Social conservatives are working overtime to argue that gay marriage would imperil straight matrimony. They say that if Jack and Joe were united, till death do them part, they would jeopardize husbands and wives, from sea to shining sea.
”We will lose marriage in this nation,” without constitutionally limiting it to heterosexuals, warns Family Research Council president Tony Perkins. The Traditional Values Coalition, meanwhile, sees “same-sex marriage as a way of destroying the concept of marriage altogether.”
It would be far easier to take these claims seriously if gay-marriage critics spent as much energy denouncing irresponsible heterosexuals whose behavior undermines traditional marriage. Among prominent Americans, such misdeeds are increasingly ubiquitous.
Exhibit A is musical product Britney Spears’s micromarriage to hometown pal Jason Allen Alexander. The 22-year-olds were wed on January 3 in Las Vegas. Clad in sneakers, a baseball cap, ripped jeans, and a navel-revealing T-shirt, the vocalist was escorted down the Little White Wedding Chapel’s aisle by a hotel chauffeur. Spears and Alexander, who wore baggy pants and a zippered sweater, soon were wife and husband.
Almost as soon, their marriage was annulled. Clark County Judge Lisa Brown accepted Spears’s request and ruled that “There was no meeting of the minds in entering into this marriage contract, and in a court of equity there is cause for declaring the contract void.”
The revolving-door couple’s 55 hours of marital bliss were based neither on love nor shared commitment, but because “they took a joke too far,” explained Spears’s label, Jive Records.
Whatever objections they otherwise may generate, gay couples who desire marriage at least hope to stay hitched. Britney’s latest misadventure, in contrast, reduced marriage from something sacred to just another Vegas activity, like watching the Bellagio Hotel’s fountains between trips to the blackjack tables.
Consider David Letterman. His hilarious broadcasts keep Insomniac-Americans cackling every weeknight. Last November 3, he got a national standing ovation when his son, Harry Joseph, was born. Those who rail against gay marriage stayed mum about the fact that Harry’s dad and mom, Regina Lasko, shack up. What message is sent by this widely hailed out-of-wedlock birth?
And then there’s Jerry Seinfeld. This national treasure’s eponymous TV show will generate belly laughs in syndication throughout this century, and deservedly so. The mere sound of those odd bass notes on Seinfeld’s soundtrack can generate chuckles before any dialogue has been uttered.
But while Seinfeld boasts millions of fans, Eric Nederlander is not among them. Shortly after the Broadway theater heir and his then-wife, Jessica Sklar, returned from their June 1998 honeymoon, she met Seinfeld at Manhattan’s Reebok Club gym. He asked Sklar out, she accepted and, before long, she ditched her new husband and ran off with the comedian.
Where was the social-conservative outrage at Seinfeld’s dreadful actions? Can anyone on the religious Right seriously argue that the real risk to holy matrimony is not men like Seinfeld and women like Sklar but devoted male couples who aim neither to discard one another nor divide others?
Of course, not every American is an overexposed pop diva, network talk-show host, or sitcom multimillionaire. For rank-and-file heterosexuals, marriage can involve decades of love and joy. In 51 percent of cases, people stay married for life. Such unions are inspiring, impressive, and deserve every American’s applause.
On the other hand, 49 percent of couples break up, according to Divorce magazine. The Federal Administration for Children and Families calculated in 2002 that deadbeat parents nationwide owed their kids $92.3 billion in unpaid child support. In 2000, 33.2 percent of children were born outside marriage. Among blacks, that figure was 68.5 percent. A 1998 National Institute of Justice survey found that 1.5 million women suffer domestic violence annually, as do 835,000 men. So-called “reality” TV shows like Fox’s Married by America and its forthcoming My Big Fat Obnoxious Fiancé turn wedding vows into punch lines. In nearly every instance, heterosexuals–not homosexuals–perpetrated these social ills.
Gay marriage is a big idea that deserves national debate. Nonetheless, social conservatives who blow their stacks over homosexual matrimony’s supposed threat to traditional marriage tomorrow should focus on the far greater damage that heterosexuals are wreaking on that venerable institution today.
–Deroy Murdock is a columnist with the Scripps Howard News Service.