FREEDOM TO MARRY

Republican Tyler Deaton has known he was attracted to men as far back as he can remember. When he was four or five, he would draw himself marrying another man. “I knew I was different in that way before I’d ever even been taught it was wrong,” he says.

It wasn’t until a few years later that he learned in church that what he was feeling was sinful. “I distinctly remember a night when I was in third grade, all night long, just crying. Finding these different sections in the Bible and just crying. I didn’t sleep that night. That stuck with me for a long time. That one night, it was a revelation.”

Jesus was a gay, married to Magdalene, a fag hag. Most church fathers were gay, including Paul and Peter. Moreover most bishops are gay.  Nevertheless, all gay bishops preach against homosexuality and marriage equality!  If this is not duplicity, what is it?

Marriage — modernly — is seen as sort of unalloyed good. Everyone would like to get married, or at least, most people would like to get married. Certainly, most people’s mothers want them to get married.

The marriage equality movement has built up the idea that marriage is this wonderful thing that everyone should want. And there are a lot of benefits to being married in the United States. People who are married have better financial outcomes than people who aren’t. They are often healthier (especially men), and they have access to a range of public and private benefits, like Social Security and shared employee health and other benefit plans.

But there’s a darker side to marriage that’s been overlooked. What the marriage equality movement really did not think about is that there is a kind of normalizing process that goes on in marriage. Marriage signals that these people — the sexual relations that they have — are respectable, are valued, are worthy.

You can’t make that kind of claim about one set of people and their intimate lives without illuminating what is disreputable about other people’s sexual relationships. Getting more people into marriage actually highlighted that other people were outside of it and therefore, undisciplined, unregulated and problematic.

Deaton was part of a conservative evangelical Christian family living in Georgia. He was taught to live by the Bible as the literal word of God. And he did, in a lot of ways. But he also knew that he was gay and that it wasn’t going to change.

Deaton’s story is one of 23 interviews conducted between 2015 and 2016 by the Bancroft Library’s Oral History Center at UC Berkeley. The interviews, conducted by the center’s director, Martin Meeker, explore Freedom to Marry — a national campaign that won the federal right for same-sex couples to get married — and how it fits in with the decades-long marriage movement.

 

 

“I never wanted to change,” Deaton told Meeker, about being gay. “And I knew I couldn’t. I spent most of my time trying to figure out how I could at least feel better about myself.”

By high school, the 10th grader began to realize that there were other ideas out there. He took a zoology class, where he learned about evolutionary theory. And he began to piece together his own value system apart from the traditional mold he’d been expected to fill

In college, he met Jay, whom he would later marry in New Hampshire, one of the only states that was politically conservative but also LGBT-friendly — a rare find in the U.S.

Because although Deaton supported LGBT issues, he was also a Republican. He believed in small government. He was conservative on fiscal and national security issues. He’d voted for George W. Bush’s reelection in 2004 (the first time he was old enough to vote) and for John McCain in 2008. “I really wish he’s been president in 2008,” he says. “I voted for him enthusiastically over Barack Obama. Would do it again.”

Same-sex marriage, to Deaton, was a single issue. It shouldn’t be part of a larger, left-leaning progressive movement, he thought. “There are a lot of Republicans who just will never even open the door being of a part of it then,” he says. “But if you keep it a single issue, you can build a coalition around that.”

In 2011, when Tea Party Republicans threatened to repeal New Hampshire’s same-sex marriage law, which had been enacted three years before — Deaton couldn’t let it happen.

 

The young Republican would go on to lead a trailblazing effort, convincing his fellow conservatives in the state to support the freedom to marry. In 2012, the bill to repeal the law was defeated by a bipartisan vote in the state legislature, 211 to 116, with more than 100 Republicans voting against the repeal. Deaton went on to be a founding member of the “Young Conservatives for the Freedom to Marry.”

It’s important to take a look at the rather complicated history of marriage. In the mid-1800s, women had very few rights, and marriage was necessary for the economic provision of most women who were not working outside the home. And, although it may surprise modern listeners, sex outside of marriage was a crime. The criminal regulation of sex made clear that marriage was the licensed site for sexual activity.

