June is the month of blissful nuptials. An old saying warned, "Marry in May and rue the day," but the warm, comfortable weather of June welcomes the binding of love. June has also brought the closing arguments for Perry v. Schwarzenegger, the landmark same-sex marriage case in the federal court of California.
In early 2008, the California Supreme Court held same-sex marriage to be a constitutionally protected, fundamental right upon review of a group of consolidated cases claiming unequal treatment in the eyes of the law. Orientation, the Court argued, is an immutable characteristic and not subject to choice. Suddenly, a binary class system based on sexual orientation appeared to dissolve. The ruling sent a massive wave of energy across the country, electrifying LGBT populations. Notions of "equal protection" finally lost their abstraction and detachment. Gay men and women also celebrated their engagement with society in a fundamentally American way, working for the prosperity of a spouse and a family.
But the celebration soon turned sour. Just a few months later in November, 2008, 52% of the California electorate passed the misguided Proposition 8 (aka, the California Marriage Protection Act), a ballot referendum that denied same-sex couples the right of marriage. I mourned a defeated chance for LGBT individuals to join an institution that had been denied them. In my eyes, what I saw was shockingly un-American.
In light of the Perry v. Schwarzenegger trial, people may have this question in mind -- why is the social institution of marriage so important to the LGBT community anyway?
Well, as a citizen, I like to think that I have the right to pursue the American Dream. And the prosperity that comes with marriage is part of that dream.
Economic security and marriage share a link. A recent study from the Pew Research Center found that married couples tend to have higher median incomes that grow more quickly compared to their single counterparts. When two people live together, they tend to combine their incomes and use their money more efficiently. Marriage encourages the ownership of shared property and can exert pressure on both partners to maintain financial stability. Marriage is both an individual and collective social contract, binding people to responsibilities that, if not met, will elicit shame from fellow members of the community.
Marriage has a special meaning for homosexual people. Wealth, for good or for bad, is one of the primary expressions of success. For many gay individuals there is a very personal attachment to this metric of success. To be able to express this prosperity in a concrete way, through a home that is jointly owned, or the first bank account a married couple opens (or filing their federal taxes together? Gasp!), finally means that a ceiling of inequity has been punctured and broken. It means that gay Americans can share in the dreams that others so value. To be able to express such a profound commitment as marriage leaves gay men and women with an indelible pride.
When gay couples wed, everyone stands to benefit economically. The chief economist of San Francisco, Edmund Egan (a witness who testified in the Perry trial), noted that San Francisco lost millions in taxable dollars that married same-sex couples had been spending after Prop 8. Denying marriage continues to drive up hospital bills in the city, as lifelong partners are unable to share medical benefits and offer them to their children.
In a time of recession, we all want to restore prosperity. Why not view gay marriage as part of our recovery?