Tuesday, June 17, 2008

Smudging the meaning of Marriage, Gender--and Life

Today's the first day that California has authorized an oxymoron: gay marriage.

The story on the front page of the Seattle Times (credited to the New York Times and San Francisco Chronicle) included a quarter-page photo of the couple put forth as "poster children" for the gays of the Golden State: 87-year-old Del Martin and 84-year-old Phyllis Lyon, dressed in their leisure suits.

Given that the word "marriage" has always been the permanent uniting of a man and woman, putting the word "gay" in front--the binding of two of the same gender--creates a conundrum. Can you imagine: A caller to a radio talk
show today was trying to argue that the California ruling didn't re-define marriage, it just enlarged it?

"Enlarging" the definition this way radically changes it--by loosening the meaning from something specific to something so generalized as to take away its usefulness. As I mentioned in my blog after the CA judges ruled, civilly joined gays in that state already had all the rights and obligations of traditionally married people, and the ONLY thing they got from those judges was the prize they treasured most, the word, "marriage." And why? Because they want two-of-a-kind to be exactly the same as two opposites. The impossible has occurred.

The effort to erase differences between the sexes started with randy baby-boomers forty years ago, and despite only limited success, chugs along today. My fave Sunday read, the Styles section of the New York Times, is rife with approving stories on gender blur (in the midst of touting hyper-feminine fashions). Hmm, here on this week's page three, we have "No His or Hers, Just Theirs," about unisex clothes that sound just too chic: "shrunken jackets and drainpipe trousers." The decision of the paper to post gay marriage announcements always provides a few amusing moments, and this Sunday, the good-looking duo of William DeWitt and Ethan Philbrick, tousled and smiling, fits the bill.

And today I debated on syndicated radio another person who accepts smudging marital tradition. John Curtis, a family counselor with a doctorate from Barry University, was defending his light-on-content workbook, "Happily Unmarried: Living together and Loving It," and suggested that despite lots of studies showing the deleterious effects of cohabitation, folks who shack up should get respect--and means to basically make their live-in hook-ups into mock-marriages.

It's part of the melding of important institutions and traditions that, separately, brought life into sharper focus and allowed for the kinds of appreciation and analysis that the "not judgmental" faction eschews. When you don't carve precise distinctions between meanings, events and, in the case of "marriage," words, what you ultimately endure is the mushing of them all into a gooshy stew of mediocrity. And then, like so many of my psychology clients, you complain there's no excitement to life, no joi de vivre.

I don't think Californians will support same-sex marriage in November, but if somehow they do, it will be because they've boiled from the slowly-escalating heat of desensitization. And if we blithely dismiss the "enlarging" of terms and the amoeba-crawl of distinctions, we, as a society, deprive ourselves of useful tools to evaluate and enjoy our world.

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