All the Rage

Why Are We Holding Same-Sex Marriage to a Different Standard?

With drive-through wedding chapels and reality shows like 'Married at First Sight,' the institution doesn't seem so sanctified for straight people, does it?

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There’s a new show on the FYI network called Married at First Sight. It’s a fresh spin on making a mockery of the institution of marriage: Instead of getting a whole season to court each other, like in the olden days of reality television, the participants on this show tie the knot in the first episode, then honeymoon, live together, and finally, in a thrilling climax, decide whether or not to get divorced.

Now, I’m a big fan of no-fault divorce, even as I hope never to experience it firsthand. (As a matter of fact, the more same-sex marriage becomes legal, the more we need to make sure we have divorce equality, too. A friend of mine who got married in Iowa but lives in Illinois—as does the wife from whom she’s separated—felt a different kind of relief when same-sex marriage took effect in Illinois last month. “Yay!” she said as we toasted the decision. “Now I can get divorced!”) But getting married to a stranger on TV, because you know you can and probably will get divorced in eight weeks? Surely, this is more of an affront to the institution of marriage than two men or women in love.

My heterosexual marriage is proof enough that the legal institution in the United States is far from sacred. Five and a half years ago, on the day after Christmas, my then-boyfriend and I woke up in Las Vegas and decided that instead of going to the Hoover Dam, we should get married.

Sure, we’d been living together for two years, and we were in love and excited to spend the rest of our lives together, all that good stuff. But mostly, we both liked the idea of me—a freelance writer—having the kind of health insurance that comes with a normal day job like his. His employer at the time did not offer domestic-partner benefits, but if we got hitched, one simple phone call would welcome me back to the world of preventative health care, timely dental work, and freedom from the constant dread of a bank-breaking accident or illness. 

By noon, we had a license and an appointment at the Little White Wedding Chapel, where Britney Spears once launched a marriage that lasted 55 hours. “Does it have a drive-thru?” people always ask when I tell this story. Answer: Yes. “Were you married by Elvis?” No, but only because we didn’t want the upcharge. When the person who did marry us—a middle-aged African-American man wearing a black robe and carrying a Bible—asked if we’d like him to pray for us during the ceremony, we sheepishly admitted that we aren’t religious. “Neither am I!” he replied cheerfully. We tipped him well.

Al and I couldn’t have planned a more perfect wedding if we’d taken a year to do it. Our elopement was simple, cheap, goofy, practical, quite literally irreverent, and damn near stress-free. I went on his health insurance as soon as we got home. And as it sunk in that I was really, truly married, after a single day’s worth of impulsive decisions, I got more and more furious. Not about those decisions—I wouldn’t change a thing—but about my country’s insistence that gay people in love were more of an affront to the institution of marriage than my husband and I were.

On the day we got married, only Massachusetts and Connecticut allowed same-sex marriage. In the last five years, 17 more states and the District of Columbia have legalized equal marriage, and 13 others have declared gay marriage bans unconstitutional. It is reasonable—”safe” still seems too strong a word—to presume we are finally witnessing the death of this particular flavor of institutionalized inequality. But discrimination against LGBT couples is not going gently. Those 13 states all moved swiftly to stay enforcement of the rulings, and last weekend, at the National Governors’ Association meeting, New Jersey governor Chris Christie told reporters that although the question has been resolved in his own state, he doesn’t think Republicans should give up the fight against equality just yet. No doubt he speaks for many in the party and outside it.

Meanwhile, as American citizens who have been in committed relationships for decades are denied the right to be at their sick partners’ bedsides or collect death benefits; as young couples who want to start families are denied the right to do so within the context of a marriage; and as gay, middle-aged freelance writers still can’t always get on their partners’ health insurance, people like my husband and me and Britney Spears remain free to actually make a mockery of traditional marriage, while reaping its institutional benefits.

And now, and now, fellow straight people, we apparently also have something called “shadow weddings”— pre-wedding wedding ceremonies in which the betrothed parties exchange more “authentic” vows  (essentially a public airing of their mutual grievances)? No. Stop the insanity. First of all, we just do not need more wedding-adjacent events, you guys. I guarantee you that after your engagement party, stag and hen nights, multiple showers, and a rehearsal dinner, you do not know anyone who wants to go to another fucking party before your wedding. Not one soul.

More importantly, though, have we really come to a point where we recognize straight weddings as so uniformly artificial and ridiculous, couples need a whole other ceremony to demonstrate that they really mean they want to stay together forever, in sickness and in health, for better or for worse? Because vowing to do just that before family, friends, officiants, witnesses and, where applicable, gods, has become just that meaningless?

And if so, why are some of us so obsessed with preventing other people from having their own expensive, artificial, ridiculous, meaningless rituals?

Look, my husband and I had a short, campy wedding that took about three hours to plan, precisely because the only thing that really mattered to each other was meaning it. We may have been excited about the health insurance aspect and uninterested in “fairy tale” trappings, but we got married for the same reason nearly everyone does: because we wanted to spend the rest of our lives together, and make it official. We wanted to have documentation declaring us each other’s legal family, to match what was already going on in our hearts. And because we’re straight, it took $300 and less than a day to make that happen. Because we’re straight, we could have entered into the ostensibly sacred institution of marriage on the day we met, in front of a camera, with our divorce paperwork already drawn up.

If we were gay, in more states than not, we’d still be waiting. Chris Christie and I agree on one thing: It is not yet time to give up the fight. 

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