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Posted at 9:29 PM ET, 02/12/2011

Why the word 'marriage' matters

By Jane Rigby, Silver Spring

At my wife’s brother’s wedding in July, my wife’s aunt and I talked about our weddings. We compared minor disasters (bad directions to the church, no-show caterers), and she asked what surprised me most. I paused. “The minister’s homily was about the couples she’d been marrying all summer. That most had been together for 20, 30 years, and what we should learn from them. At eight years, we were her shortest-duration couple. That surprised me. Oh, and the crying. We had 20 people at our wedding, and they were sobbing.”

My wife and I were legally married in California in 2008, the summer of marriage equality, after the California Supreme Court ruling that allowed same-sex marriages in May and before Proposition 8 outlawed them again that November. Because of Prop 8’s high-profile journey through the courts, I’m frequently asked about my marital status. Occasionally I still get the awkward, “So, are you and Andrea still together?,” but most people notice the wedding ring and put it something like this: “You got married — that’s great! Wait, is your marriage legal?”

So I was prepared when, at a summer potluck for gay members of our church, the host posed a question: “Why should marriage be the goal? People have such strong opinions about the word ‘marriage.’ Why not fight for full civil unions instead?”

I raised my eyebrows across the table at Jonathan and Mark, together since the 1980s. Mark gave me his “No, you take the last slice of pie” expression. I took a deep breath, and said this:

Marriage matters, because marriage is how society decides whose relationships matter, and whose don’t. No matter what, gay people will fall in love and make homes together, as we always have. Marriage equality is about whether straight people are going to recognize those relationships. It’s how they decide who’s family.

Take my parents. When I visit my small hometown, my mother, without prompting, fills me in on which of my old classmates has gotten married or given birth. No serious boyfriends, no RDPs. Only what matters.

What’s an RDP? It’s a “registered domestic partnership.” We registered that way when we moved to California, by signing and notarizing an application. We got a certificate back by mail. It had all the romance of renewing a vehicle registration. At work, our human resources departments had no idea what an RDP was. Though I told my parents we registered, they didn’t remember. Which means that for years they didn’t know that Andrea was my legal next-of-kin.

Not that they would have told anyone. For eight years, when people asked about me, my mother said I’d gotten my doctorate, was living in Arizona, then California. Who I was with while I was studying, living and moving remained unspecified. My parents love Andrea and made her part of the family, but they lacked the vocabulary and the confidence to describe her to others.

Since I got married, my parents have “come out” to select friends. Not “my daughter is gay” but “My daughter got married [deep breath] to a very nice woman.” Apparently, marriage is something you shouldn’t hide.

In my four years in California, it was illegal to marry the love of my life, then legal for one summer, then illegal again. Now that we’re Maryland residents, we’re in legal limbo. The attorney general says our marriage may be recognized. Does that mean we can we file our state taxes jointly, or hold title on our new house as a married couple? Nobody knows.

Last week, a marriage equality bill was introduced in the Maryland Senate. It would provide my family with the legal clarity and recognition that most married couples take for granted. Will it pass? Will it be challenged by voter referendum? When will we get to be equal?

Last year, after I accepted a job in the Washington area, I flew out to house-hunt with my mom’s help. As we drove down Blair Road, snaking back and forth between the District and Maryland, I watched the GPS switch back and forth. “Look, Ma! I’m married . . . now I’m not . . . Hey, I’m married again!”

She turned in the driver’s seat. “Jane Rebecca, don’t joke about a thing like that. You are married. You had a beautiful wedding. I was there.”

By Jane Rigby, Silver Spring  | February 12, 2011; 9:29 PM ET
Categories:  HotTopic, Maryland, Montgomery County  
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As individual citizens, homosexuals deserve their personal liberties and rights, like everyone else, including the right to be treated with courtesy and respect. They deserve these rights because they have the inherent, immutable, and natural condition of being human. However, while all human beings are equal, all human behaviors are not. Homosexual behavior is in the latter category and, therefore, shouldn’t be encouraged through government recognition of same-sex marriage. A few of these reasons are as follows:

Unlike race or gender, homosexuality can be triggered by social influences.

Homosexuals are far more prone to bodily damage and serious disease than heterosexuals.

Even in committed relationships, homosexuals, primarily men, are non-monogamous.

In areas with SSM, homosexuals are far more likely to divorce than heterosexuals.

Homosexuals experience more emotional and mental illness than heterosexuals.

Domestic violence is much more prevalent in male same-sex relationships than in heterosexual ones.

