"Their hope is not to be condemned to live in loneliness, excluded from one of civilization's oldest institutions."
So wrote Associate Supreme Court Justice Anthony Kennedy as part of his historic majority opinion in favor of same-sex marriage in all 50 states.
It was a good day for America, a good day for civil rights and for tolerance.
But it also made "official"- - sort of, coming from the nation's highest court -- something I've been saying for years: America embraces every lifestyle except one -- being unmarried.
I think marriage can be wonderful. And I know many couples who are married and happy, just as I know many single people who are happy.
Kennedy's sentiment conjures up images of couples, sneakers slung over their shoulders, walking on the beach hand in hand while a single man (or woman) scrounges for dinner in a nearby dumpster.
Kennedy's opinion, though I'm sure not intended this way, is also more than a little condescending. "Their hope is not to be condemned to live in loneliness..."?
I suspect this was not the hope of many same-sex couples. I suspect the hope of many if not most was to be given full recognition that their relationships were equal to heterosexual relationships, and that before the Court ruled that they could marry in all 50 states, many of these couples were content, committed and anything but lonely.
I find it hard to believe many of these couples felt they would be condemned to live in loneliness even if the Court had not ruled the way it did.
In Kennedy's mind, apparently, not being married is to be condemned to live in loneliness. Perhaps the Justice, who I admire, is not aware that half the marriages in the United States end in divorce, and that, conservatively speaking, half of those who remain married are anything but happy.
The divorce rate in 1965 was only 25 percent, and I remember well that children of divorce were extremely rare when I was growing up, and we tended to shy away from them as if they carried smallpox.
As "Mad Men" and other programs have accurately depicted, just because people didn't divorce as readily then as they do now didn't mean they were happy in marriage. They cheated. They drank. They popped pills. They just didn't visit lawyers as much.
And while the divorce rate for same-sex couples is slightly lower than that of male-female unions, that is to be expected, given the brief history of gay and lesbian marriages. I wish same-sex couples all the happiness, but the odds are very high that their marriages -- and divorces -- are going to be very similar in every way to "traditional" marriages.
Gay marriage still has hurdles to clear, of course, from sorting out the details of how things such as assets and medical care and immigration status are handled, to the more immediate fight of some county clerks in refusing to issue marriage certificates to gay couples, to lingering bias that will show itself in unpleasant ways, no matter what the Supreme Court says.
But gay marriage has cleared some important hurdles, and more Americans favor it than oppose it, a far cry from even 10 years ago. That's a good thing, a victory for tolerance.
I'm less optimistic about how Americans view singlehood. It is odd that in the face of so many divorces and listless, loveless marriages, so many people still look upon being single as a sad and lonely ordeal to be endured or pitied.
In my long dating experience, I've encountered only a tiny handful of women who are comfortable with being single (and I hear from them about many men who apparently long for marriage just as much). This included many women who were married for 20, 25, 30 years and often were left by philandering or alcoholic or abusive husbands.
Yet, the one thing that scares them more than those feckless former spouses is the prospect of having no spouse at all.
"Condemned to live in loneliness," may be an appropriate phrase for people serving life sentences in prison. It isn't appropriate for people whose condition of life is being unmarried.