As the same-sex marriage trial revs up in California and conservatives claim to defend and uphold my traditional, government-sanctioned marriage, I have the knee-jerk desire to get divorced. • Don't get me wrong. My husband and I are very happily married. We married young, had a church wedding 16 years ago, and now have four children. I love my marriage — the personal version of it that my husband and I have built.
The problem is that being married — being part of the institution, being a government-sanctioned couple — feels more and more like belonging to an all-white country club circa 1969. You know it's wrong; times are changing; the club must change too; and yet, for now, it persists.
Simply put, my husband and I have the seemingly traditional marriage that the religious right wishes to defend, and we wish they'd stop. My marriage is under attack, but not because of a culture shift to be more inclusive.
No, it's the opposite. My marriage feels under attack because of the religious right's bigotry against gays and lesbians. It is their bigoted definition of marriage as only between a man and a woman that is — from my perspective — twisting marriage into something ugly and exclusionary.
If my husband and I had wanted to quit an all-white country club in 1969 in protest for their discrimination, the country club suffered the loss of our dues. There were natural capitalistic consequences.
But quitting marriage in protest simply doesn't work. In fact, it would only benefit the state of Florida, my employer, the state that doesn't allow for same-sex marriages — in other words, the opposition.
Quitting marriage would be costly. In addition to being a novelist, I'm the sole breadwinner for this family of six — a professor at FSU. My husband, a stay-at-home dad, would lose his health insurance. There would be tax ramifications and legal costs to draw up documents allowing some small measure of the protection marriage offers, and those documents would never be as sure-fire as the rights of husband and wife.
Quitting marriage would make us vulnerable, a feeling that — I assume — is not new to gay and lesbian couples.
Historically speaking, marriage has been about money and, in many ways, still is.
One of my colleagues recently told me the story of how he proposed to his wife. He explained to his then-girlfriend that because of the timing of certain fellowships, getting married would save them $2,000 a year and, with their limited assets, a divorce would only cost them $300. "Are you proposing?" she asked. He said, "Yes." She said, "I love you, too." They've been happily married for seven years now.
This might seem a strange proposal, but marriage as a financial arrangement long precedes our current love-struck models. But it isn't simply the financial benefits of marriage — as seen in domestic partnerships — that gay and lesbian partners are seeking. Although domestic partnerships are gaining the support, marriage is still the coin of the realm.
Perhaps this is true because the ideal of marriage persists in our shared cultural imagination.
Novelist Lu Vickers says of her partner and co-parent of their three children, "We've been together for 18 years, but we don't have an anniversary."
I've confessed that the religious right made me want to quit the institution of marriage. But it is the beautiful, compelling testimonies of gay and lesbian couples — about marriage and love and commitment — that have reaffirmed my belief in that shared cultural ideal of marriage.
Lu's partner, Jennifer, put it this way: "We decided to share space, time, and love, to build a home together."
For me, that is a definition of love and marriage worth defending and upholding.
Julianna Baggott is a novelist and poet who lives in Tallahassee. Her most recent novel is The Pretend Wife, under her pen name Bridget Asher.