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    Why Marriage Matters

    howardWhile I am an officiant and this is a weddings column, I am keenly aware that marriage isn’t for everyone. I try to balance my enthusiasm for rituals with the understanding that saying “I do” may not be every reader’s goal.

    I mention this since I received an e-mail in response to my column last month. In that column I wrote that a friend “wondered how much people who are making wedding vows think about the 50% divorce rate.”

    An excerpt from the e-mail follows:

    “My wife and I have definitely wrestled with the idea of marriage as the national conversation within and outside the community metamorphosed before our eyes…I think the question for queer folk has less to do with the statistics of marriages vs. divorce…but perhaps what it means to us in a historical perspective.”

    I am aware that some LGBT individuals feel that expending so much of the community’s resources on marriage equality has been a mistake. Some have said that we are acquiescing to heteronormalcy. Some people claim we are sacrificing gains we fought for in sexual freedom and expression. Some worry that we are buying into an industry that wants to exploit us for our dollars.

    All of this was percolating in my brain when I was a guest at the wedding of my good friends, Mark & Paul. In addition to the graciousness of the hosts, as well as the love saturating every moment, what struck me that afternoon were the words offered by State Senator Mark Leno, who officiated. He said: “For years, first as an activist and then as an elected official, I had always wanted for myself and for my community the same rights, benefits and privileges, along with the responsibilities and obligations of marriage, but I was not sure that we needed to fight a war over a word.”

    He continued, “My heart and mind were changed irrevocably after having read the November 2003 decision of the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court. That court…ruled that there is no constitutional basis for the discrimination of denying loving and devoted same-sex couples marriage licenses. They went on to say that our nation’s history has taught us that separate is seldom, if ever, equal. But they then went on to say something even more powerful, something that I had never thought of before then. The justices stated that the only remedy to this identified discrimination is marriage and marriage alone. No parallel construct such as civil unions or domestic partnerships would do, they said, because it would perpetuate a destructive stereotype that suggests that there is something inferior and unstable about the way same-sex couples love.”

    Leno added, “If we, through our public policy and law making, are going to say that one group of humans loves in a way that is deserving of a marriage license, but this other group just doesn’t love quite good enough so we will deny them their fundamental right to marry, then we are denying that group their very humanity. It was at that time that I decided that I was ready to fight a war over a word.”

    The word “marriage” is important for many. I am proud that State Senator Mark Leno took up the fight for marriage equality. His remarks reminded me of the importance, and indeed the centrality, of love.

    For those who have, or will, celebrate their love through legal matrimony, may your marriage be filled with health and happiness.

    Howard M. Steiermann is an Ordained Ritual Facilitator based in San Francisco. For more information, please visit www.SFHoward.com