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Gay Marriage: Why It is Good for Gays, Good for Straights, and Good for America

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"Thoughtful and convincingly argued . . . Rauch's impressive book is as enthusiastic an encomium to marriage as anyone, gay or straight, could write."

David J. Garrow, The Washington Post Book World

In May 2004, gay marriage became legal in Massachusetts, but it remains a divisive and contentious issue across America. As liberals and conservatives mobilize around this issue, no one has come forward with a more compelling, comprehensive, and ...

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Gay Marriage: Why It Is Good for Gays, Good for Straights, and Good for America

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Overview

"Thoughtful and convincingly argued . . . Rauch's impressive book is as enthusiastic an encomium to marriage as anyone, gay or straight, could write."

David J. Garrow, The Washington Post Book World

In May 2004, gay marriage became legal in Massachusetts, but it remains a divisive and contentious issue across America. As liberals and conservatives mobilize around this issue, no one has come forward with a more compelling, comprehensive, and readable case for gay marriage than Jonathan Rauch. In this book, he puts forward a clear and honest manifesto explaining why gay marriage is important—even crucial—to the health of marriage in America today, grounding his argument in commonsense, mainstream values and confronting social conservatives on their own turf. Marriage, he observes, is more than a bond between individuals; it also links them to the community at large. Excluding some people from the prospect of marriage not only is harmful to them but also is corrosive of the institution itself.

Gay marriage, he shows, is a "win-win-win" for strengthening the bonds that tie us together and for remaining true to our national heritage of fairness and humaneness toward all.

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Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher
"Cool, articulate, poignant . . . This is a powerful book, clear, tolerant and persuasive . . . Mr. Rauch's book should become obligatory reading for all." —The Economist
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780805078152
  • Publisher: Holt, Henry & Company, Inc.
  • Publication date: 2/1/2005
  • Edition description: First Edition
  • Pages: 224
  • Sales rank: 1,387,199
  • Product dimensions: 5.50 (w) x 8.50 (h) x 0.50 (d)

Meet the Author

Jonathan Rauch is a correspondent for The Atlantic Monthly, a senior writer and columnist for National Journal, and a writer in residence at the Brookings Institution. He is the author of several books on public policy, culture, and economics, including Government's End: Why Washington Stopped Working. His work has appeared in The New Republic, The Economist, Harper's, Fortune, The New York Times, The Washington Post, The Wall Street Journal, and Slate, among other publications. He is vice president of the Independent Gay Forum and lives near Washington, D.C.

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Read an Excerpt

Gay Marriage

1

What Is Marriage For?

When I was six years old, I went with my family from Phoenix, where I was born and raised, to visit New York. I remember only a little about that trip, apart from a visit to the Statue of Liberty, but seeing Fiddler on the Roof on Broadway remains vivid. It was my first play and a great play to boot, and Tevye's dream frightened me half to death, but another, more tender scene also stayed with me.

Tevye is a poor milkman in a Jewish shtetl (village) in czarist Russia. Life there is hardscrabble and traditional, and he is at first scandalized and then grudgingly helpful when his children break with custom by rejecting arranged marriages and insisting on marrying for love. Shaken, Tevye one day asks his wife, Golde: "Do you love me?"

The question strikes Golde as bizarre. "Do I what?" she sings. "Go inside, go lie down. Maybe it's indigestion." Tevye is undeterred and presses the question. "You're a fool!" his wife replies.

"But do you love me?"

"After twenty-five years," she grumbles, "why talk about love right now?" Still he insists: "Do you love me?"

"I'm your wife."

For Golde this is the answer. Or as much of an answer as she needs. She has done her job as a spouse; why would he want more? But Tevye sings on: "But do you love me?"

"Do I love him?"

And now, at last, she gives her answer:

For twenty-five years I've lived with him, Fought with him, starved with him, Twenty-five years my bed is his. If that's not love, what is?

"Then you love me!" says Tevye.

"I suppose I do."

"And I suppose I love you, too."

The 1960s were the dawn of the era of love. Love was in the air, love was all around, all we needed was love, what the world needed now was love sweet love, love would keep us together, we should make love not war, we emblazoned LOVE on postage stamps and honored it with statues in public squares. Probably not coincidentally, it was also the age when the American divorce rate soared, to levels never before seen. Love was up, marriage was down. If the light of love dimmed in your marriage, or if it shined in new directions, then follow your heart. You and your partner and your children and everyone would be happier.