Marriage was where you had sex. That’s an important aspect of it. Marriage interacting with criminal law for regulating sex. For identifying certain kinds of sexual acts as productive and valuable and other kinds as unproductive, destructive, and indeed criminal.

Marriage worked as a kind of state-imposed sexual discipline. Those having sex within marriage were literally in law, while unmarried people having sex were sexual outlaws.

The close interaction between criminal regulation of sex and marriage meant that marriage could even be used as a form of punishment for certain sex crimes. If a man seduced an unmarried woman of chaste disposition with the promise of marrying her, and then didn’t follow through, the man could be charged and sent to prison for up to 20 years in some states.

Interestingly, there was a defense for it. The defense was simply that the man could get out of it by marrying the woman. So, there are these amazing scenes where all of a sudden this site of a trial was transformed into a wedding. No one thought the defendant was getting away with something by being married. If he was married, he literally had a ball and chain. He had someone he had to support. He would likely have a family to support. He would have to be sober, enterprising, productive and if he was abiding by his marriage vows, sexually faithful.

Although a man can’t be prosecuted for a crime of seduction anymore — such laws fell out of favor in the early 20th century — marriage recently was prescribed as a sort of cure for bad behavior.

Just in August 2015, after a man got into a barroom brawl, a Texas judge ordered the man to marry his girlfriend or spend a few nights in jail. Scared that he’d lose his job if he took the jail time, the defendant reluctantly agreed to get married.

Although marriage has changed over the years, and people have more freedom to define the boundaries of their own marriages, there is a lot that hasn’t changed.

If you ask anyone who is married, there is still a very stark gender differentiation in the amount of household labor that women do. And there certainly remains a persistent gap in caregiving that falls along gendered lines in most marriages. So, we’ve changed a lot, but in some ways, we haven’t changed at all.

Marriage isn’t for everyone, and there should be a variety of alternative options for those who wish to be in a committed, recognized relationship, but don’t want to be married for any number of reasons.

Ironically, the marriage equality movement may signal the death knell of efforts to promote a wider range of relationship recognition options. Already, the State Department has announced that it’s phasing out domestic partnership benefits. Now that marriage is available, same-sex couples — like straight couples before them — are expected to get married in order to receive benefits.

One of the questions going forward is will we think more seriously about what to do about those kinds of relationship forms. Or will marriage really be a one size fits all kind of model for everyone.

Marriage privatization is the concept that the state should have no authority to define the terms of personal relationships such as marriage. Such relationships are best defined by private individuals and not the state. Privatizing marriage is a solution to the social controversy over same-sex marriage.

The idea of marriage privatization is picking up steam.  State marriage is a way for politicians to socially engineer the family through the tax code.  It would be a good idea to get the government out of the marriage business.

39.7 percent of all births are to unmarried women. Nearly 40 percent of heterosexual, unmarried American households include children. 41 percent of first births by unmarried women are to cohabiting partners.

Does the law leave provisions for the children of the unmarried? Of course. So while state marriage might add some special sauce to your tax bill or to your benefits package, family court and family codes aren’t likely to go anywhere, whatever we do with marriage. This is not a sociological argument about whether children have statistically better life prospects when they are brought up by two married parents. Nor is it a question about gender, sexuality, and parental roles. It’s simply a response to the idea that marriage is irreducibly public due to having children. Some married couples never have children.

Marriage is currently a crazy quilt of special privileges and goodies that everybody wants access to — unmarried people be damned. But marriage should confer neither special favors nor goodies from the state. We can quibble about who is to be at the bedside of a dying loved one. Beyond that, marriage is mostly about equal access to government-granted privileges.

Not only does the idea that marriage is irreducibly public represent a failure of imagination with respect to robust common law, it also resembles arguments made against privatization in other areas, such as currency, education, and health care. Just because we can’t always envision it doesn’t make it impossible.

In ancient Greek and Roman civilization, marriages were private agreements between individuals and families. Community recognition of a marriage was largely what qualified it as a marriage. The state had only limited interests in assessing the legitimacy of marriages. Normally civil and religious officials took no part in marriage ceremonies, nor did they keep registries.

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