Seven years ago, my partner and I had a holy union ceremony in a small chapel in Georgia—a chapel, incidentally, that starred in the Stephen King movie Pet Semetary II. Don’t worry if you don’t recognize it, no one else has seen the movie either. The rehabbed chapel served as a beautiful backdrop to our happy day, despite its obscure infamy.
Next month, my beloved spouse and I will travel to Canada and speak those vows to one another again, only this time with the force of at least one country’s laws behind them. We hope that one day the United States will grant recognition to same-gender marriages performed in other countries, just as they recognize all other foreign marriages.
If you believe those who oppose marriage equality for me and my partner, it’s apt that our marriage took place in a horror film setting. We’re apparently to blame for the decrepit state of marriage in the United States today, and giving recognition to the nuptials we will soon celebrate will only hasten the demise of this esteemed institution. That’s the gist, anyway, of Bishop Harry Jackson’s open letter to President Obama, urging him to prevent the overturning of the Defense of Marriage Act or DOMA.
Jackson, a vocal opponent of marriage equality and senior pastor of Hope Christian Church in Beltsville, Maryland, uses his letter to air a litany of disappointments over the decline in marriage:
1. A lowering of the marriage rate:
• The marriage rate has plunged 50% since 1970
2. An increase in divorce:
• Half of all new marriages end in divorce
3. A rise in heterosexual cohabitation:
• The number of unmarried couples living together has soared 12-fold since 1960
4. A multiplication of unwed births:
• Out-of wedlock births jumped from 5.3% to 39.6% from 1960-2007
Since the push for marriage equality for gays and lesbians has really only been an issue since 1993, it’s hard to see how the gay community has contributed the decline in marriages, increase in divorces and unmarried heterosexual cohabitation and well as out-of-wedlock births.
But, Jackson uses these statistics to claim that they “show the fragile nature of the institution of marriage today. Changing the definition of marriage will have many unintended consequences, which will hurt generations to come. If one redefines marriage, then the family is redefined. If the family is redefined then the nature of parenting must also be redefined.”
Indeed, marriage has become a fragile institute, thanks to the heterosexuals who have dominated it since, oh, forever. Yes, changing the definition of marriage may have some unintended consequences, but, the one consequence we know it will have is that more people will be interested in actually doing it. That will pump up the decline in marriage rates. Certainly, gay and lesbian relationships may also end in divorce and some will forgo the right to marry and simply live together—and that may still affect out-of-wedlock births as more and more same-gender couples have children. But, for all Jackson’s fear mongering, adding gays and lesbians to the marriage roles will not destroy the institution. In fact, it will give the institution the much needed injection of enthusiasm and respect that it sorely needs right now.
This is nothing new—a vocal homophobe sending letters to the president spelling out his position on an issue dealing with the gay and lesbian community using worn arguments and religious justifications. What’s most shocking about Jackson’s letter isn’t his well-worn rhetoric, it’s this one line at the very beginning:
“We believe that the central domestic problem we face is the disintegration of marriage.”
Really? The “central domestic problem” facing this country is the “disintegration of marriage”? If that’s what Jackson believes, then he’s got some mighty thick blinders on. He might want to check out the most recent unemployment numbers:
The Bureau of Labor Statistics preliminary estimate for job losses for June is 467,000, which means 7.2 million people have lost their jobs since the start of the recession.
If you want to end a marriage, put a little financial strain on it and see where it goes. Yep, the disintegration of marriage is a big concern—but it’s not the demand for marriage equality that is destroying marriage—it’s the “central domestic problem” we are all facing right now—a declining economy and soaring jobless numbers.
But, studies, like this one from UCLA, are showing that marriage equality for gays and lesbians could be an economic boon, especially to the states, like Vermont, that embrace it:
Throughout this report, we estimate the economic impact of weddings conservatively. In other words, we choose assumptions that are cautious from the State’s perspective in that they tend to produce lower revenues given the range of possibilities. Even so, we find that the effect of allowing same-sex couples to marry in Vermont is a gain of $30.6 million to Vermont’s businesses and workers, and $3.3 million in state and local government revenues over the next three years.
Winston Churchill once said, “A fanatic is one who can’t change his mind and won’t change the subject.” Jackson and his anti-marriage equality cohorts qualify as fanatics on this issue. They can’t let go of their prejudices long enough to see that we’re all in the same economically sinking boat. Tossing out the gays and the lesbians won’t prevent us all from going down.