Saturday, June 25, 2011

Marriage = equality

A banner headline, well deserved. It's been a long time coming, but it's still hard to believe it's come so quickly. Sometimes the pace of change is frustrating; sometimes it's breathtaking. History indeed. What an unbelievable thing to be alive at this point in history, to be part of it. What a privilege. A responsibility, too.

By historic I don't just mean the acceptance and integration of LGBT people, though that is epochal (and far from complete). I'm thinking about marriage, which is changed by this. Politically it's made sense to argue otherwise - that it in no way changes heterosexual marriage to add another category - but that's not really true. The relationship of marriage to procreation is changed, obviously, though that change has been happening for a while without us, and it's certainly likely that marriage will continue to be the institution charged with that end of marriage Aquinas called the education of children. What's historic here is closer to what we learned from Martin Luther King, that nobody's free until everyone is. True freedom is not allied to or dependent on exclusion. Nor is full humanity.

But there's still more. It's not just making a social good - "civil rights" - available to all people, important though that is. The good is changed - clarified, deepened - by this.

I learned to see this just over ten years ago, in April 2001, when a woman priest - an Episcopalian (wish I'd written down her name!) - came to preach at Dignity, the gay Catholic group, in New York. The Netherlands had just legalized gay unions, and she told us how happy this made her, as a married straight woman. There was something gay marriages could show the world that nobody else could: that marriage could be a bond of equals. Because men and women had different social roles and power in every known society, she argued, heterosexual marriage has seemed to require an implicitly hierarchical difference to function (even when couched as sexual complementarity). If lesbian and gay folk could show that marriages could last - even be stronger! - without such a division of roles, it opened the door for everyone to imagine and celebrate marriage - all marriage - as true companionship and love.

That's the true importance of "marriage equality" to the human story. It'll be exciting to see what else it reveals.

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