Who wants to get married?

I'd hoped that the gay-marriage fight might lead to a reassessment of an institution that's plainly failing masses of people. But that doesn't seem to be on anyone's agenda.

Published November 20, 2003 8:13PM (EST)

The news of the Massachusetts Supreme Court's landmark 4-3 decision in support of "gay marriage" reached me on Wednesday in Fairfield County, Conn. -- specifically, in Darien, home of the headband for women and the gold band for men, the enslaving ring for which all that work is done in the city and all that money gets made. Here, the nuclear family has been raised to an art, Prozac melts like cotton candy and someone's child is always amok, strangling Mother or stabbing the swans. This is Michael Skakel-land, where booze is home-delivered in gallons and cases and the remake of "The Stepford Wives," featuring a slew of local extras, is currently being filmed. Riding to Connecticut on the train from Grand Central, you can tell how the passengers feel about life by the glumness that falls on their faces. Believe me, they don't want to come home.

I say this not to slander the good citizens of Darien, New Canaan, Greenwich, etc., but only to make a point. If unhappiness could be measured like dollars in the till, you'd find as much of it here as anywhere else. And if gay liberation amounts, in the end, to a lawful ticket to depression and divorce -- well, who am I to judge? I live in Vermont, the first state in America to allow some form of legal coupling between queers. This was the famous "civil union" bill, passed by our Legislature in 2001 under pressure from the state Supreme Court and signed into law by our (then) Gov. Howard Dean -- "a certain former governor of Vermont," as he was called on Thursday in the Christian Science Monitor by an unnamed Republican Senate aide.

"The fact that this is the headline in the news is something you can't pay enough for if you're Bush," this aide went on, and I fear that he's right: "It raises the profile of a controversial social issue that Republicans believe will work to their advantage." If only for that reason, I'm against the codification of homosexual relations. I'm aware, more acutely than ever, that my community is under attack. If you doubt it, listen to the "Right Reverend" Robert Duncan, Episcopal bishop of Pittsburgh, who, during the recent flap over the appointment of an "openly gay" bishop in New Hampshire, said: "As is well known, promiscuity among homosexual men is not just the majority experience, it is the only experience. And even though divorce and promiscuity in America are rampant, the fact is that heterosexuals remain remarkably monogamous."

And for as long as religious bigots and Republican swine condemn, obstruct and slander my own, I am forced, will-nilly, to break a lance for matrimony. But I don't really buy it -- I don't buy it at all.

Remember, when they say "one man, one woman," they mean one at a time. You can have as many as you want as long as you do it in order, i.e., my first wife, my second wife, "Cyndi" and little Ego Jr. -- then long years of drooling idiocy and Viagra-popping to keep the old man's plug in gear. There's nothing sacred about that, I'm afraid. And until the defense-of-marriage people come down on divorce as hard as they do on gays, lesbians, women and abortions, their words will be as sounding brass or a tinkling cymbal.

Indeed, the chief result of Vermont's dreaded civil union law has been to expose marriage for what it is -- an economic enterprise and a statutory sham, based on a binding contract that, as Germaine Greer observed three decades ago in "The Female Eunuch," wouldn't hold up in a court of law for anything but marriage. Almost a third of Vermont's civil unions have already ended in separation or divorce. The first gay couple whose "wedding" I attended broke up a week later, which only proves that fools are fools, that romantic delusion knows no sexual orientation, and that marriage, gay or straight, is good for business.

No sooner was Vermont's law passed, in fact, than Susan Murray and Beth Robinson, the attorneys who represented the plaintiffs in the court case that brought it on, were advertising in Out in the Mountains, the state's leading -- indeed, only -- "Forum for Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgendered Issues."

"You've hired the caterer," said Murray and Robinson, "settled on the music and flowers, reserved the date, and sent out the invitations. In planning your civil union, you haven't forgotten anything.

"Or have you?"

Well, of course you have. You've "forgotten" all the things that aren't actually written in a marriage contract -- and thus a "civil union" contract -- and which you won't find out about until you try to break it. Why not get a "prenup," just in case? Not that these hold up in court, either. They don't, not if you have -- that is, can afford -- the right lawyer. As a matter of fact, we have them for sale! Isadora Duncan said it best in 1927: "Any woman who reads the marriage contract, and then goes into it, deserves all the consequences."

I supported civil unions when I thought they might be an alternative to marriage. I can't if they're only a substitution for marriage, specially created for "gay and lesbian individuals," whatever those are, and so long as they fall back on the eternally phony cry of "The children!" for their justification. Here, I'm both with and not with the Massachusetts court decision -- which stated that one reason to grant gay couples legal marriages was so that their children would be protected under the law. On the one hand, the decision plainly recognizes that any idiot can marry and that most of them do; on the other, it persists in believing that children are "better off" with two parents instead of one, or four, or eight.

There is no evidence whatsoever to support this. The nuclear unit has been a disaster for many children -- isolating them, alienating them, imprisoning them, as often as not, with a pair of warring maniacs, caught in a struggle for love, power, money and "security" whose fuel is fear and whose goal is consumption.

So, all right, I'm a crank on this subject. The truth is I don't give a damn about marriage and I haven't ever since I got out of one -- a marriage I entered sincerely and with the best intentions in what seems like another lifetime, but which no law and no contract could keep from unraveling. Neither could they shield "the parties" from pain, rancor and misunderstanding. It's the nature of the beast, and no agreement, pre- or post-nuptial, will protect you from it. I'd hoped that the gay-marriage fight might lead to a reassessment of marriage itself, as an institution that's plainly failing masses of people, but this doesn't seem to be on either side's dance card.

And now -- what to do? When the religious right equates homosexuality with incest, alcoholism, bestiality and "disease," I can't be silent and I won't be. When George W. Bush calls marriage "a sacred institution," I know he's talking through his Texan hat. (Just ask his brother, Neil. Better, ask Neil's former wife, Sharon.) And when two grown men stand up in their tuxedos, holding hands and saying, "I do," I'll continue to roll my eyes and wonder why -- why -- why -- my identity's been stolen for this cause.

By Peter Kurth

Peter Kurth, a regular contributor to Salon Books, is the author of "Isadora: A Sensational Life." He lives in Burlington, Vt.

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