The Meaning of Marriage
I wanted to comment on the following story because every piece I have read on it, in my opinion, really misses the point:
This story about an elderly widow who was hit with a major tax burden because she was married to a woman and not a man is a sad read. The women were together for decades and made a series of great real estate buys, amassing quite a bit of wealth. Ms. Windsor (the surviving wife) cared for her partner for years through an illness, to which her wife eventually succumbed. Then, because of the Defense of Marriage Act, she was forced to pay enormous sums on her wife’s share of their assets — sums she would not have had to pay if she had been married to a man.
Let me begin by saying that I consider DOMA to be a disgrace and a vile piece of barbarity. I believe that equal rights need to be granted to gay people and that discriminating against anybody based on their sexual orientation is horrible and shameful.
However, I think that there is something else going on in this story that needs to be acknowledged. How come a couple who lives together in a loving, profound relationship and who didn’t go to the courthouse to put a signature on a piece of paper enjoys less rights than a couple who did? Why are there rights that are granted by putting signatures to a piece of paper rather than by entering into a certain kind of relationship?
There are countries that have chosen to acknowledge all couples equally. My sister and her partner live in Quebec. They have been together for over ten years and are raising a daughter. They haven’t had time to organize a wedding ceremony or even walk over to the courthouse just yet. But they have every single right enjoyed by the couples who did. They will organize a marriage ceremony when they feel like it. Or not. This will be a choice not based on any paperwork-related convenience but exclusively on when they choose to have a celebration.
I think it would be great if we all started moving towards this model. All couples within it would enjoy equal rights. Marriage, in the meanwhile, would have absolutely no legal or formalistic meaning. It will be nothing but a ceremony that some couples would choose to undergo because it entertains them. Of course, people in really shitty relationships who need to exclude large groups of people from having access to the same rights in order to feel like their bad marriages mean anything at all will be against this.