Equal to What?

WARNING: You are about to encounter content many people may find objectionable. I’m going to go there.

Currently the United States Supreme Court is considering a couple of cases with bearing on the gay marriage issue. There are ongoing rallies and other events across the country to stir up support and let the “will of the people” be heard (whatever that means – it depends, of course, on what your own opinion is).

equal_sign_grunge_rust_posters-rc863c657b59b44ddb125404d2863653c_wvm_216Currently, the pro-gay-marriage side is being more vocal, and, as a result, you may have seen little pink equal signs popping up on social media and elsewhere. There are also some variants, this being one of the more amusing I’ve found:

Nominally, I am supporting the pro-side of the argument, but it’s more a theoretical support. I’m straight (not that that matters in this issue), but I’m also cursed with the ability to see all sides of an issue. I can see some merit to the opposed view, despite that side’s inability to articulate it effectively. Those opposed to gay marriage will frequently use the term “defense of marriage,” which, on the surface, makes little sense. After all, it’s not like anyone will be forced to get gay-married. Nor, as is often claimed, will any church be required to perform gay weddings. Clergymen aren’t obligated to marry anyone now. And if we are really concerned about defending marriage, we should focus on the insanely high incidence of divorce, as well as the trivializing of marriage seen in reality shows and celebrity relationships. That’s a far bigger threat than two men who love each other exchanging vows to commit their lives to each other.

So, obviously, no straight marriages are in any way threatened by legalized gay marriage. But what those making the argument may not even understand themselves is that the real concern is not for any particular marriage, but the institution of marriage itself. Broadening the definition does, in a way, weaken the existing concept. Marriage as it has been understood is a unique bond between a man and a woman, which society recognizes as being special. It is one of the few genuine rites of passages our culture still maintains, and it’s an important one, one of the real determiners that one has crossed over truly into adulthood. We value this, and celebrate when people do it. All the married people at the wedding are sharing in this transition, in the couple joining the club, so to speak, experiencing something they themselves went through once. It’s a binding experience. That’s why many clergymen are very resistant to too much messing around with the ceremony, especially the vows. When the couple are up there reciting their vows, all the married people witnessing are silently recalling and re-reciting their own vows. Why do you think so many babies are born nine months after a big wedding?

Okay, I hear you say, if this is such a special moment, why deny it to others? Why shouldn’t homosexuals enjoy the same special moment? Well, as much as this pains me to note, when you expand the parameters of the club to allow more people to join, it makes membership slightly less special. A selfish, foolish sentiment, I agree, but there it is. That’s why many people who oppose gay marriage raise the question, “Where do we draw the line? What’s to keep someone from marrying his horse?” Yes, that’s an extreme argument, but there’s validity behind it. It’s interesting to me that many people who are vigorously in favor of same-sex marriage are equally vigorous in their objection to polygamy. “Any two people should be allowed to marry!” they say. “What about three?” I ask. “Oh no, no, no, that’s just wrong.” And don’t get me started on their response to, say, child marriage. (Too late; we’ll come to that.). They are all for freedom and equality, right up until it hits their own “ick” threshold. Then all bets are off. Hypocrisy? I don’t know.

So what then do we do? As far as I’m concerned, efforts to defend marriage equality are wasted. Frankly, marriage is an institution that has largely outlived its usefulness. It had its value in the past. For one thing, it legally ensured paternal inheritance. It also served to protect women at a time when they had no rights to speak of and no ability to provide for themselves. Well, we can safely say that modern genetics has made the former concern irrelevant, and women are no longer dependant on men to provide for their needs. Indeed, many noted feminists oppose marriage as an instrument of patriarchal oppression. I won’t weigh in on that.

I’ll just say this: we might want to look beyond marriage at this point. Those who wish to be married may do so, on whatever terms they wish. If they want to make a marriage of three or more, so be it. If they want to set the terms of the marriage to expire in ten years with an option to renew, fine. That actually makes a lot of sense; is any of us really capable of knowing who we want to spend the next seventy years with when we’re only nineteen? A lifetime vow made sense when the average lifetime was forty-five years. Things have changed.

Thus, I am not actually arguing for marriage equality. For me the more important issue is sexual equality, sexual freedom. This most fundamental of biological processes has gotten so tied up by abstract, conflicting moral systems that it’s a wonder we aren’t all insane. Maybe we are. How are your sexual choices anyone else’s concern? If you are religious and believe fornicators are going to burn in hell, then what keeps you from sitting back and letting it happen? That’s God’s job to enforce, not yours. Practice sexuality that you are comfortable with, and leave others to do the same. Bottom line: people should be able to have sex with whomever they want, however they want, whenever they want, wherever they want. Just “don’t scare the horses,” as they used to say. Let’s abandon the old, insulting values that said a sexually active woman is a whore. Let’s stop telling our young girls that “he won’t buy the cow when he’s getting the milk for free.” Do you realize that by saying that, we are telling girls they are livestock, and their sexuality is a commodity to be bartered off to the highest bidder? No wonder our young people are messed up.

As a writer of fiction for teens, in which I proudly include sexual content, I can tell you without reservation that teens know what sex is and they are very, very, very interested in it. When we do nothing but tell them to keep their legs crossed, we deny them their essential humanity and virtually guarantee they will grow up repressed and dysfunctional. Instead we should teach them that their sexuality is normal and healthy, and make sure that they are capable of making reasonable decisions on their own, rather than simply ones we force them to make.

How far do we take this? Here’s where it gets dodgy, because I say this should go as far as it goes. It’s time to reconsider age-of-consent laws. We become sexual beings in our early teens, or younger, even; childhood sexplay is well documented and in the majority of cases studied, the children involved did not find it a harmful experience, but oftentimes a positive one. But teens are then told to spend an entire decade pretending they don’t have those feelings. This is the decade when those feelings are the strongest and most impossible to ignore. And then we wonder why teens are sexting each other.

Now, let me clear I am not advocating for sexual relations between young girls and adult men (the cause of most teen pregnancies, by the way). Far from, although the fact is we are biologically hardwired to be attracted to youth, and there was a time that a girl in her early teens was considered of marriageable age. Let me also point out to all of you saying the very idea is sick, that anyone arguing this issue must be some sort of deviant who should locked up, or just outright killed, that’s what they used to say about homosexuals, back when they were subject to clinical diagnosis as “homophiles” and sent to prison for deviancy. I am not advocating for molestation, nor anything that in any way harms children. But we need to take a closer look at whether or not harm is even involved.

Let’s stop labeling an eighteen-year-old boy a sex offender because he had sex with his seventeen-year-old girlfriend and her daddy freaked out that someone “damaged” his little girl. Let’s stop seeing celibacy as a mark of moral superiority. Let’s acknowledge that maturity does not conform to chronological age, that there are fourteen-year-olds more emotionally and mentally sophisticated than some thirty-year-olds (such as the people who appear on dating reality shows). Let’s question the double standard that calls a female student who had sex with a male teacher a victim of a merciless predator, but a male student who had sex with a female teacher a lucky stud. Let’s ask ourselves whether the trauma a twelve-year-old girl experiences when accusations of molestation surface is because of inappropriate sexual contact, or because afterwards the people who are supposed to protect her were screaming, “What did he do to you???” and making her feel like she did something terribly, terribly wrong that at the time she may actually have thought was kind of nice. Let’s respond proportionally to all these things, uninfluenced by emotional terror and moral outrage.

Let’s remove four millennia of superstition and fear from our sexuality, and instead embrace it. If marriage equality is the next step towards that, so be it. But there’s still a long way to go.

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