What's Law Got to Do With It? A Straight Married Guy's Perspective on Marriage

For a long time I had no interest in and was opposed to getting married. I believed that we didn't need the state to validate our relationship. I already knew its value and our commitment to each other. And then a funny thing happened: I lost my job and needed health insurance.
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I have been with my life partner, my best friend, the mother of my children, my honey, my wife since 1998, when we were in college.

For a long time I had no interest in and was opposed to getting married, in part because there was not yet marriage equality in New York. I also believed that we didn't need the state to validate our relationship. I already knew its value and our commitment to each other. Because we were both young and employed and had no children, our decision to remain unmarried to each other was largely inconsequential. We were able to live together and share financial burdens, and we were recognized by others as a couple.

And then a funny thing happened on the way to being radical: I lost my job and needed health insurance.

Still, hoping to stay true to my principles, we decided to register as domestic partners, despite the fact that the option to marry was available to us as a straight couple. Unfortunately, my wife's employer at the time would only extend health insurance benefits to either same-sex domestic partners or straight married couples. Oh, the irony of being denied benefits because we are a straight couple!

Therefore, faced with no other choice, we returned to City Hall and obtained a marriage license. We viewed it as not so different from needing to drive a car and obtaining a driver's license at the Department of Motor Vehicles. Similarly, we completed paperwork in order to obtain a license, which granted us certain rights and benefits. The act of getting married did not make me love my wife any more, nor did it make me more committed to her. Of course, couples do not need to be married in order to be committed to or love each other. Until recently, committed gay couples have only been in such non-marital relationships.

Two years after obtaining a marriage license, we had a large and wonderful wedding (which taught me the unique joy of making family and friends happy in publicly recognizing our love and our Jewish traditions). Nevertheless, we insisted on calling our ceremony a ninth-anniversary celebration, because we refused to erase the totality of our relationship. To this day we do not measure our relationship from the time we were married but from the time we began dating.

So what does law have to do with my relationship? Well, first, as I have come to understand, although one does not need to be married to be in a committed, loving relationship, it is practical for the government to distinguish between relationships. In this way we have a basis for extending benefits and legal protections to certain relationships: those in which the couple informs the government of the seriousness of the relationship by completing certain forms and partaking in a marriage ceremony.

Second, as Justice Scalia has remarked, the law reflects our society's moral judgments. Thus, laws against murder, rape and theft reflect our moral judgment that these acts should be criminalized. Nonetheless, some laws, though once reflecting the moral judgments of the majority, have, in time, been struck down as violating equal protection or some fundamental right. Laws criminalizing abortion and sodomy have been voided on these grounds, as have segregation laws.

In the case of marriage, the right to marry has been deemed a fundamental right, and laws limiting the freedom to marry (such as laws prohibiting marriage between different races) have also been vacated. Our laws have reflected a moral judgment that same-sex relationships are lesser and not worthy of recognition by the government. However, the time has come to declare such judgment both without merit and as violating equal protection. Any couple, gay or straight, should have the right to choose to register with the government and thereby be afforded the same legal rights, benefits and protections that I was able to obtain when I needed them. And we should all be able to call it a marriage.

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