Saturday, March 24, 2007

Family

There are some issues that I think about for years before I settle on a philosophy, and even that can change over time. Same sex marriage is one of those issues. I believe that everyone should have access to the same rights as everyone else. That is a cornerstone of the US Constitution, even though equality exists only in theory in this country and definitely not in practice. It isn't easy to set aside the knee-jerk reaction to the outpouring of venomous hate from religious folk in this country. If they are adamantly against something, my gut level reaction is to be all for it. The only problem is that absent their influence, I'm not so sure that the right to marriage is what people should be fighting for. It's too narrow of an idea.

What are the odds of finding someone who has a sex drive, sexual desires, life goals, sense of humor, religious ideas, outlook on life, taste in food, entertainment preferences, moral philosophy, sense of style, temperament, body shape, ethnicity, personal habits, etc. that are compatible with yours? That's an awful lot to demand from one human being. And what are the odds that everything you are dovetails with what that person wants? It happens, and when it does it's beyond great, but more often than not, someone is going to fall short in one or all of those categories. So most people have friends - close friends - who meet every other need except the sexual partnership, and also have a lover. (relieved of the burden of meeting all those other expectations, lovers can be wonderfully suited to physical and emotional needs instead of everyone settling and living in a state of constant sexual frustration) That structure of friends who meet every other need is what truly works for most people on this planet. But what is that structure? It's family.

I'd say that family needs to be redefined, but according to my dictionary, it is, among other things, "A group of people united by certain convictions or a common affiliation." Family is the people you turn to when you need help, and it's the people you share your joy with. They are the people you don't walk away from when they piss you off. They are your conscious and your comfort. They are a collective memory, a shared past, and shared future. But unless those people legally own your ass, none of that counts for shit. You can't make them the beneficiaries of your social security benefits, nor can they be your heirs. They can be barred from holding your hand as you die, and they have no right to determine what happens to your body after death. Marriage equality would fix some of that, but marriage equality demands that you assume the nuclear family lifestyle and limits the definition of your family to one person.

What we need is a way to legally define our families without the presumption of blood kinship or ownership. 50 percent of marriages fail, so that " institution" clearly doesn't work for over half the adult population. (you have to count the adult population that never marries - just in case you wondered where the "over half" stat comes from). Why just register domestic partnerships? It's possible to love someone and share their life without sharing living space. (Just ask anyone married to a sailor.) Why not allow people to extend protection and inclusion to a group they want to define?

I know why this idea will never fly. First, some people read this and suspect that I'm trying to slip polygamy in under the legal wire. I'm talking about family here, not sexual partners specifically, but some people lack the imagination or mental ability to see the difference. Second, it makes the definition of family nebulous, and some people have to have strict definitions of everything (so that they can play their petty little games of exclusion). Third, people will scream, "What about the children?" Well, half the kids in this country aren't living in narrowly defined nuclear families, but they are living in families - just ones that don't have recognized legal status.

Let me reiterate that I'm not against same sex marriage. I'm pro-love. It's just that there are bigger questions out there and it would be nice if we could have a civil, rational, national discussion about it. What is family? How can we make the definition inclusive instead of exclusive? And when will Americans look at what's fair, and what's right, and stop wallowing in their lust for hate?

1 comment:

Emily Veinglory said...

I think the rights "of marraige" are rather more specific and legal--the right to file joint taxes and save thousands, the right to co-parent, the right to make end of life decisions rather than being thrown from the hospital leaving your partner to die helpless in the company of people she hates, the right to inherit property without attracting taxes so high you end up having to sell it anyway, the right to alimony when you partner takes decades of devotion and investment in their career then runs off with someone else. etc.