23 years, 23 million people, and a state full of bigots.

by Chris Seidel


June 24, 2000    Saturday

      I heard a news report today about a couple that had lived in a domestic partnership for 23 years, until one of them died. The surviving partner was in court and was denied access to the estate of the deceased, because community property is granted only to heterosexual couples, and this couple had consistred of two people of the same sex. After 23 years of being with someone, you have no rights to what you had together if you happen to be the same sex as them.

      Last week there was a show on TV called "Who wants to marry a multi-millionaire?" 50 women paraded themselves in front of an unknown man whose identity was not revealed until the end of the show. They answered questions, wore bathing suits, and did whatever they could to gain his favor. 23 million people, almost 10% of the population of America tuned-in to watch. It was the highest rated show on the Fox network ever. The show ended with one of the women being chosen by the man for marriage, and the two were wed. After an unconsumated relationship of less than an hour, that couple had more rights than the couple of 23 years I had heard about in the news earlier.

      For the last couple of months there's been an ad campaign on radio and TV announcing a very special marriage. On my way to work I pass a billboard with picture of a shopping cart dressed up in wedding bows. The marriage was between two very large supermarket chains, Luckys and Albertsons. I hear ads on the radio of people dresssing up and preparing for the wedding. The ad was completely uncontroversial. No one was offended that two corporations could portray themselves as engaging in the sacred institution of marriage. No one complained that the principles of economics that govern the success of a corporate merger and the principles and commitment embodied by marriage vows were not the same.

      Marriage is considered a sacred institution and yet people who don't know each other can engage in it in front of 23 million people with virtually no protest. Large corporations can engage in a mock version of it as part of an advertising campaign and rather than being offensive and belittling, it's a succesful campaign.

      California, a state many people think of as tolerant, crunchy, and free, is about to vote on a state ballot proposition which would recognize marriage as valid only if it exists between a man and a woman. It's called the Sanctity of marriage act (aka proposition 22 or the Knight initiative). The rhetoric supporting it declares that the sanctity of marriage is under attack, and that allowing people of the same sex to marry is somehow a threat to marriages between people of the opposite sex.

      It seems to me that marriage between people of the same sex is only a threat to individuals who don't feel comfortable around gay people. Marriage is a percieved bond between two adults. More importantly marriage is a social contract between adults which is recognized by the state. Whether a percieved bond, or a legal contract, how is it that the quantification of one's genitals, the precise size and particular shape, becomes a factor in whether one can willingly engage in a social contract?

      In light of the precise wording of the initiative, that marriage only between a man and a woman is recognized, we have to ask: what does it mean to be a man or a woman? Of all the people in our society is there not a distribution of adults who fit the description of man or woman with more or less accuracy? Biology is rife with distributions.

      We can describe male or female characteristics both physically and mentally. If one of our primary definitions of a given sex is going to be attraction to the opposite sex, what do we do with those people who don't fit that criteria? What if we go by physcial or behavioral characteristics? I know masculine women who are flat chested, have short hair, and exhibit virtually no common feminine characteristics. I know men who are so effeminate, if I was blind I would guess that they were female. Physically some percentage of people have characteristics of both male and female genitals. What do we do with them? Sex is a genotype. It is a configuration of genes which determines, in most cases, how a person is to develop sexually. The expression of a genotype is called a phenotype. Jamie Curtis, a famous actress could be considered genetically male. Rather than having two X chromosomes like women, she has X and Y chromosomes like men do. Should her rights to marriage be stripped? If not, why not? How is her abnormality any less important than someone who's a physical hermaphrodite (someone with both male and female genitals)?

      In an effort to appease the fears of those Californians who fear that marriage is under attack by those pairs of people who are not genetically equipped to enter into a proper marriage I propose a proposition in which we reconfigure the wording of the marriage vows to be scientifically accurate. The marriage vows should include the phrase, "I take this Homo sapien whose genotypic and phenotypic determination has been fully determined to be the opposite of my own, to be my lawfully wedded spouse."

part 2