The Sanctity of Gay Marriage

I read Kevin Koernig’s piece on marriage in last week’s Record and was plagued by so many questions. Why did Kevin get married so young? How does Koernig’s wife feels about all this? And why is he both pontificating about the sanctity and virtue of marriage, while at the same time trying to keep a significant portion of Americans from participating in that institution?

None of these questions are rhetorical. As it turns out, despite his insight into the nature and value of marriage, he has never been married, nor does he have a wife. (Though, ladies, if you’re looking for someone who isn’t afraid of commitment, Koernig might just be your man.) As for the last question, the answer lies in the way Koernig seeks to define marriage.

We learn from Koernig that marriage is not about individuals, nor the expression of love, commitment or even happiness. Anyone who subscribes to the above is grossly misinformed. He excuses the lowly college student for his or her naiveté as, “the college lifestyle is about as far as you can possibly get from the realities and responsibilities of marriage.” (Thank God Kevin is here!) But even the judges of Ontario’s highest court fail to understand what marriage is. The Ontario court said, “Through the institution of marriage, individuals can publicly express their love and commitment to each other. Through this institution, society publicly recognizes expressions of love and commitment between individuals, granting them respect and legitimacy as a couple.” It is on this basis that the Court sanctions gay marriage, recognizing that the exclusion of gay couples from civil marriage is a violation of their civil rights.

In Koernig’s view, the court is misguided. “Marriage. . .is entirely about the concept of family and the rearing of children.” Entirely? Let’s put aside the vacuous language he uses and look at what he’s trying to say. Yes, marriage is about family. Whether a woman takes her husband’s name or not, whether a man calls his mother-in-law “mom” or not, a couple becomes family as far as the law is concerned and as far as their friends, family, coworkers and neighbors are concerned. But what about the second part? Is a marriage not valid until the couple has a child? Is a couple wrong to get married if they have no intention of raising a child together? And, if so, should that be proscribed by law? The answer to all these questions is no.

Moreover, this is not simply a matter of inequality. While government controls the civil and legal aspects of a marriage, the act of marrying itself remains largely a religious one. And all across our country, temples and churches — indeed entire denominations — are opening their doors to gay couples who wish to take vows. Obviously, whether a church or sect honors gay marriage is a matter for that church or sect to decide. But when many mainstream faiths have conflicting definitions of marriage, legislators ought not step in and invalidate the ones of which they disapprove.

Marriage is about creating families; Koernig offers no legitimate reason as to why two gay people, committed to each other and intent on being a family ought to be denied the legal recognition thereof. How could two people, entering faithfully into the covenant of marriage and abiding by that covenant, be an affront to it? How does the legal and societal recognition of one couple infringe upon the legal and societal recognition of another? Most importantly, why should we sacrifice the civil rights of one group in the service of an ideal espoused by another? Unfortunately, Koernig doesn’t really address the millions of homosexuals in America who rightly regard a proscription of gay marriage as reprobation not of gay marriage, but of being gay itself.

I hope Koernig finds a few gay people he knows and speaks with them. He should tell them why he believes that their freedom to marry is a threat to his abstract notion of family. He should have to answer pointblank the very personal questions that lie at the end of this political debate. Why don’t you want me to get married? Why can’t my health insurance from work cover my partner? Why can’t I file a joint tax return? Can I call him my husband? Am I wrong for even wanting to get married?

Discussions of personal differences can produce tolerance and acceptance. Maybe even people like Koernig will learn to accept definitions of family and commitment that transcend sexual orientation; the sky will not fall, nor will the family fall apart and America will have taken one more step in an enduring struggle to make all of us more equal and free. We ought to disavow ourselves of this pointless persecution that exists only because it always has. We ought to recognize and honor the millions of unwed gay couples who’ve promised to love and cherish each other, grow old together, remain committed to one another — all the while denied the right to marry. We ought to realize that the sanctity Kevin Koernig is so anxious to preserve is another part of our past that should not be part of our future.