The majority, who understands that marriage must remain between one man and one woman must work together to educate the public. Please copy this post and read the essay on which it is based, "The Case for Limiting Government Recognition to Traditional Relationships." it consists of a blog that I wrote on Yahoo at Here, you’ll find a more detailed discussion of items, above, and citations to the scientific references (mainstream, respected, and apolitical references) on which the blog/essay is based.Please email this post and the blog link to as many people as you can and ask that they do the same. In this way, we can keep marriage between one man and one woman, as it should be.

Posted by: semyon_suslov | February 12, 2011 11:22 PM | Report abuse

Coupon shopping should be serious business to? more people in this economy, new thing is collective buying check for the website "Printapons"

Posted by: dawnryles | February 13, 2011 3:23 AM | Report abuse

"Unlike race or gender, homosexuality can be triggered by social influences."

That's not actually certain. We still don't know all the causes of homosexuality.
But it's also irrelevant. Religion can be triggered (and always is) by social influence, and so can many other human characteristics. We do not see that as an excuse to bar religious (or non-religious) people from marriage.

"Homosexuals are far more prone to bodily damage and serious disease than heterosexuals."

Provide proof for this. But remember, lesbians are actually LESS subject to STDs than heterosexual women.
And anyway, that is also irrelevant. (Besides, if gay men really _are_ more prone to STDs, including AIDS, which is what I gather you mean by "serious disease", shouldn't we be doing all the more to encourage them towards faithful monogamy, which is the main clear way to control STDs?)

"Even in committed relationships, homosexuals, primarily men, are non-monogamous."

Not true. Actually, gay men settle down about the same time as straight men. Besides, if there's a particular social group out there that does have trouble with monogamy, shouldn't we be doing all the more to encourage them to be monogamous?

And again, irrelevant to lesbians.

"In areas with SSM, homosexuals are far more likely to divorce than heterosexuals."

Provide evidence and statistics. Though, again, irrelevant. We do not base an individual couple's marriage rights on the likelihood of members of their "group" to divorce. Or we'd have to ban marriage in the Bible Belt, where divorce rates are far higher than in, say, Massachusetts.

"Homosexuals experience more emotional and mental illness than heterosexuals."

Oh, gee, people like you harass them from childhood, treat them as freaks and inferiors who don't deserve even the basic good of falling in love and forming a secure family, hound them sometimes to suicide, and then you blame THEM for experiencing "more emotional and mental illness?"

That's like the school bully claiming that his victim deserves to be beaten up because he gets more bruises every day than the bully does.

"Domestic violence is much more prevalent in male same-sex relationships than in heterosexual ones. "

Provide proof. And explain how this is relevant to lesbian marriages. Or indeed, to any individual gay male marriage where domestic violence has never been in evidence. And there are plenty of those.
Plus, domestic violence is more prevalent among religious fundamentalists than non-religious or more liberal religious folks. Shall we ban their marriages, too?

Plus, explain please what benefit banning gay marriages has for heterosexuals. Is heterosexual marriage so weak and valueless that it needs a government monopoly to survive, and if so, why does it deserve one? If your way really were the "better way", everyone would choose it and you wouldn't need the civil law to force your way on everyone.

Posted by: Catken1 | February 13, 2011 8:53 AM | Report abuse

First let me thank Catken for saving me the trouble of writing the same comment.

As for Jane Rigby's wonderful letter, I just want to point out as she briefly mentions that there still are important practical differences betwen marriage and RDP, many caused by the federal "Defense of Marriage Act" (sic).

Posted by: lensch | February 13, 2011 9:24 AM | Report abuse

'But remember, lesbians are actually LESS subject to STDs than heterosexual women.'

I remember back when Jerry Falwell was asserting that HIV/AIDS was God's judgement on homosexuals. One wag pointed out that lesbians had a lower rate of HIV/AIDS than either gay men or heterosexuals of either sex, and asked if that made them God's chosen people. I have had such fun with that one for years now. I now pass it on to you for a good laugh...

Posted by: dflinchum | February 13, 2011 10:00 AM | Report abuse

I have to be kind of blunt here. The traditions and ceremonies attendant to marriage pre-date the development of the US or Maryland civil code. Ergo, I who have been historically tolerant of the gay community, resent that community turning to the civil code to gain access to the term “marriage.”

I am fine with the notion of amending the civil code to provide gay couples with all of the current legal rights and benefits of marriage under whatever name other than marriage they please. If it would appease the gay community, I would also stipulate that marriage is a form of civil union for M/F couples that desire to consummate their union under the traditions appropriate to their religious or other cultural norms. Other forms of Civil Union could be created and recognized for MM and FF couples. I would suppose this legislative approach could open the door to an infinite variety of groupings. Once we invalidate the religious and cultural traditions attendant to marriage, I suppose we have to reconsider the status of polygamists; they might have to end up a protected class.

