Not long ago at some press-conference lunch, I sat next to another woman journalist who began complaining how “enraged” she was about medical-insurance benefits the woman’s employer, Knight-Ridder, paid for her “wife.” Why was this a problem? Because, apparently, the Internal Revenue Service considers such domestic-partner benefits income: “So I got about two thousand dollars less than I was expecting on my refund this year.”
A lot of thoughts began running through my head at that point–none of which, for courtesy’s sake, I voiced aloud, but I’ll share them with you here. The immediately obvious one was: Would this woman have been happier had Knight-Ridder not paid for her partner’s benefits? Possibly so, since her tax refund would have been bigger, even though it also would have been presumably dwarfed by the household’s additional expense of paying for the benefits out of pocket.
No one pays for my medical insurance except me, since I’m a freelance writer, but if anyone offered to I hope I wouldn’t grumble about smaller tax refunds. That’s human nature, I suppose; employers don’t have to pay for dependent or partner benefits, but gratitude when they do quickly crusts over into resentful entitlement about the entire situation.
My next thought was that this is yet another example of how insulated mainstream-media types can be from the problems of ordinary readers. When it comes to medical insurance, most Americans have more pressing concerns than how a domestic partner’s benefits will affect the size of their tax refund. Yet even more than matters of right or left, the media tilts toward what concerns those in the media.
That’s why, unfortunately, the gay-marriage discussion won’t go away. It got a new boost recently with All Aboard! Rosie’s Family Cruise, a new HBO film that premiered last week and chronicles the first-ever vacation at sea for gay families. The idea was a brainstorm of Rosie O’Donnell and her longtime partner Kelli O’Donnell, who for the last several years have been raising four children together.
I have no problem with gay adoption or gay families. But despite the oddly engaging charm of Rosie O’Donnell’s new project, I continue to be against gay marriage, no matter how much she fulminates against it. “The president feels totally entitled to shame 10 percent of the population,” she told the New York Times last week.
At this point I sometimes think I’m actually less against gay marriage itself than I’m against arguments in favor of it. With few exceptions I find them unpersuasive and ridiculous–like those childless employees who complain that family friendly company policies discriminate against time they’d like to spend with their pets or hobbies. An easy answer there is that other people’s children will eventually pay your Social Security, so stop griping about minor perks like flex time for working mothers.
Which points to the essential problem with gay marriage: It’s not procreative, so the state has no business getting involved. Yes of course there are childless heterosexual couples–but the state also shouldn’t invasively withdraw recognition because of people’s private sexual or reproductive situations. The basic blueprint of marriage is to assign responsibility for children that might be born from sexual arrangements. Whether children actually are born is another matter.
What agitators for gay marriage never address is why a homosexual domestic partnership should be more worthy of government approval (or employee benefits) than a myriad of other domestic partnerships. Why not two single moms who live together with their children, like Kate & Allie? Or a straight woman and her gay male best friend, like Will & Grace? Or two unmarried heterosexual sisters who live together and share all expenses–kind of an old-fashioned
arrangement, but certainly not extinct; I happen to be friends with a pair like this myself. Why can’t they get a tax break?
Gay activists often point out various same-sex unions that have outlasted many heterosexual ones. But I don’t see why sexual relationships of any stripe, if they’re not at least inherently procreative, should trump all others.
I’ve been getting new heat about my position because of the Independent Women’s Forum column I wrote last week, in which I argued that officially sanctioned gay marriage endangers the rights of women in heterosexual marriages. I don’t like to see the state further expand into regulating private living arrangements, although I have no problem with people celebrating their same-sex partnerships as weddings if they so choose. Beyond that, however:
I also think that legally recognizing gay marriage undermines the relatively recent (and therefore relatively fragile) concept of Western marriage–in which one man is permitted only one wife, not the traditional assortment of assorted concubines, and is therefore bound to her in an officially egalitarian relationship. No one arguing for gay marriage wants it to be marriage Saudi Arabian style, in which one partner basically owns the other and can dissolve the situation at will.
Yet Saudi Arabian marriage is closer to the primitive default option than marriage in free societies, and recent history suggests that when the rights and responsibilities of modern marriage are expanded to its ersatz versions, the real thing is taken less seriously and the old ways begin creeping back in like weeds. I don’t think it’s a coincidence that unwed dads forced to pay child support jostle for time on Jerry Springer with deadbeat dads who feel little shame in abandoning their wives and children.
No surprise, I guess, that a whole new slew of angry readers are now calling me homophobic. But I don’t think that’s any fairer than it would be for me to call people anti-Semitic if they don’t support making Passover a national holiday like Christmas or Thanksgiving. When Passover falls in the middle of the week, like this year, and the whole country doesn’t get a couple of days off, that’s inconvenient for Jews–who nevertheless don’t expect official government accommodation.
I bring religion into it because it now seems an article of faith among many gay activists that gay marriage is an inalienable human right. They are free to believe that, of course, but I am also free to disagree. I don’t think that makes me anti-gay any more than wanting to keep creationism out of the classroom makes me anti-Christian.
“How would you feel about marriage if you were gay?” a reader e-mailed the other day. I hope I’d feel the same that I do now about Christmas, which I enjoy in my own way (watching It’s a Wonderful Life, listening to carols on the radio, etc.) while also recognizing that I remain essentially outside the core meaning of the tradition. But I don’t expect anyone to redefine it in order to make me feel more included.
– Catherine Seipp is a writer in California who publishes the weblog Cathy’s World. She is an NRO contributor.