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The trouble with
marriage

The trouble with
marriage

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In 2004, when I lived in Massachusetts, I legally married my partner of 14 years. Now that we've moved to California, our marriage license is no longer valid. It's an infuriating circumstance that heterosexual wives would never be asked to endure. It's not sour grapes to point out that for women, marriage has always been a dicey proposition. Strangely enough, I've managed to find a silver lining in this sorry state of affairs. This recently occurred to me when I was following the media coverage on Bush's latest U.S. Supreme Court nominee, Judge Samuel Alito--and, of all things, the judge's antiquated attitudes on abortion.

Some gay people tune out when abortion is mentioned. They wonder, What relevance does abortion have for me? Plenty. Homophobia and sexism go together like a pair of scratchy wool mittens. Those who wish to curtail women's reproductive choices are rarely friends to gays either. So if you want to get an inkling of how Alito might rule on gay rights cases--including same-sex marriage--his record on abortion affords much insight.

In 1991, as an appeals court judge, Alito argued in Planned Parenthood v. Casey that it was not an "undue burden" to force a woman to notify her husband of her decision to have an abortion. Back then, Supreme Court justice Sandra Day O'Connor rejected this argument and found it insulting to imagine that simply by marrying, a woman could lose her constitutionally protected rights. But when O'Connor leaves the bench--to be replaced, in all likelihood, by Alito--she'll take her regard for women's rights along with her.

How ironic. Lesbians and gay men are still fighting for the right to marry everywhere in this country (except Massachusetts, and even there, marriage rights for same-sex couples are less comprehensive than those for heterosexuals). Yet, remarkably, we lesbians--had Alito gotten his patriarchal way back then--could today have greater abortion rights than our straight, married counterparts.

Is this an argument against our embracing the right to marry? No. Basic fairness dictates that gay people should have this right. Still, the Alito story is a striking reminder that the institution of marriage was and is saddled with sexism. Only recently could married women own property or obtain legal recourse for marital rape. While lesbians clearly suffer from discrimination, rejection by our families, and disconnection from male privilege, many of us also experience greater freedom and power by avoiding the traditional

female and heterosexual route. Before we leap into marriage, let's keep this in mind.

Movies these days only confirm my feeling that sexism and heterosexism are joined at the hip. In the culmination of the recent Pride & Prejudice, Keira Knightley's Elizabeth tells her new husband, Mr. Darcy, that when he is supremely ecstatic he should refer to her as Mrs. Darcy. He repeats "Mrs. Darcy" over and over as she snuggles into his arms. My mother thought this was a romantically creative new finale to a story we've been watching since the 1940 version. I had to tell her (and probably not for the last time either) that I disagreed. Until gays can marry everywhere in this country and straight men take their wives' names as often as straight women take their husbands', why should I ooh and aah?

30 Years of Out100Out / Advocate Magazine - Jonathan Groff & Wayne Brady

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