That was the air I breathed as I grew up, and yet even a six-year-old was capable of recognizing, in Do You Love Me?, a different and in some respects wiser view of love. Later on in my life, some years after my parents divorced (when I was twelve), it occurred to me to wonder: Did Tevye and Golde know something that many of us might have forgotten?

 

 

What is marriage for? That ought to be the easiest question in the world to answer. So many people get married, so much culturalexperience has accumulated, and so many novels and dramas and counselors and manuals and "Dear Abby" columns crowd the world. Yet, until recently, when the gay-marriage debate forced the issue, hardly anyone gave much thought to the question. Such answers as were given were shallow or incoherent, especially at first. Gay activists said: Marriage is for love and we love each other, therefore we should be able to marry. Traditionalists said: Marriage is for procreation, and homosexuals do not procreate, therefore you should not be able to marry. That pretty well covered the spectrum. Secular thinking on the matter has been shockingly sketchy.

In its religious dress, marriage has a straightforward justification. It is as it is because that is how God wants it. As the Vatican said in 2003, "Marriage is not just any relationship between human beings. It was established by the Creator with its own nature, essential properties and purpose." Depending on the religion, God has various things to say about the nature and purpose of marriage. Modern marriage is, of course, based on traditions which religion helped to codify and enforce. But religious doctrine has no special standing in the world of secular law and policy, although it certainly holds and deserves influence. Moreover, a lot of what various religions say about marriage is inconsistent with or downright opposed to the consensus view of marriage today. The biblical patriarchs were polygamous and effectively owned their wives; in any number of religious traditions today, equality within marriage remains anathema. The law allows routine divorce and remarriage, something Jesus unequivocally condemned. If we want to know what marriage is for in modern America, we need a sensible secular doctrine.

You could try the dictionary. If you did, you might find something like: "marriage (n). The formal union of a man and woman, typically recognized by law, by which they become husband and wife" (Oxford American College Dictionary). Not much help there. Or: "marriage (n). The state of being married; a legal contract,entered into by a man and a woman, to live together as husband and wife" (Funk & Wagnalls Standard College Dictionary). Maybe your dictionary does better.

You could turn to the statute books. Law is, after all, dense with legal prerogatives enjoyed by married couples and dense with cases (often divorces) allocating assets and resolving conflicts. But you will find surprisingly little about what marriage is for and what must or must not, or should or should not, go on within it. Instead, you will find definitions like the one a Washington State court provided in a 1974 case in which two men tried to get a marriage license. Marriage, said the court, is defined as "the legal union of one man and one woman." The case revealed marriage, writes the philosopher Richard Mohr, "at least as legally understood, to be nothing but an empty space, delimited only by what it excludes—gay couples."

One way to get a handle on what marriage is for would be to ask what married people must do. Or, at a bare minimum, what it is they must not do in order to remain married. Here, astonishingly, the answer turns out to be, more or less: nothing. Nearly all civic institutions require you to do or not do at least something. If you want to be a voter, you need to register, re-register when you move, go to the polls, prove your identity, and vote in a specified manner. In many places, if you are convicted of a felony, you lose your vote. If you want to own property, you have to buy it legally (often a complicated process) and pay applicable taxes, or it will cease to be yours. If you want to be a driver, you must prove you can drive safely and see adequately; if you disobey the rules or lose your sight, your license may be revoked. By contrast, few if any behaviors automatically end a marriage. If a man beats his wife—about the worst thing he can do to her—he may be convicted of assault, but the marriage is not automatically dissolved. Couples can be adulterous (or "open") yet still be married, as long as that is what they choose to be. They can be celibate, too; consummationis not required. They can live together or apart, in the same house or in different countries: there is no residency or cohabitation requirement. There is no upper age limit. Spouses need not know each other or even meet before receiving a marriage license. They need not regularly see each other; a prisoner of war or a sailor or an adventurer can be separated from his wife for years and be no less married. They can have children or not. Not only can felons marry, they can do so on their way to the electric chair.

