In honor of the pursuit of happiness: an essay.
To the Marriage of True Minds
This morning I got out a fresh razor to shave my legs and when I took the protective plastic thing off of it, I saw that the blades were clogged with tiny red beard hairs. Damn it. It is alarming that after 10 years somebody can still catch you off guard like that. It is weird for me to wrap my mind around the fact that William and I are hurtling toward out tenth anniversary.
There is a lot of talk these days about what constitutes a marriage. Is it strictly between a man and a woman? Is it two consenting adults? I once asked a friend’s mother – how did she know that Stan was “the one.” How did she know she was in love? She said, “Merideth, when I got married, I didn’t know what love was.”
It’s been ten years. Do I know what marriage is? I feel a bit anxious about bragging on our ten year victory. After all, my parents were disastrously married for 15 years before they divorced. How will I know when I’ve made it? When can I breathe out that sigh of relief that I’m holding in? When we first married, I would wake up every day and say, “I love you this morning.” It unnerved William. Would tomorrow be different? Tomorrow is always different. Marriage is a daily commitment, but over the years it has come to be as natural to me as waking up in the morning. I rarely startle him anymore with a reminder of the tenuousness of life in general and relationships in particular.
For all that this is working out for me so far, I don’t think I would do it again.
In ten years, we have weathered a three month trip to Europe with no money, two children, living with my parents, traveling with his parents, moving across the state twice, the deaths of loved ones, two teaching certification processes, a masters’ degree, buying a house, refinancing a house, fluctuating sex drives – and not always compatibly fluctuating, running up credit cards, paying off credit cards, running up credit cards again, and of course those little daily surprises like peanut butter in the fridge (He doesn’t eat it – he doesn’t know where it goes.) and unexpected red hair in what you thought was a fresh razor. Life has happened to us. It shows on our faces. It is heavy in our hearts. I’m not sure anymore whether I could carry it by myself.
Marriage is different from friendship, but large enough to include it.
Marriage is different from love, but strong enough to create it.
Marriage is a trust defined by the participants, and what it provides most profoundly is belonging, an almost casual sharing of identity that most of us take so completely for granted that we don’t give a thought to what we might mean – all of the things we might mean – when we say “I do.” Certainly some services include the phrase “not to be entered lightly,” but we do enter it lightly. And often, we leave it heavily, shattered by the realization that we are not who we thought we were, and they are not who we thought they were. In light of this new knowledge, one can see why Michel de Montaigne would write that “Marriage is like a cage; one sees the birds outside desperate to get in, and those inside equally desperate to get out.” It takes time and experience on the inside to know for yourself what marriage is and whether you and your partner can make it work. And right now, some people are not afforded a level playing field to find out. It seems so fundamentally wrong to deny someone the right to take this risk, to express this hope and belief in their beloved that things will work out as long as they have each other.
I want to say that to deny a person the right to validate their relationship in this way is cruel. I wish I could say it was unusual. Unfortunately, I have to settle for saying that it is ridiculous. That my hope and belief and joy in my marriage with William is somehow made less by according same-sex relationships the same right to build marriage for themselves is – well, I can’t think of another word for it – ridiculous.
In Loving v. Virginia, the Supreme Court expressed similar outrage towards the state’s ban on interracial marriage, reaffirming the sovereignty of individuals in choosing a marriage partner:
Marriage is one of the “basic civil rights of man,” fundamental to our very existence and survival…. To deny this fundamental freedom on so unsupportable a basis as the racial classifications embodied in these statutes, classifications so directly subversive of the principle of equality at the heart of the Fourteenth Amendment, is surely to deprive all the State’s citizens of liberty without due process of law. The Fourteenth Amendment requires that the freedom of choice to marry not be restricted by invidious racial discriminations. Under our Constitution, the freedom to marry, or not marry, a person of another race resides with the individual and cannot be infringed by the State (Warren).
Our country is struggling over a definition of marriage that everyone can live with. How about this: Marriage is surprises, boredom, laughter, continuity, struggle, stability, interdependence, validation. I know it lacks something in the gender specification department. I consider that a positive. Marriage is a public affirmation of a deeply personal ideal. The notion that this ideal might be defined differently by different individuals should be neither surprising nor threatening, and I can only think it is an extremely weakened personal ideal that cannot withstand the coexistence of variation.
On the one hand, one might argue that true marriage happens to you whether you have a piece of paper from the state to support it or not. But many couples are working for their marriage to happen without the support of the 1,049 federal laws extending rights, privileges and benefits to their fellow married citizens (OGC). In a world fraught with burdens that marriage is meant to lighten, they struggle with one extra impediment to their right to pursue happiness.