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Thursday, October 18, 2012

Stove-Top Stuffing: What's in a Name?

Today in the U. S. A., the 2nd Circuit Court ruled that the federal statute defining marriage as between one man and one woman is unlawful, because it denies federal benefits to same-sex couples who are married.

DOMA, as it is not so affectionately known among queer types like me, is the Defense of Marriage Act. It was signed into law back when I was still living in the States, by Bill Clinton. No excuses accepted--Democrat or Republican, it's been a long time since a president didn't overreach and do unconstitutional things with his power.

This particular law is unconstitutional, for reasons that have essentially nothing to do with gays or what you think about gay rights. The Constitution (a document often quoted but less often read--see the Bible) makes it pretty clear that part of being the United States involves each state honoring the other states' contracts.

So, if some kooky, Mitt Romney-governed state like Massachusetts wants to start issuing marriage licenses to any old couple--straight or gay--it's all very well for another state not to do so. Say, Virginia. But that doesn't mean Virginia can insist that people married in Massachusetts aren't really married.

And it certainly doesn't mean the federal government can deny equal benefits to one kind of couple married in one of the states. At least, it didn't mean that, until DOMA came along.

"Defense of marriage" is such an odd name for this law. I mean, I left the country back when Bill Clinton was president, because of the denial of equality by the federal government. And I have been waiting ever since for one man and one woman to tell me how, thanks to DOMA, their marriage was saved. Without all those pesky gay American citizens around, trying to legally live with their partners in their country of birth.

Partners. Spouses. What's in a name?

Not everybody, gay or straight, wants to get married. Same-sex marriage may be the last frontier now, but not so many years ago, in Ontario, a province that passed it even earlier than Romney's state--well, it wasn't so popular there. Not among straights. Among gays.

What are we thinking? asked an Xtra! forum of the time. We don't want marriage. We're different. Queer! Queers are supposed to be different. We are supposed to be out and proud, pro-sex, living lives of activism and protest.

Or not. The other big gay argument has been that we are exactly like "everybody else." We raise kids, do laundry, pay taxes, and are too tired to have sex. Please, just let us get married and live our boring lives in peace.

Of course, both are true, and true even of the same people, at different times. Which brings me to Stove-Top Stuffing.

Do I need to get married? No. Do I think homophobia will end if only we can get married? I'm not holding my breath.

I don't oppose DOMA because it's marriage. We don't have marriage in the United Kingdom either, and some people are pretty upset about it. We have civil partnership, though, and--here's the crucial thing--civil partnership conveys all the same rights, legally, in this country that marriage does.

If through some other institution--call it Stove-Top Stuffing--the U. S. government granted equality to same-sex couples under federal law, then that would be fine. The divorce rate for straight couples could continue to go down, saved by the absence of gays from the sacred institution of marriage. Thousands of binational couples, meanwhile--couples where one partner is a U. S. citizen and the other is a $%*! foreigner--could make a free choice where to live, legally, and maybe even contribute to American society.

But immigration is federal (despite Arizona). So are hundreds of other matters, the equality of which is denied to us: veterans' survivor benefits, Sally Ride's pension, and so on. So it doesn't matter what individual states do, as long as DOMA is on the books. All fifty states could pass same-sex marriage--as if--and that wouldn't change anything at the national level. Which, from outside the nation, is what matters most to me.

It would be better for no state to have "marriage," if the country as a whole had Stove-Top Stuffing.

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