“…let me be vilely painted, and in such great letters as they write ‘Here is good horse to hire,’ let them signify under my sign. ‘Here you may see Benedick the married man.'”
—Much Ado About Nothing, Act I, scene 1
I’ve always been as close to being a confirmed bachelor as one can get without “confirmed bachelor” needing winking quotes around it. Marriage just never held that much interest for me. Sure, in the abstract, I’d consider it, but in the way you consider dropping everything to go study kung fu in a monastery. Might be fun in theory, but not a great fit with my existing lifestyle.
Nevertheless, I’m planning to get married in March. I find myself deeply happy about that, about the notion of agreeing to extend the best romance of my life indefinitely. So I’d like to take this opportunity to thank the LGBT community for helping make this possible.
On the one hand, the long struggle for marriage equality has nothing to do with me, a cis-man, marrying a cis-woman. On the other hand, yes it does. I should probably explain that a bit.
Back in 2009, I read the most hilariously wonderful anti-gay-marriage screed, by a guy named Schulman. It’s still online, and I heartily recommend it. Schulman isn’t just wrong, he’s outrageously wrong in the most strange, creative, and revealing ways. He seems to have, or at least feigns, genuine sympathy for gay and lesbian people, but he doesn’t think they should be allowed to get married because marriage is horrible and nobody wants it, but straight people are forced to do it because of child prostitutes and burly uncles and therefore, it creates illicit sex which is necessary to have. And anyway, one does not wear a tuxedo in the afternoon. Here are a few highlights:
Marriage, whatever its particular manifestation in a particular culture or epoch, is essentially about who may and who may not have sexual access to a woman when she becomes an adult, and is also about how her adulthood—and sexual accessibility—is defined.
But without social disapproval of unmarried sex, what kind of madman would seek marriage?
Gay spouses have none of our guilt about sex-before-marriage. They have no tedious obligations toward in-laws, need never worry about Oedipus or Electra, won’t have to face a menacing set of brothers or aunts should they betray their spouse. But without these obligations…why marry?
Few men would ever bother to enter into a romantic heterosexual marriage–much less three, as I have done—were it not for the iron grip of necessity that falls upon us when we are unwise enough to fall in love with a woman other than our mom.
That last one may be my favorite; there are so many things wrong in just that one sentence. I single this article out because it has a particular virtue. It lays bare the subtext of a LOT of arguments against marriage equality, by simply being naïve and ingenuous enough to state its subtextual assumptions clearly and up-front. It’s a useful tool for understanding a lot of subcultures: the ones who don’t know enough to cover their subtext tell you a lot more than the well-phrased spokesmen.
The crux of Schulman’s argument is that marriage is necessarily a grim, joyless, unwelcome fate forced upon heterosexuals because the alternative is libertinism, which he thinks is self-evidently bad for some reason. His explicit fear is that if homosexuals can marry despite the lack of joyless obligation, heterosexuals will no longer feel that the joyless obligation is important.
Which, yeah. Some of us figured that out a long time ago, dude.
Obviously, Schulman’s model of marriage is missing two vital components that were key to the successful struggle for marriage equality. The first is the personal value in solemnizing a romantic love, which he acknowledges but genuinely doesn’t seem to consider important. (Which might help explain his three marriages). The second, and the one that people kept having to hammer on during the equality campaign, is the wide array of legal and financial benefits marriage confers. Speaking as a guy currently fiddling with paperwork, there are a lot of them. I, for one, am looking forward to not being compelled to testify against my wife. Also getting in on her health insurance. And not having to fill out separate forms and agreements granting me the right to be consulted on certain worst-case scenarios, because there’s a simple social covenant that conveys to the whole world “She and I are together, and you will address us accordingly.”
Because, you see, regardless of the fears of Sam Schulman and all his ilk, that covenant has value, and it’s all we want. Marriage has long been tied to a very traditionalist view of sex that holds that being married is the only thing that makes sex legitimate (not consent, mind you), and having never subscribed to that view (big fan of consent here), I never saw the appeal. But within my adult life, I’ve seen a massive campaign that demonstrated, successfully, that marriage has genuine value even to those whose sexuality doesn’t fit into tradition’s narrow nonconsensual box.
All of which is to say, in such great letters as they write HERE IS GOOD HORSE TO HIRE, that as of March you may see Benedick the married man.
Previously published on Noah Brand
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