Iowa does good

A while back I posted on the subject of so-called “gay marriage.” Shortly after posting that, I got involved in an email conversation with fellow St. Olaf College alumni in which I expanded on my thoughts. Today upon receiving a news alert from a friend that Iowa has joined the ranks of sensible states who are choosing to protect economic and legal fairness for all its citizens, I am prompted to post my email here:

14 November 2006

I agree with almost everything said so far, in particular the fact that it’s heartening to be reading this conversation [on a St. Olaf College LISTSERV]. I found it especially heartening for it to have been started by Pastor Benson. The public perception of this issue seems to be far too slanted in the direction of “religious leaders object to gay marriage.” It doesn’t seem necessary rehearse the various reasons for that here; instead I’ll add my thanks to him and all who have replied.

I’m not sure whether to be optimistic or not. Sometimes I’m optimistic; I think the fact that so many people are talking about it–and so many people, so reasonably–is a sign of tremendous progress since, for example, when I was at St Olaf in the 1980s. The fledgling GLBT community’s hottest topic then was whether it was safe to be “out,” at St Olaf or elsewhere. This feels like progress.

Sometimes I view it historically in a different way: the institution of marriage has hardly been static for more than a few generations, let alone throughout history, and I’m not sure that its present definition is one that’s going to last much longer anyway. More than a few progressive thinkers have suggested that nontraditional couples are in fact privileged by lack of access to traditional marriage, because they are both free and obligated to explore for themselves what they mean by committing to each other. I’m not sure it’s a fair trade, but it seems like a valid point.

Sometimes I’m pessimistic and think we’re weaving our handbaskets with so much damage already done by the misguided fights going on at the constitutional level.

Most of the time, I take a pragmatic view, or maybe it’s denial: I think it’s an issue that’s getting way too much airtime relative to more serious problems in our country and world, and I resent the fact that conservative extremists (read “bigots”) are so happy to exploit this as a wedge issue, but I just don’t see it as being nearly as pressing as the lack of universal health care, decent education, and a zillion other things that our politicians SHOULD be spending their time on first.

I wrote at greater length on the subject recently in a blog post, which you can find here:

The gist of that post was to propose that we separate marriage and civil union into two separate institutions. What I didn’t address is this: what are we all supposed to do in the meantime?

I have the great happiness of being “engaged” (or whatever) to a wonderful woman, and we plan to be “married” (or whatever) in January 2008, but I’ll be darned if I know how we’re going to do it.

We set a distant date in part so that we have time to talk to lawyers and financial planners and whoever else about how to go about creating a partnership with as many of the dimensions currently available to “married” couples as possible, given the patchwork of simple and domestic partnership options available to us. And then there’s all the questions around which laws will end up taking precedence over the others. Any legal experts out there want to help us? [Followup: we didn’t get any offers from lawyers, but I did receive an astonishing number of thoughtful, supportive replies from friends and strangers alike.]

We also have a pile of questions about what kind of ceremony to create with what kind of officiant(s), since the traditional options aren’t available to us, but none of that seems as important as figuring out how to protect each other and make ourselves accountable to each other financially and legally in all the myriad ways that straight couples get for the price of a marriage license.