called for a federal marriage amendment that would use the U.S. Constitution to prohibit same-sex marriage nationwide. Only seven years later, very rapidly in civil rights terms, Jon Huntsman is a legitimate Republican presidential contender from Utah who openly supports civil unions; he would not stick by this while running for president if he didn’t believe most Americans were becoming comfortable with the idea. And after last Friday, Michele Bachmann stated that while she personally disagrees with same-sex marriage, New York has the right under the 10th Amendment to allow it. Seven years ago the top Republican wanted to prohibit gay marriage nationwide, and today a top Republican has retreated to a “let the states decide” policy, without federal intervention. This doesn’t, in my opinion, do enough for equality, but it seems like evidence that general attitudes are changing. The lack of Republican outrage over New York seems like an indication that they know they soon won’t be able to effectively run on opposition to gay marriage.

Posted by DFChapel | Report as abusive

Regarding the Carrie Prejean observation, it also seems appropriate to notice how Republican responses to gay marriage have evolved. In 2004, George W. Bush favored an amendment to the U.S. Constitution to prohibit gay marriage nationwide; today, the response to New York has been calmer. Michele Bachmann said on Sunday that New York could legalize it within state borders, apparently in keeping with her strong 10th Amendment views. Jon Huntsman actively supports full-rights civil unions. Without as much Republican outrage, after a relatively short span of only seven years, it seems that they believe they will soon not be able to run on gay marriage opposition, a good indicator that general social attitudes are changing.

Posted by DFChapel | Report as abusive

Regarding the Carrie Prejean observation, it also seems appropriate to notice how Republican responses to gay marriage have evolved. In 2004, George W. Bush favored an amendment to the U.S. Constitution to prohibit gay marriage nationwide; today, the response to New York has been calmer. Michele Bachmann said on Sunday that New York could legalize it within state borders, apparently in keeping with her strong 10th Amendment views. Jon Huntsman actively supports full-rights civil unions. Without as much Republican outrage, after a relatively short span of only seven years, it seems that they believe they will soon not be able to run on gay marriage opposition, a good indicator that general social attitudes are changing.

Posted by DFChapel | Report as abusive

Wow! Where to begin. First, Acetracy, Catholics are Christians. Sure there were racist Christians, but the leaders of the fight against slavery and Jim Crow were Christians. William Wilberforce was a believer and led the fight against the slave trade in England. Christians in America believed Paul when he wrote that in Christ there is no slave or free, Jew or Gentile, man or woman. We all have equal access to God through Christ.

With respect to the issue of the bible and homosexuality, the bible is clear in both the new testament and old that it is a sin. That does not make homosexuals any different than the rest of us because we are all sinners. The only difference is that the current movement in favor of homosexual relations is attempting to force or shame Christians out of believing the bible when it says that it is a sin.

If you look at historical, orthodox Christianity, the moral requirements of the old testament (the ten commandments, etc) have always been recognized as continuing guides to living a righteous life. The ceremonial Jewish customs (the Sabbath) and those rules God created to make the Jewish people a “peculiar” people set apart from their neighbors (don’t shave) have been understood to not apply to Christians. Therefore, it is consistent for a Christian to shave and believe that homosexuality is a sin.

Posted by Atticus_Finch | Report as abusive

Do you think we don’t know all of this already? We are already living together, raising children together, dealing with each others families, and yes many of us are already married. We know what we face. We’re already FACING IT. This article ridicules us to the point where we’re like children that don’t understand. I am personally offended.

Sincerely,
An EXTREMELY HAPPILY MARRIED LESBIAN

Posted by Malagutigrrl | Report as abusive

Gregg, you’re selling against ALL marriages. Useless article at best.

Posted by terry143 | Report as abusive

Gay couples who wish to marry are adults who are more than aware of the positives and negatives of marriage. Most of them came from married parents, grandparents, etc. They still chose to be in solid long term relationships, good times and bad, even without the benefits of marriage.

This is not a religious issue. This is purely a civic issue in a country created to escape religious persecution. This argument is moot just as it was when it was used to oppress Native Americans, blacks, women, and immigrants.

At what point do we learn from history? The most balanced and most successful governments today are in places in the world that are least homogenized! So contrary to feeling threatened, celebrate that you live in a place where you are welcome, faults and all!

I do!

Posted by tjh1959 | Report as abusive

Any chance of asking where my comment posted a couple of hour ago went? It nave made it to the comments section. At least we had 9 comments earlier, now 8. I don’t understand.

Posted by tjh1959 | Report as abusive

Just looked and I can’t find it either. “Still a few bugs in the system,” as the old Doonesbury line goes.

Posted by Gregg Easterbrook | Report as abusive

Atticus_finch is the only one right in the whole discussion about the bible. It’s NOT only in the old testament, it’s in the NEW testament as well. Please read Romans 1:26-28.

Posted by pattypatty | Report as abusive

Wait, marriage _isn’t_ exactly like television? That’s crazy talk! Next thing you’ll be telling me that there isn’t a street in my neighborhood with a giant talking bird that teaches me the alphabet.

You’ve inadvertently made our point. We already deal with in-laws, and fight over the dirty diapers, and struggle to make ends meet. We know the “downside” of marriage. We just are more than willing to accept those in the hope of making a lifelong commitment with the person we love.

Just because the bus ride is bumpy doesn’t mean we should have to sit in the back.

Posted by thumbtackthief | Report as abusive