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Marriage has long been a punchline in this country. Are we about to let others in on the joke?

Gay Marriage and the Undoing of Straight Marriage

It will be interesting to see what the legalization of gay marriage does for divorce statistics. Given that many lining up to get married have already been together for years (some for decades), there's a chance the rate of divorce will drop significantly in the future.

Marriage between man and woman has long been a punchline in this country. The decision to love, the act of commitment, and the longevity and perseverance of caring for another have not been taken seriously by upwards of half of those who entered into the institution – and all of them have been straight.

This doesn’t tell me why gay marriage would be a bad thing. We’ll get to that later. This tells me why straight marriage is in trouble.

Many of us have been there: watching other couples who seem so happy when we are not – or once were, but are no longer. It rarely occurs to us that, sometimes, when we enter the house of those we see as hopelessly in love, the squeaking we hear is not coming from their charming screen door or their marital bed. It is coming from the rats in the walls.

When our own marriage is in trouble, catching sight of what we think is a happy couple provokes our envy. We remember what we lack and how painful it is. For some, seeing a happy homosexual couple provokes disgust. While envy and disgust are two very different responses, the origin of both feelings is the same: they are happy and we are not.

Regardless of where you stand on the issue of gay marriage, the energy you invest in that stand is energy you’re not investing in your spouse.

I know what it feels like to be in a marriage where friendship has waned, indifference has displaced love, insult has overridden affirmation, and loss has outweighed gain until all that’s left is a gaping wound. I also know the rebirth of love as a decision rather than a feeling one has little control over. I know the refocused effort and strength needed to keep us afloat when it seemed like no one else in the world cared whether the two of us stayed together or not.

I need the support and camaraderie of those who are willing to get up and fight for marriage as a value rather than some unattainable or elite ideal. I need the model and the company of those who know the struggle and who are strong enough in character to persevere despite all odds. I need those who take the vows of marriage as seriously as I do.

I feel sad when I hear others say their own marriages are under attack by gay marriage. It tells me how many heterosexual marriages are on the brink when something so external could threaten their internal decisions to love each other. Without meaning to, those who feel attacked reveal the thin and fragile weave of their own marriages. In turn, this reminds the rest of us just how fragile marriage is – and how much we need the support of others. Why, then, would we turn it away?

In the gay community there are many who have fought long and hard for the right to marry, and who have given of each other to each other despite not having the right to call that commitment by its rightful name. I’m reminded of the seriousness of my own commitment, and that marriage is something worth keeping out of the joke books.

I read in the paper about those who are investing large amounts of money in the effort to keep others from marrying. These same people are not putting any money, much less time or effort, into keeping troubled marriages from falling apart or helping good marriages get better.

Indeed, there are those who care about helping marriages on the edge, and there are those who care about making good marriages better. Tell me why your marriage is falling apart, and I’ll tell you why you got married in the first place. (She’s a control freak, but you used to love how organized she was. He’s indecisive, but you used to love how easygoing he was.) Tell me what makes your marriage great, and I’ll ask you to tell others how you did it.

Unfortunately, there are a significant number of people who mask the pain of their failing marriages by focusing outside themselves. It’s easier for them to feel attacked by others (or act on behalf of the institution of marriage) than to acknowledge the cracks of neglect in their own foundations. They mistake the teamwork of marching in unison against others as proof of the strength of their own marriage. They believe in this all the way home, until he retreats to his corner and she to hers. He still doesn’t know how lonely she is for him in the night, and she still doesn’t know why he feels emasculated when she expresses her frustration.

The truth of their opposition to gay marriage is enraging until it is sorrowful: “If homosexual marriage is not the reason for the pain in my marriage, then it must be me – and that is too heart-wrenching a reality to face.”

Many of those who oppose gay marriage do not consider that we, as a community, can and should actively support and save already existing marriages from what ails them, which isn't homosexual marriage. If only it were that easy. It’s much harder to admit to and do something about what really ails a marriage: indifference, lack of focus, infidelity, unwillingness to listen to the other without judgment, the ways in which we assault each other with insult and injury, and in many cases, substance abuse.

Mark Twain once said, “Why is it that we rejoice at a birth and grieve at a funeral? It is because we are not the person involved.” In the course of their outcry, the opposition has revealed how threatened and disheartened they feel by the prospect of someone else getting what they still don’t have: someone else’s commitment of love.

There is definitely a wolf out there tearing many a marriage asunder, but that wolf is not on the outside; it is within. It is in the heart of all heterosexual married people who would abandon their loved ones to "save the world from homosexual marriage," even as their spouses suffer from lack of attention and intimacy, and from their own decision to love their husband or wife rather than hate others.

This brings us to why gay marriage would be a bad thing, and it is the same reason straight marriage is already a bad thing for many: people are involved. Many people may not be prepared to deliver on their promises. Half the time, the right to marry has meant an eventual withdrawal of affection, violation of trust, financial despair, divorce, the destruction of children’s lives, and courts clogged up with the mire of already hapless communication gone horribly, horribly bad.

We shoot each other in the wedding ring finger when we do anything that compromises the amount of time and attention our marriages need. Going after others is not a valuable use of marital energy. Those who do so expose the weaknesses and widen the gaps in their own marriages without promise of repair.

In a world where so many are distraught with loss, mutilation, rage, and sorrow, a wee bit more love and commitment might do us all some good. We can only hope those in painful marriages get the help they need before the well of their love runs any drier.

Heterosexuality is no more the key to a good marriage than homosexuality is a lock against it. To take great liberty with a quote by Martin Luther King, Jr:

It is not your opposition to gay marriage your spouse will remember, but the way you neglected your own.

About Diana Hartman

Diana is a USMC (ret.) spouse, mother of three and a Wichita, Kansas native. She is back in the United States after 10 years in Germany. She is a contributing author to Holiday Writes. She hates liver & motivational speakers. She loves science & naps.

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