ColumnsWhat A World

Platforms and Prejudice: All I really need to know about marriage I learned from my sister

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True, I’m biased—but my sister and her husband are the kind of people you’d just love to hate, but can’t. She’s a model wife, mother, and businesswoman whose work in her own company won her a Peabody Award a couple of years back. Plus, she’s smart and funny as hell, and throws down a Thanksgiving spread that would make Martha Stewart cry.

A fellow graduate in my tiny, 99-person high school senior class, my sister’s husband was much better acquainted with me than he was with her throughout our school years; his last name began with an E, which always placed us in close proximity, seating chart-wise. Then too, she was just a sophomore, and everybody knows seniors don’t talk to sophomores. The strong, silent type with a truly twisted sense of humor, he has worked for the power company in Ohio for decades, doing something dangerous.

They live in a beautiful house on a beautiful street in Ohio. They pay their taxes and keep a tidy lawn. Together they have produced three beautiful sons, all of whom are grown, educated, and, following their parents’ example, are respected contributors to their communities.

After we all graduated, when my sister and her husband announced their impending nuptials, few of us had much hope for their success. He was quiet—even somewhat conservative—and she, well known throughout the tri-state area for her motorcycle hill-climbing prowess (think Drew Barrymore in the Charlie’s Angels sequel), was . . . not. They hadn’t dated long before they tied the knot, claiming that love-at-first-sight, soulmate thing. One trait they seemed to share back then was their mutual stubbornness—not generally a component of a long, happy union.

There were also class, cultural, and religious differences they would have to overcome. If their families and the majority of friends had had their way, my sister and her husband would never have been permitted to walk down the aisle together.

Fortunately, their matrimonial fate wasn’t put to a vote. My sister and her husband celebrate their 33rd wedding anniversary this month. Another trait the two apparently share is resilience, because all these years later they are the picture of success, and more in love than ever. Their marriage is truly a model for that institution. They soundly beat the odds stacked against them, in spite of an ever-climbing 50 percent national heterosexual divorce rate.

Gales of laughter would accompany any suggestion that their marriage’s sanctity was threatened by any long-term homo relationship of my own, or anyone else’s.

As I make plans to join the celebration honoring their anniversary, I am struck by the thought of all those same-sex California couples who are just as devoted to each other as my sister and her husband, and who have been waiting for months to learn their own matrimonial fate.

After the California Supreme Court legalized same-sex marriage in May 2008, as many as 18,000 same-sex couples got married in California. The following November, propped up by support from the Mormon Church in nearby Utah, voters approved Proposition 8, an amendment to California’s state constitution that restricts marriage to opposite-sex couples.

Last month, the California court heard closing arguments in Perry v. Schwarzenegger, the case challenging Prop 8 and the worthiness of marriage equality.

“The fundamental constitutional right to marry has been taken away from the plaintiffs and tens of thousands of similarly situated Californians,” Ted Olson, one attorney for the gay couples, argued. “Their state has rewritten its constitution in order to place them in a special disfavored category where their most intimate personal relationships are not valid, not recognized, and second-rate. The state has stigmatized them as unworthy of marriage, different, and less respected.”

Based on Olson’s eloquently reasoned arguments, chances are good, experts say, that marriage equality will carry the day in California. The judge is expected to render a decision before summer’s end.

Sad to say, equality is progressing much more slowly here in our ultra-conservative, blood-red state of Texas, fundamentalists apparently making up for our dearth of Mormons: a formal challenge to a ban prohibiting same-sex marriage—and anything remotely resembling it—that became Texas law in 2005 has yet to be thrown down.

Exacerbating the issue even further, the Republican Party of Texas proposed in its platform at their recent state convention in Dallas that performing a gay marriage or issuing a marriage license to same-sex couples under the Lone Star be punishable as a felony. Despite a little U.S. Supreme Court decision from 2003 called Lawrence v. Texas, the majority of Texas GOPers still insist that “the practice of homosexuality tears at the fabric of society, contributes to the breakdown of the family unit, and leads to the spread of dangerous, communicable diseases.”

Read closely. It’s not the homosexuals that are causing all that hand-wringing. Rather, the problem is the practice of homosexuality, they ecumenically say, which could encompass anything from gay couples engaging in sodomy to straight couples hiring Elton John to sing at their first second third fourth wedding ceremony.

Or, does the platform mean that it is okay for a homosexual couple to get married, as long as they don’t practice homosexuality? That’s a notion that elevates lesbian bed death to a useful phenomenon.

I can’t imagine some judge or church or political platform trying to invalidate my sister and her husband’s commitment to each other, despite their one-time class, cultural, and religious differences and a majority of naysayers railing against their chance of staying together for 33 days, let alone 33 years. They loved each other then, they love each other now, and that’s all that matters.

Don’t all loving couples, whether in California or Texas or Ohio or wherever, deserve the same chance?

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