Secular law nowadays makes all sorts of provisions for people who are married, but it sets only a few rules for people who want to get married. Marriage happens only with the consent of the parties. The parties are not children. The number of parties is two. The parties are not closely related. One is a man and the other is a woman.

Within those rules, a marriage is whatever the spouses agree it is. So the laws say almost nothing about what marriage is for: just who can be married. All in all, it is an impressive and also rather astonishing victory for modern individualism that so important an institution should be bereft of any formal social instruction as to what should go on inside it.

 

 

What is marriage for? If the dictionaries and the law are of little help, perhaps we can find clues by asking: What was marriage for? A backward glance, however, sheds less light than one might hope. Mostly what it establishes is that, in the past century and more, marriage has changed nearly beyond recognition.

Most cultures, throughout history, have been polygamous. One man marries several women, at least in society's upper echelons. (The converse, one woman marrying several men, is rare, almost unheard of.) Polygamy was largely about hierarchy: it helped men to dominate women, and it helped high-status men, with theirmultiplicity of highly desirable wives, dominate low-status men. The higher a man's status, the more wives he typically had. Among human societies, as among animals, it is monogamy that is the rarity. "A huge majority—980 of the 1,154 past or present societies for which anthropologists have data—have permitted a man to have more than one wife," says Robert Wright in The Moral Animal: The New Science of Evolutionary Psychology (1994). "And that number includes most of the world's hunter-gatherer societies, societies that are the closest thing we have to a living example of the context of human evolution."

The imposition of monogamy was an important step toward the development of modern liberalism, a point I will come back to in chapter 7. The advent of monogamy did not, however, make for anything like modern marriage. For, in secular society, marriage was largely a matter of business: cementing family ties, forging social or economic alliances, providing social status for men and economic security for women, conferring dowries, and so on. Marriages were typically arranged, and "love" in the modern sense was certainly no prerequisite. Family, in the days before the modern corporation, was business, and marriages were mergers and acquisitions. It would have seemed silly, under the circumstances, to allow individuals to marry on the basis of anything as whimsical as infatuation, or at least to allow marriages that were not carefully vetted and specifically approved by family elders. Elopement, in the upper social strata, was not only a scandal but a blow to a family's stability and standing. E. J. Graff, in her book What Is Marriage For? (1999), quotes from an eighteenth-century advice manual: "Children are so much the goods, the possessions of their parents, that they cannot, without a kind of theft, give themselves away without the allowance of those that have the right in them." Anyone who has read Jane Austen knows that the economic and business aspects of marriage remained prominent well into the nineteenth century.

In the recent past, and in some predominantly religious quarters to this day, marriage was about gender specialization. Men rightly do certain things, and women rightly do others, and to form a complete social unit, the two sexes must form a complementary partnership. Marriage is that partnership. Here again, love may be desirable, but it is no prerequisite. A marriage is successful if the two partners are conscientiously fulfilling their roles: the man attending to work and the world of affairs, the woman to home and children. In Japan today, remnants of this system persist, and it works surprisingly well. Spouses view their marriage as a partnership: an investment in security and status for themselves and their children. Because Japanese couples don't expect as much emotional fulfillment as Americans do, they are less inclined to break up. They also take a somewhat more relaxed attitude toward adultery. As long as each partner is doing his or her job, what's a little extracurricular activity?

In contemporary America, women expect to have opportunities to work outside the home, and men are expected to change diapers and even, however ineptly, help with the dishes. Marriage-as-business and marriage-as-gender-specialization linger only as vestiges. In the West today, of course, love is a defining element. Love sustains marriage, many people will tell you, and marriage sanctifies love—but it is the love, not the marriage, which makes the bond. That was the view I grew up with.

The notion of lifelong love is charming, if ambitious, and certainly love is a desirable and important element of marriage. In the modern world, a loveless wedding is not likely to produce a lasting marriage. Love is not, however, the defining element of marriage in society's eyes, and it never has been. You may or may not love your husband, but the two of you are just as married either way. You may love your mistress, but that does not make her your wife. To a large extent, marriage is defined not in tandem with love but in contradistinction to it: marriage is special precisely because itimposes obligations whether or not you and your spouse love each other. Love helps make sense of marriage from an emotional point of view, but it is not particularly important in making sense of marriage from the social-policy point of view.

