Writer Jessica Young on Gay Marriage
I don't tend to think of myself as a person of privilege. I THINK privilege is a concept best associated with white people who generally are unaware of or disagree with the fact that their race gives them a set of advantages, perceptions, passwords, permissions and plain old good fortune that those of us who aren't white men don't have. Truth is, I am a person of privilege for a lot of reasons: I seldom worry about how I will afford to buy food; I have a good education and a job; I am loved by wonderful people. I just never thought of myself privileged.
Recently my favorite person asked if we could get married, and I told him absolutely; and now I'm privileged for a whole different reason: I'm straight. Illinois legally recognizes my marriage, and I don't have to deal with the marriage versus civil union versus domestic partnership argument. I have the privilege of marrying whom I please because the state has ok'ed the nature of my relationship.
I have heard it said that same-sex marriage is a states' rights issue. I think this is a sloppy and dismissive means of dealing with a denial of civil rights. Slavery was a states' rights issue: it was such a divisive issue that our country fought itself over a state's right to abuse and dehumanize others for economic gain and social comfort. Now, with the benefit of hindsight, we can all agree that slavery was bad, right? The latter 20th century was dominated by a dogged pursuit of civil rights to the descendants of slaves in this country. Slavery is so far in our country's rearview mirror that most of us, hopefully a lot of us can acknowledge the atrocity of denying basic civil rights, including marriage, to people because we were more comfortable perceiving them as less than human. Our nation has a history for legislating the human body, and now it wants to legislate peoples' love; does this sound to anyone else like history repeating itself?
I have also heard that same-sex marriage is all about stuff: that it isn't an issue of rights or privileges, but is merely about who keeps what when a relationship ends. Now, let's really think about that idea for a minute. When my fiancé got down on one knee in the clear, dusky summer night and asked, “Jess, will you marry me?” I was speechless. My mind was racing, thinking about how much I love him, and about his supernatural capacity to love me, to make me feel safe and treasured, about how excited I am to spend the rest of my life with him, growing together. I could barely breathe for all the joy zooming around inside me, and could only manage to whisper, “Yes!” I was not thinking, “Well, this is actually a really good idea, because if he kicks it before I do, once we're married, I won't have to argue with his family over his sci-fi collection, his endless piles of tchochkes, and his boxes and boxes of papers that he cannot throw out. I'll get to keep all that stuff for myself: I wonder if I could sell it on eBay.” I hope most straight long-term couples are partnered because we've found someone we can ideally commit to for the long haul; we want to share our lives and build families together. Why would same-sex couples want anything less, but instead care about who gets their old Earth,Winh, and Fire records?
I'd love to say that out of solidarity for gay couples my fiancé and I will tell the state to take their institution and stick where the sun don't shine; but I can't. He and I want to be married, according to state and church. But I'm deeply aware that I'm privileged to engage in this ritual that others are denied. It grieves me to think that people would deny marriage rights because gay marriage makes them uncomfortable. Love is such a complicated and rare thing in our world: Let people celebrate that love in whatever fashion.
Music Button: Saxon Shore, "Thanks For Being Away", from the CD It Doesn't Matter (www.saxonshore.com)