Wednesday, February 11, 2015

Dare Defend the Right to Marry in Alabama

As in 1865,
surrender is the honorable option
If, even a few months ago, I had tried to come up with a list of states that would have marriage equality before a Supreme Court ruling granting it to all,[1] Alabama wouldn’t have made it onto that list. But here we are.

On February 9, 2015, Alabama became the thirty-eighth state to permit same-sex marriage, though like two other states, Kansas and Missouri, that right is not being respected uniformly through the state.[2] That gives us thirty-five states (and the District of Columbia) were same-sex couples can marry, three states where they can get married in some parts, and twelve states where same-sex couples cannot marry.

But although the state lost in their defense of their ban on same-sex marriage, and both the Eleventh Circuit Court of Appeals and the Supreme Court have refused to extend this stay, many state officials are refusing to issue marriage licenses to same-sex couples, some having decided that they should stop issuing marriage licenses altogether.

The New York Times had several articles in their February 15, 2015 edition covering the ongoing fight for same-sex marriage in Alabama. The most poignant of these was a piece by two women who have lived together in Alabama for about the last thirty-four years.[3] Jean Mills and Carol Eichelberger note that
We have never been activists; we’ve never pushed for marriage equality.
But seeing this fight from the sidelines has changed their minds. I’ve seen opponents to same-sex marriage question why couples without children even need marriage. I would suggest they find childless opposite-sex couples and ask them.[4] Of course, this brand of opponent to same-sex marriage generally has no problem with childless opposite-sex couples. You even get freaky stuff like that their sex looks like procreative sex, even when it never is.[5] Of course there are reasons for couples without children[6] marry.
We were not looking to get involved in this particular cause, but it has found us. While marriage may not be needed to make us feel more fulfilled, alas, we are pragmatists. As we grow older, the not-so-romantic benefits of marriage are becoming important. A few years back we learned that Carol had inherited her father’s Huntington’s disease. Her symptoms have progressed to the point that we now have to begin thinking more seriously about health care, end-of-life and financial security issues.

Recently we began to think about how being married would make it easier when dealing with medical and legal institutions. We began to think about the survivor benefits opposite-sex married couples have access to. We began to recognize how legal marriage would make this new era of our lives easier to navigate.
Compare that to a 2012 journal article recently linked to by Rod Dreher. Matthew O’Brien, the author, is a former student of Robert George of Princeton, so somewhat predictably, marriage is rooted firmly in procreation. O’Brien limits marriage to
the conception of civil marriage that happens to be the traditional one, by legally recognizing and promoting families headed by two married parents who are the biological mother and father of their children.
That’s an amazingly narrow view of things. Opposite-sex couple without children? Not really married (according to O’Brien). Couple with an adoptive child? Not really married. Couple in which one has adopted the biological child of the other? Not really married. By O’Brien’s view, The Brady Bunch isn’t really a family. The Bradys are just faking it.[7]

Of course, O’Brien lists a lot of things that aren’t (under his definition) marriages, making all sorts of contortions to avoid mentioning that his definition excludes all these marriages that have been seen for decades as just a normal part of American life.

But the people fighting to stop same-sex couples from marrying in Alabama and elsewhere don’t really mean it when they make these increasingly narrow definitions. Everyone else (maybe even O’Brien) is willing to do the handwaving so sexagenarians can marry and that marriages aren’t treated as merely provisional until the first child.[8]

And so, the actions by Alabama Chief Justice Roy S. Moore aren’t some principled stand for the rule of law or some attempt to support states rights. But as the Times quotes Blake Guinn, “a self-described Christian conservative,”
“I support states’ rights, too,” said Mr. Guinn, a self-described Christian conservative who voted for Chief Justice Moore in 2012. “But I just feel like time and time again we pick the wrong and losing battles.”
Although Alabama may fight this to the bitter end, the end will come, and it will not be bitter for all. Ms. Mills and Ms. Eichelberger plan to get a marriage license.
And after that, who knows? We may even get married. But that is our decision to make, not someone else’s. We feel it is our duty, as good citizens of Alabama, to stand up now. Suddenly, the Alabama state motto applies to us: “We Dare Defend Our Rights.”
A Final Note: My illustration comes form the Opelousas Courier of February 11, 1865. One hundred and fifty years ago, the battle lines were drawn and there was some question of a settlement. As it was in 1865, the thing for Alabama to do is to lay down their arms and let freedom and justice flourish.

  1. And I find the arguments made that it is coming compelling.  ↩
  2. Quoth Wikipedia.  ↩
  3. It’s not clear if that’s the extent of the women’s relationship. They have lived together in Tuscaloosa for thirty-four years, but they don’t indicate if there was a time before Tuscaloosa.  ↩
  4. Failing that, STFU.  ↩
  5. Basically, their dirty-minded individuals who can’t look at people without imaging what they look like having sex. With married same-sex couples you can’t imagine that they’re “just roommates” or “really good friends.”  ↩
  6. A group that includes some opposite-sex couples and not all same-sex couples.  ↩
  7. Clearly the erosion of marriage started on September 26, 1969.  ↩
  8. I’d say “how good of them,” but really it just lays bare that the whole intent is find a pretext under which same-sex couples can be blocked from marrying without inconveniencing opposite-sex couples.  ↩

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