Saturday, March 30, 2013

A few decades ago, gay men scoffed at marriage

It is certainly striking to an “elder” like me how the public perception of gay marriage – and marriage in general – has changed since the time of my own coming of age.
The two most radical revelations from the Supreme Court hearings this weekend, from my perspective, were the way DOMA offends the very setup of federalism, and particularly the notation (by Justice Kagan) that the House went out of its way to express “collective” animus toward homosexuality when it reported out on DOMA in 1996.  Apparently that animosity had grown out of the “gays in the military” debate in 1993.
I do think that the supposed “animus” was more about the notion that, among two grown males, one could become dependent on another and expect benefits from the relationship.  Of course, it’s better for people to take care of one another than wait for the government to do it (some personal hardships or disability simply cannot be prevented by “personal responsibility”), so that sort of notion seems short-sighted.
I want to reiterate that most gay men, and particularly older men, came of age in a time when the focus on a relationship was the experience that it provided the two people, not on whether it had approbation from society.  The backing away from expectations of social support was a very important part of the ethical philosophy of Paul Rosenfels and was often expressed in the talk groups at the Ninth Street Center in NYC back in the mid 1970s, long before there was any serious debate about marriage rights.

Indeed, it is possible (and real) to have a “relationship”  -- and romantic feelings for someone – and an experience, for the moment of it, without particular concern about the recognition from others.   That was my perception. 

For a long time, “settling down and getting married” was the world of “straight people”.  Having dependents – with the loss of discretionary income – changes all that.  
For years, I lived in a world where some married coworkers with kids were envious of my low expenses and ability to “spend money on myself” rather than kids.  It seemed that the “discretionary income” balanced out the tax preferences somewhat (particularly because employer-based health policies with family and child coverage are so much more expensive than employee-only policies).  In fact, marriage alone often didn’t give any real benefit over two single people because of the “marriage penalty” (which could penalize a couple for being married if both were relatively self-sufficient), link here.  In a post-Friedan world where women were starting to earn more, heterosexual couples sometimes avoided marriage commitment and envied unmarried gay singles, who often could pay less taxes by filing separately and staying in lower brackets.    It’s true, I paid school taxes to support “other people’s children” – and in Texas, you saw that on your mortgage statement explicitly every month.  But I thought that was OK.  I got a public education, so now I should pay for it when I was on my own. And everybody benefits from it, right?  Eventually, school systems would become significant employers of me.  It was all fair play in my eyes.

Had I come of age in a world that supported same-sex relationships and gay marriage, would I have been able to commit myself to one person for a half-century?  Would I have been able to raise children?  Certainly, I could have enjoyed the opportunity to start a relationship when young and "strong" with someone else who was likewise, and actually exciting, and experienced the relationship for its own sake, for the sequence of moments.  But could I have made it last?  I don't know.  When I lived in Dallas int he 1980s, there was a male couple together for 49 years (despite the prejudice) before one of them died.

I can say that I have never known jealousy. But that itself is double-edged. 
The real issue of needing benefits (and their being morally legitimate) comes up when there are dependents involved.  That could be a disabled or elderly spouse, children (including the unborn), or dependent elderly parents or other disabled family members.   That reality is becoming more apparent as the population ages and more of us face eldercare responsibilities, whether or not we had our own children. I had my share of this recently.  See “filial responsibility laws” as a label on my “retirement” blog.  

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