With the rise of the gay-marriage debate, another view has come to the fore: marriage is about children. Rather than take this up here, I'll reserve it for chapter 6. At present, suffice to say that marriage is unquestionably good for children, but children are not and cannot be the only reason for marriage. No society denies marriage to the infertile; no society requires couples to promise they will have children; no society nullifies marriage if children don't turn up; for that matter, no modern society mandates marriage if they do. For the record, I would be the last to deny that children are a central reason for the privileged status of marriage. When men and women get together, children are a likely outcome; and, as we are learning in all sorts of unpleasant ways, when children appear without two parents, many kinds of trouble can follow. Without belaboring the point, I hope I won't be accused of saying that children are a trivial reason for marriage. They just cannot be the only reason.

What are the others? I can think of several possibilities, such as the provision of economic security for women (or men), or the orderly transfer of cultural and financial capital between families or generations. There is a lot of intellectual work to be done to sort the essential from the inessential purposes of marriage. It seems to me, however, that the two strongest candidates are these: settling the young, particularly young men; and providing reliable caregivers. Both purposes are critical to the functioning of a humane, stable society, and both are better served by marriage—that is, by one-to-one lifelong commitment—than by any other institution.

 

 

We all need a home; humans are nesting animals. Odysseus bore his trials by keeping the memory of home alive. Countless generationsof soldiers and wanderers have done the same. Home may be a place or it may be a nomadic community; it can mean parents, friends, familiar customs, native language, citizenship, and the pub or pool hall down the block. For many people, however, it means one thing above all. It is the place where someone waits for you.

Leaving aside children, young adults are the people who need home the most and who have it the least. For many people, the period we call "leaving home"—leaving one's parents' home—is a time of great excitement but also great vulnerability. Most of us, at age eighteen or twenty-two, aren't yet very good at managing life. We lack status and feel less beholden to the society around us than we will later on, when we have money or memberships or mortgages. We want a lot of sex but tend to have trouble handling it. And, often, we are lonely.

The result can be trouble: idleness, depression, debauchery, drugs, unwanted pregnancy, an unwanted child. The problems of young men are especially worrisome, for society as well as for the young men.

"Men are more aggressive than women," writes James Q. Wilson, the prominent political scientist, in his 1993 book The Moral Sense. "In every known society, men are more likely than women to play roughly, drive recklessly, fight physically, and assault ruthlessly, and these differences appear early in life." He goes on to speak of the male's need to hunt, defend, attack.

Much of the history of civilization can be thought of as an effort to adapt these male dispositions to contemporary needs by restricting aggression or channeling it into appropriate channels. That adaptation has often required extraordinary measures, such as hunting rituals, rites of passage, athletic contests, military discipline, guild apprenticeships, or industrial authority.

Most of the men I know are gentle souls, hardly uncivilized. Remember, though, that men often change when they gather ingroups—or packs, or gangs. Wherever unattached young men gather in packs, you see no end of mischief: wildings in Central Park, gangs in Los Angeles, football hooligans in Britain, skinheads in Germany, hazings in college fraternities, gang bangs in prisons, grope lines in the military, and, in a different but ultimately no less tragic way, the bathhouses and wanton sex of gay San Francisco or New York in the 1970s. It is probably fair to say that civilizing young men is one of any society's two or three biggest problems.

"Of all the institutions through which men may pass—schools, factories, the military—marriage has the largest effect," writes Wilson. The stabilizing and settling effect of marriage is unmatched. "An unmarried man between twenty-four and thirty-five years of age is about three times as likely to murder another male as is a married man the same age," observes Wright. "He is also more likely to incur various risks—committing robbery, for example—to gain the resources that may attract women. He is more likely to rape."

Marriage confers status: to be married, in the eyes of society, is to be grown up. Marriage creates stakes: someone depends on you. Marriage creates a safe harbor for sex. Marriage puts two heads together, pooling experience and braking impulsiveness. Of all the things a young person can do to move beyond the vulnerabilities of early adulthood, marriage is far and away the most fruitful. We all need domesticating, not in the veterinary sense but in a more literal, human sense: we need a home. We are different people when we have a home: more stable, more productive, more mature, less self-obsessed, less impatient, less anxious. And marriage is the great domesticator.

