Dearly Beloved, We Are Gathered Here

I’m adding to the already crowded blogosphere with the intent to explore the following question: how do we deploy our resources – financial and otherwise — in a way that makes us happy?  And how do we do this with eyes wide open to the distractions and detours that lead us astray?  It’s one thing to have money; it’s another to have a rich life.  I’m operating on the premise that money alone doesn’t do it; it’s our connection to others – partner, family, friends, community – that makes life worth living.    

There’s not a better time to start the thread of this blog, with the Supreme Court hearing two cases on the future of marriage.  Technically it’s about same-sex marriage.  But at the core of this issue is our ability to partner with someone who lets us be our best self, supports us in good times and bad, and helps us build a life based in love.

We all know how imperfect heterosexual marriage is.  Ok, every relationship is imperfect. But that struggle to find someone who will hold you, fight with you, defend you, love you despite bad hair (or no hair), embrace who you are and challenge you to be your best –THAT is what it’s all about.  The idea of denying that when someone has found it is beyond my understanding.

When I was married, I loved my husband with my whole heart.  And I wondered how life would be if I couldn’t love him because he was blond, like me.  It didn’t make my feelings any less strong. It just made me feel incredibly sad to think that as a society we were denying others love. I didn’t love him because he was blond.  I loved him for who he was, and he happened to be blond.

Under the marriage contract as it stands, we have laws that make it difficult if not impossible to allow us to protect spouses who are victims of domestic violence.  That is the kind of marital bond we should be working to end.  But instead we fail to recognize another couple’s commitment to care for one another and deny them this right often at the most vulnerable time, at the end of life.  The closest comparison I can make from personal experience is being with my canine companion, my dog, Katie, when she was humanely put to sleep several weeks after a diagnosis of terminal and painful liver cancer.  I don’t know how I could have left her in a strange room, with strangers, in her last moments.  I cannot fathom that we would deny someone the right to be with the person to whom they’ve committed their life at the end of it.

Some of the fretting over same-sex marriage has to do with “”redefining” the institution.  It’s about time.  You promise some lofty things in a traditional marriage ceremony, but there is little to back up performance under this contract. (All you men can relax, I’m not talking about THAT kind of performance.)  It used to be that women were property in a marriage.  It used to be that sex was a husband’s right and a wife’s obligation. 

Those things have changed – we have already redefined marriage. Now let’s bring it into the 21st century.  What would a newly redefined version of marriage look like?  Maybe let’s set some performance standards and look at how a couple “loves, honors and cherishes” each other.  When was the last hug?  The last compliment?  The last kind act?  We want to foster long-term relationship, so let’s evaluate this over time: When was the last compliment after 10 years of marriage? After 30 years? If having children is one reason for marriage, many same-sex couples have met that requirement — and as I’ll hit 50 this year, I’m past that life stage. Am I to be denied marriage if I find a man I love? In a traditional ceremony, you promise to “forsake all others.” In no fault states[1], being a faithful spouse doesn’t count for anything under the law, and there’s no penalty for cheating.  Perhaps under a redefined marriage contract you’ll lose those tax benefits of marriage if you stray? 

As a happily divorced person, I’m more inclined to channel Mae West’s philosophy on marriage being a great institution — and how I’m not ready for an institution. In the end, what I support is finding love, partnership, community – wherever it leads you.  To live without those things is to be exiled to a half-life.  This is an opportunity to look at actions over words, at what we want to cultivate in each other, and define marriage in those terms. 

Love, respect, safety, integrity, equality.  We could start there.

[1] “No-fault” divorce is one in which a finding of wrong-doing is not required by either party. Prior to passage of no-fault legislation (first signed into law by California Governor Ronald Reagan in 1969), divorce required a party to prove breach of the marriage contract to sue for dissolution.  Passage of no-fault laws effectively eliminated the marriage “contract.”