So my very late Christmas present from Anna was, interestingly, a book about marriage. "The Commitment" by Dan Savage is a look at (as he says on the cover) "love, sex, marriage, and my family". Savage has lived with his boyfriend Terry for ten years (they have a six-year-old adopted son, D.J.) and the book more or less opens with a debate as to whether they should get married or just get matching tattoos saying "Property of [insert boyfriend's name here]" on their arms. They are of the tattoo camp, while most of the immediate family leans towards marriage or nothing. ("You know what tattoos you should get? 'Property of D.J.' because you're my dads" says their son, who is opposed to gay marriage due to school socialization but would come to the reception and eat cake.) The debate ranges between discussions with Savage's older brother, who's in a long-term relationship that doesn't involve marriage, kids, monogamy, or even co-habitation, to debunking statements made by opponents of homosexuality (For instance, "If everyone were gay, the human race would be finished in fifty years." As Savage says, "A sane person might think that the long, sordid history of heterosexuality, and the current human population of six billion, is all the evidence we need that human beings will never tire of the heterosexual act.").
Savage's snarky comments and conversations with astute family members are all well and good, but to me what was the most interesting was the discussion of what exactly marriage is. What does it mean, really? What is it about? Health insurance and end-of-life decisions? Kids? Monogamy? Love, god forbid? All of these things exist, in some form and some of the time anyway, without the existance of marriage. And marriages exist without any of these things. Opponents of gay marriage (at least some of them) like to say that if gay people could get married then next people would be able to marry, say, sheep. Proponents of gay marriage like to point out that any random man and woman can get married and automatically have rights in regards to each other that gay couples of decades can't access. Both seem rather equally preposterous to me.
I've always felt rather ambivalent about marriage, at least since I started thinking about it critically. Ultimately, I just never really saw the point. A big expensive party so that if you break up a few years down the road you can have a big expensive divorce, so that your bond with another person can be acknowledged by god/the government/other people who already know you're in love if they're at your wedding in the first place? I do understand the problems that can be more easily resolved by a marriage license (adoption, insurance, citizenship, and the like), but I can't get rid of the feeling that the ceremony and the end benefits don't quite jibe. What is marriage: love or social perks? Why do those things have to go together? Why the governmental sanction for a document that purports to signify emotional connection to another person?
I don't mean to sound so pessimistic or bitter or down on marriage. This book actually made me feel a lot more kindly towards the desire for that kind of formal commitment, but it also made me feel even more internally divided on how I personally would handle that kind of decision in my own life. Love is grand, no doubt, but would I ever want to stand in front of a room of friends and family and talk about it? If I could, would I get married? Even while my understandings become (hopefully) more nuanced, I still couldn't say.