The GLBT community has successfully convinced me that the conditions that make them GLBT are in no way deficiencies; they are just differences. I accept this and appreciate that since I am not GLBT, I cannot fully understand. Likewise, perhaps the GLBT community should appreciate that for reasons they cannot fully understand; the notion of their adopting the term “marriage” for their unions is offensive to my traditions.
This is all a classic case of I want to be different where it benefits me, but I want the rest of society to change so that the pursuit of my difference in no way curtails my access to the things I want from society. Life does not work that way, just look at your average kid in the Sudan.

Ironically, I am a Democrat

Posted by: swan_502 | February 13, 2011 12:47 PM | Report abuse

Way to go, Jane! As a happily married heterosexual about to celebrate our 41st Anniversary I assure you that we and all our friends and neighbors don't mind that you're married in the least. Normal people are not interested in what others do in their bedrooms and, after all, marriage is a civil right.

We are writing our Maryland delegates and senators to support passage of the Marriage Equality Bill and have every hope that it will pass.

Amazing what efforts commenters like "suslov" go to to twist logic to support their benighted views. They'll learn, die out, or be superceded by the younger generation who better understand the tolerance Jesus actually preached. Best of luck!

Posted by: commonsense101 | February 13, 2011 1:03 PM | Report abuse

I didn't know that religion could own words.
If you christianistas want to own the word marriage, then it should be struck from the written language and can only be used while inside your church.

Posted by: pca6661 | February 13, 2011 1:05 PM | Report abuse

hey Jane Rigby, you make me sick. not becasue you're gay - who cares. but becasue you're such a whinny baby that you have to have "marriage" at any cost even at the country's expense. you tear down the social fabric of the country by equating your alleged "marriage" with mine. so i ask you in order not denigrate my real marriage you MUST differentiate between yours and mine. how do you propose to do that?

Posted by: submarinerssn774 | February 13, 2011 1:14 PM | Report abuse

With the divorce rate at 50%, there is no sanctity of marriage in this country and it's time we stop pretending that the word marriage has some sort of magical powers. If you don't believe in gay marriage then don't marry someone of the same sex. But this discriminatory practice of not allowing certain people to marry needs to end.

Posted by: wmwilliams14 | February 13, 2011 1:22 PM | Report abuse

Sound like a personal problem Jane. It must be tragic to not have Miss Manners to guide you. One can only imagine the horror of having friends who are confused about your current relationship status. Now if you'll excuse me I need to go try to console one of my best buddies and his wife who lost their daughter in a traffic accident Friday.

Posted by: realist2 | February 13, 2011 1:26 PM | Report abuse

"hey Jane Rigby, you make me sick. not becasue you're gay - who cares. but becasue you're such a whinny baby that you have to have "marriage" at any cost even at the country's expense. you tear down the social fabric of the country by equating your alleged "marriage" with mine. so i ask you in order not denigrate my real marriage you MUST differentiate between yours and mine. how do you propose to do that?

Posted by: submarinerssn774 | February 13, 2011 1:14 PM | Report abuse"

And how do you propose to not denigrate the letter writer's marriage?

Posted by: DOEJN | February 13, 2011 3:04 PM | Report abuse

In actuality, SSM is an elitist movement that will make hetero marriages not only unequal, but inferior.

It's true that gays have to put up with unjustified homophobia from some heteros. However, heteros have many of their own burdens that SSM gays NEVER will. For example, hetero marriages:

Have to learn and use family planning and contraceptives in order to avoid ill-timed pregnancies. SSM folks never have ill-timed pregnancies. Is that equal? Nope!

And if heteros do use contraceptives they almost always pay for it in: loss of libido, hormonal imbalances, failed user rates leading to ill-timed pregnancies, and even cancer. Is that equal? Nope!

Heteros may have to think about or be be sterilized at some point. Is that fair? Nope! And the complications that sometimes arise? Is that fair? Nope!

How about abortion? Heteros have to endure the psychological and physical pains if they choose one. Is that fair? Nope!

And then, that last one - ill-timed pregnancy! Heteros almost always have them, often resulting in major personal sacrifices!. But not SSM! They can choose when, if they're financially ready, the race, the sex, and even to exclude disabilities. IS THAT FAIR? NOPE!!

My conclusion: Legalized gay marriage is exactly what this country is everything this country fought not for, but AGAINST! That is, an elitist group that has same rights but vastly unequal personal privileges. Have we forgotten this is what we rebelled against England 250 years ago?

