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Sexual Politics

What Good Is Marriage?

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CONSERVATIVES ARGUE that the gays are destroying marriage. On the contrary, they're saving it.

Kids these days, we're not so excited about marriage. Ask anyone under 30: Forty-four percent of us will tell you that "marriage is becoming obsolete," according to a Pew Research Center study, and 46 percent of us will say that "the growing variety of family arrangements is a good thing." We'll get married later than ever before, or not at all: Only 51 percent of Americans older than 18 are married, while the number of newlyweds shrinks every year.

Yet this past week has been a nationwide celebration of marriage, as LGBT couples in Washington State finally got to tie the knot that right-wingers have kept tangled for decades. In Seattle, 489 couples applied for marriage licenses on the first day same-sex couples could apply, more than 10 times the usual daily traffic. Getting anywhere near the internet over the weekend guaranteed a deluge of wedding photos and well wishes proclaiming, "Hooray for marriage!"

But what is marriage good for, really, besides the cake and the tax break?

I think much of the gap between excitement around same-sex marriage seen this week and growing apathy toward the institution expressed by young people boils down to one idea: legitimacy.

I'm at the exact average age of first marriage for American women (26.5) and unlike queer couples ecstatic to get hitched, marriage isn't relevant to my life right now.

As a straight person, I have the privilege of normalcy. I've been dating the same guy for four years and while I'm sure he'd look great slow dancing in a steampunk tuxedo (Tentative wedding theme: "Arr love is true!"), there are very few cultural forces pushing us to get married besides pure romance. We don't believe in sin, we both support ourselves financially, we already live together, and we're not going to have kids anytime soon.

We have plenty of non-marriage ways to show our love; if I had money to spare, I'd spend it on a vacation together, not 100 wedding invitations letterpressed to look like old-timey airships. But most importantly, whether we're at the movies, the hospital, or family Thanksgiving, people accept my relationship with my boyfriend, no questions asked. No one has ever taken a look at him and asked when I'll get over this phase. With this acceptance, and our cohabitating lifestyle, marriage seems rather pointless.

I take the right for granted.

Sunday, December 9, couldn't have been any more gray and miserable in Vancouver, Washington. But it was a beautiful day for the gay and lesbian couples who came to the Clark County building to get married as soon as they legally could. As wives Bridget and Janine Connell waited with their small, adorable daughters for their legal witness, I asked what role legitimizing their relationship had to do with their decision to marry.

"We're getting married because we love each other. We deserve to be equal," said Bridget. Janine nodded: "We're a family, we want to cement that."

Surrounded by friends and family under the county building's rotunda, Hawaiian-shirt-clad grooms Doug and Wayne Myers-Funk echoed similar ideas. Both religious, they would have married the year after they met—1980—if it had been legal. They've already had two commitment ceremonies and think those rituals, and Sunday's, help Wayne's conservative Mormon family accept them.

"We went through a period of them not accepting us, of having to leave the Christmas gifts on the front door," said Doug, shortly before kissing his new husband. "With this, they realize it's not just a phase."

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