21 July 2011

They'll Be Married--In New York, Anyway

Who says that marriage is dead?

It seems that every same-sex couple in New York wants to get married on Sunday, which is the first day that same-sex marriage is legal in the state.  In fact, a lottery had to be held in order to decide which couples would be united that day in City Hall.  

I think that people should decide what the age of majority is and allow any two people who are that age or older to get married or live in any other way they agree to. I still believe that governments should not be involved in marriage at all:  Everyone couple should get the equivalent of a civil union, and if they want to be married in a house of worship, they should be free to do that.  However, I don't think that being married by members of the clergy should be a criterion for defining marriage.

On the other hand, I think that, given the system we have, the law that will take effect on Sunday is the best anyone has devised so far.  Same-sex couples have he same tax benefits and other rights as heterosexual couples.  And no religious institution can be forced to perform same-sex marriages. Nor can they be forced to provide benefits to a same-sex spouse of an employee.  So, for example, if I were to marry another woman and I were to get a job at St. John's or Fordham University, they would not have to provide medical insurance for my spouse.  

All of that is fair, and even good--as long as my spouse and I stay in New York.  But what if she were to get a job in San Jose  making twice as much as both of us combined were making here in New York?  Or if it were simply "too good to pass up" for any other reason?  All right, so we would move.  (I won't give up my bikes, cats or books, though!) So far, so good.

Or is it?

You see, California stopped recognizing same-sex marriages after voters in that state voted for Proposition 8 in November of 2008.  So, no marriage performed in New York will be recognized there in spite of the fact that a couple wed in Massachusetts before that date is seen as a married couple.

At least in California, my hypothetical spouse and I would have, in essence, a civil union, which several other states allow.  (Ironically, I was part of a civil union with another woman when I was still living as a man.)  Although it doesn't allow for tax benefits or visitation or inheritance rights, it's still better than what most states have, which is to say no recognition at all for any but heterosexual couples.  

And there is still no federal recognition of same-sex marriage.  So, if one of us were to take a government job, the other wouldn't qualify for benefits.  

Given the realities of today's economy and culture, the scenarios I've described are not merely hypothetical.  Gay men, lesbians and transgender people change jobs and move--possibly even more frequently than heterosexual people do.  These days. people--particularly the young and those in fields like academia and government--move to where the jobs are, or are moved by their employers.  And we all know they're not all hetero!

Still, the prospect of all of those couples getting married on Sunday is exciting.  After all, doesn't every marriage begin with exciting  possibilities and uncertainties, and don't they all, in time, encounter unforeseen circumstances?    In that sense, the marriages into which those same-sex couples will enter on Sunday are no different from the heterosexual couples who will "tie the knot" that same day.