Posted by: alshodod | February 13, 2011 4:32 PM | Report abuse

hey DOEJN, her's is really just a civil union.

Posted by: submarinerssn774 | February 13, 2011 5:02 PM | Report abuse

Submarinerssn774, you flatter us queerfolk. Like we have the power to demolish society by trying to live stable open lives. Society, while frail in many ways and sick in plenty of others, is more resilient than you are giving it credit for.

Alshdod, loved your take!

Rigby makes a good point, that her parents don't announce a cohabitation like they do a marriage. A marriage per se is a clear marker in the way moving in with somebody, no matter how committed you are to the relationship (or how well your parents like or are at peace with your choice of partner) just isn't. It's less about dislike or disapproval as it is a lack of an easy category to put the relationship in.

I didn't read an immaturity in Rigby, as other posters did; I read a relief in having a fuller recognition of her relationship. Recognition matters.

Posted by: lay_nerd_3 | February 13, 2011 5:31 PM | Report abuse

hey lay_nerd_3, you demoloish your own argument. you don't need marriage to live stable open lives. you folks WANT marraige, to try to maintain the illusion that your the same as everyone esle. marraige by definition is man & women. well you're not. who cares, but your not. and never will be and connot be. for you ARE DIFFERENT. and no amoutn of fake marraige will make you the same. the sooner you all learn that, accept it and get over it the better for the whole country.

Posted by: submarinerssn774 | February 13, 2011 6:20 PM | Report abuse

Gay couples WANT marriage for many of the same reasons straight couples WANT marriage. Marriage is about more than a particular combination of genitals.

I find it interesting that one comment argued against gay marriage because of various troubles gay marriages purportedly have (high STD rates and infidelity rates, though no sources were cited), and another comment argued against gay marriage because it's not fair that gay couples don't have to to worry about the troubles that straight couples have regarding family planning. Which is it?

Posted by: DOEJN | February 13, 2011 8:29 PM | Report abuse

It's marriage, Period.

Cheers, Joe Mustich, Justice of the Peace,
Red Studio Farm, Washington Green, CT USA

Marriage licenses are issued by and recorded in town or city halls, not church halls, or mosques or temples, etc..

In America, it's a civil matter, Period.

So it's time for the marriage police to go away...

Posted by: cornetmustich | February 14, 2011 8:42 AM | Report abuse

If anti-gay marriage folks really are convinced that marriage is a religious thing only, and not government-related, then they'd be arguing against marriages for all non-religious folks as well.

Posted by: dclemurgrrl | February 14, 2011 9:51 AM | Report abuse

Jane, I love your mother's reaction to your marriage. You are lucky to have her.

Posted by: WickedRose | February 14, 2011 11:23 AM | Report abuse

Sorry, hijacking the word "marriage" from heterosexual couples doesn't make homosexuals married, just like dressing up as a woman doesn't make me a woman. Every time gay marriage is put to a vote, it is defeated, and that's because most people believe that marriage is for heterosexual couples. The three percent of the population that is homosexual can have its same-sex benefits, its right to visit in hospitals, blah blah blah, and that's just fine. Homosexuals can even call themselves "married" and that's fine too. But the state exists because the people voted it into existence, and the state represents the majority of the people, not an aggrieved minority which tries to sue its way into getting what it wants. So getting the state to sanction gay marriage is where the line must be drawn, because that's using the state to legitimize gay marriage when that is definitely NOT the will of the majority of the people.

Homosexuals can do whatever they want in this free society - live together, act as if they're "married," adopt children together, and that's fine. But using the courts to legislate against the will of the majority doesn't work, nor does calling gay-marriage opponents "homophobes," nor does it work to intimidate opponents. It only serves to stiffen the resolve of people who oppose the hijacking of marriage.

Posted by: JamesMadison09 | February 14, 2011 11:32 AM | Report abuse

"Hijacking" of marriage? Very dramatic.... What's truly sad about this entire topic is the anger. It's almost palpable! This applies to people on both sides of the argument.

I'm of the belief that we can't scream our beliefs at each other and expect change. A deeply religious Christian is just as unlikely to change my views as I am to change theirs. Unfortunately, people have their mindsets, and they stick to them.

Experience is the key here. When you learn that someone that you love or care about is gay -- then maybe, just maybe your mind will open up a bit.

My parents never would have agreed with SSM either. But after coming out ten years ago, I easily gained their full support. My father passed away before he could see me get LEGALLY married, but my mother stood with me, and celebrated with us.

Could you do that for your child? Sister? Brother? Or would you discount the marriage as "not real".

Posted by: mhutt | February 14, 2011 5:46 PM | Report abuse

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