Nowadays, of course, people marry later. A lot of people don't marry until their thirties. But civilization is not unraveling and packs of marauding youths have not taken over the streets. If marriage is so important to settling down, why do so many people manage to settle down before marrying?

The answer, I think, is this: marriage is a great domesticator, but so is the prospect of marriage. If you hope to get married, and if your friends and peers hope to get married, you will socialize and date more carefully. If you're a young woman, you will avoid getting pregnant unintentionally or gaining what used to be called a reputation. If you're a young man, you will reach for respectability. You will devote yourself to your work, try to build status, and earn money to make yourself marriageable (often true of women, too). People who expect to get married observe and emulate husbands and wives. For those on the path toward marriage, most of what they do is conditioned by the assumption that single life is a temporary phase. Because you aspire to marry, you prepare to marry. You make yourself what people used to call marriage material.

Nothing I've just said is intended to imply that people who don't want to get married or who don't manage to get married (a small minority, as it happens: about 90 percent of Americans get married) are uncivilized, dangerous, or pathetic. The point is that, whether you marry or not, it is the prospect and the possibility of marriage that makes us a society of homebodies, which is a wonderful thing to be.

 

 

Of course, women and older men do not generally travel in marauding or orgiastic packs. As the years go by, even the most impetuous tend to settle down. In that respect, age does some of the same work as marriage (and vice versa; ask any comedian). As life goes on, however, a second core rationale for marriage comes more strongly into play.

I have a good job. I have money. I have health insurance. I have friends. I have relatives. But my relatives live far away. My friends are busy. And no amount of money can allay what has to be one of the most elemental fears humans can know: the fear of enduring some catastrophe alone. Tomorrow, maybe, my little car gets hit by a big bus. Everything goes black. When I awake, I am surroundedby doctors and nurses, but without someone there especially for me, I am alone in the sense that matters most. I lose the power to work or walk or feed myself. A service comes by to check on me once a day. Meals on Wheels brings lunch. Nonetheless, I am alone. No one is there for me. God forbid it should ever happen. But we all know the fear.

Society worries, too. A second enormous problem for society is what to do when someone is beset by catastrophe. It could be cancer, a broken back, unemployment, depression; it could be exhaustion from work, stress under pressure, or an all-consuming rage. From society's point of view, an unattached person is an accident waiting to happen. The burdens of contingency are likely to fall, immediately and sometimes crushingly, on people—relatives, friends, neighbors—who have enough problems of their own, and then on charities and welfare agencies. We all suffer periods of illness, sadness, distress, fury. What happens to us, and what happens to the people around us, when we desperately need a hand but find none to hold?

If marriage has any meaning at all, it is that when you collapse from a stroke, there will be another person whose "job" is to drop everything and come to your aid. Or that when you come home after being fired, there will be someone to talk you out of committing a massacre or killing yourself. To be married is to know there is someone out there for whom you are always first in line.

No group could make such a commitment in quite the same way, because of a free-rider problem. If I were to marry three or four people, the pool of potential caregivers would be larger, but the situation would, perversely, make all of them less reliable: each could expect one of the others to take care of me (and each may be reluctant to do more than any of the others are willing to do—a common source of conflict among siblings who need to look after an aging parent). The pair bond, one to one, is the only kind which is inescapably reciprocal, perfectly mutual. Because neither of us has anyone else, we are there for each other.

All by itself, marriage is society's first and, often, second and third line of support for the troubled individual. A husband or wife is the social worker of first resort, the psychiatrist of first resort, the cop and counselor and insurer and nurse and 911 operator of first resort. Married people are happier, healthier, and live longer; married men have lower rates of homicide, suicide, accidents, and mental illness. In 1858, reports Graff, a British public-health statistician named William Farr noticed that, on average, married people outlive singles. "Marriage," said Farr, "is a healthy state. The single individual is much more likely to be wrecked on his voyage than the lives joined together in matrimony." Graff goes on to say:

The data have been eerily consistent ever since: whether measuring by death rate, morbidity (health problems such as diabetes, kidney disease, or ischemic heart disease), subjective or stress-related complaints (dizziness, shortness of breath, achiness, days in bed during past year, asthma, headaches), or psychiatric problems (clinical depression or debilitating anxiety after a cancer diagnosis), married people do better than unmarried—single, widowed, divorced.

