This is from "Vows" in the Sunday New York Times, a column in which a couple who are about to get married, or have just gotten married, are profiled -- usually a fluffy, romantic tale of how they met and courted.
This particular profile struck me as a perfect example of our contemporary (and, I would say, problematic) view of marriage not as an inextricable part of the social and economic life of a community, but as the culmination of a thing we call "falling in love."
Since the gays have been fighting to be allowed to marry, there's all this talk, from people opposed, about the "sanctity of marriage," and how allowing gays to marry sullies it. But the story of Carol Anne Riddell and John Partilla illustrates beautifully that it is not the marriage itself that is sanctified but the love affair that is, or is expected to be, its basis. If marriage were sacred, then Carol and John would not have divorced their spouses and abandoned their children in order to marry each other, or, if they had, we as a community certainly would not have found it romantic and sweet.
The unstated assumption of this story is that when two people "fall in love," marriage is inevitable and ultimately good, despite whatever disruptions and emotional trauma it might cause everyone around them.
Gay marriage advocates love to point to conservatives like Newt Gingrich or John McCain who have been married multiple times, divorcing and remarrying when they find they love someone new. They rightly accuse them of hypocrisy for behaving in a way that is inconsistent with their stated view that marriage is sacred. But then they turn around and tell us that gays are just asking to be allowed to marry the person they love. So why are they condemning Gingrich and McCain for doing exactly that?
The aim, supposedly, of government support of marriage is to promote stable relationships, stable families, stable communities (Andrew Sullivan makes this case beautifully in his book Virtually Normal, the undeclared bible of the gay marriage movement), but by insisting that a love affair be at the core of a marriage, the effect is often the opposite: broken relationships and families, because the kind of love or the stage of love (erotic obsession, really) that we glorify and expect way too much from is, by itself, unstable.
If the gay marriage camp is serious with all their I-only-want-the-right-to-marry-the-person-I-love rhetoric, then they are going down the same road. Which is to say that what irks me the most about the marriage campaign (even more than the economic injustice of marriage itself and the fact that the fight for inclusion has monopolized the movement for an issue that affects a small percentage of GLBT people) is the hypocrisy of it.
We used to point to this sort of behavior as evidence that heterosexuals were getting it wrong, and we were going to come correct. Now that the gays are content to jump on the sinking ship and go down with the heterosexuals, who's going to steer the way to a new, more honest conception of what relationships and families can be?
img Tina Fineberg for The New York Times