Might that just be because healthier people are more likely to marry? Maybe. But the conclusion remains the same even when studies compare matched populations, factor out confounding variables, or follow individuals over time. Moreover, married people do better than cohabiting couples, and their unions are more enduring—and, again, the generalization seems to hold even when researchers account for the fact that cohabitors and married people may be different. Marriage itself appears to be good for you. Why? I'm sure the answer is complicated. But in large part it must boil down to something pretty simple. Married people have someone to look after them, and they know it.

 

 

The gay-marriage debate is a storm that swirls around a single question. What makes marriage marriage? That is, what are marriage's essential attributes, and what are its incidental ones? As we will see, various people give various answers. They point to children, for instance. Or the ability to have children. Or heterosexual intercourse. Or monogamy. Clearly, marriage has many important attributes, and it would be unrealistic to expect agreement on what counts the most. But I think one attribute is more important than any of the others. If I had to pare marriage to its essential core, I would say that marriage is two people's lifelong commitment, recognized by law and by society, to care for each other. To get married is to put yourself in another person's hands, and to promise to take that person into your hands, and to do so within a community which expects both of you to keep your word.

Because, in theory, there is no reason why a male-male or female-female couple could not make and sustain the promise of lifelong caregiving, opponents of same-sex marriage are reluctant to put the caregiving commitment at the heart, rather than the periphery, of marriage. Against them, I adduce what I think are three strong kinds of evidence that caregiving is at the core of marriage: law, social opinion, and something else.

Law, as I said earlier, says almost nothing about what married people must do in order to be married; but it does weave a dense entanglement of prerogatives and special standings around any couple legally deemed to be wed. Spouses are generally exempted from having to testify against each other in court. They can make life-or-death decisions on each other's behalf in case of incapacity. They have hospital visitation rights. A doctor cannot refuse to tell them their spouse's condition. They have inheritance rights. They can file taxes as a single unit. On and on. The vast majority of the ways in which the law recognizes marriage—practically all of them, if you stop to think about it—aim at facilitating and bolstering the caregiving commitment. They are tools of trust andteamwork. A husband can speak to his wife candidly without fear that she will be served with a subpoena and rat him out. When one spouse is gravely ill, doctors and friends and other family members defer to the second spouse as caregiver in chief. Because spouses make a unique commitment to care for each other in life, their assets are presumed to merge when one of them dies—a recognition of what each has given up for the other. Most of what are usually thought of as the legal benefits of marriage are really gifts with strings attached. Or maybe strings with gifts attached. The law is saying: "You have a unique responsibility to care for each other. Here are the tools. Do your job."

Marriage creates kin. In olden times, marriage merged families to create alliances between clans. Today, marriage takes two people who are (except very rarely) not even remotely related and makes them each other's closest kin. Matrimony creates family out of thin air. Children cannot do this, nor can money, monogamy (that's just "going steady"), or lawyers. Only marriage does it.

Social opinion, I think, follows the same principle. Legally speaking, spouses are married until officially divorced. Socially speaking, however, under what circumstance would you regard someone as not just an imperfect spouse but as a nullifier of the marriage compact—a nonspouse? Adultery springs to mind. But the world is full of spouses who cheat or have cheated and who still manage to carry on in marriage. About 20 percent of American husbands admit to infidelity. Perhaps the betrayed spouse doesn't know, or knows but has forgiven, or has decided to live with the situation. I know more than one couple who have been through an adultery crisis and survived. An adulterous spouse is not a good spouse but, in the eyes of most people, would be a flawed spouse rather than a nonspouse.

What would lead me to think of someone as a nonspouse? Only, I think, abandonment. Mrs. Smith is diagnosed with a brain tumor. She will need treatment and care. Mr. Smith, an able-bodied adultwith no history of mental illness, responds by leaving town. Now and then he calls her, chats for a few minutes as a friend might do, and then goes on about his business. He leaves Mrs. Smith in the hands of her sister, who has to fly in from Spokane. When the doctors call, he lets the answering machine take a message. "She can sign on our bank account," he says. "Let her hire help."

I have heard of people getting divorced in the face of a crisis. But I have never heard of anyone behaving like Mr. Smith while claiming to be married; and if Mr. Smith behaved that way, even his closest friends would think him beyond the pale. They would say he was having a breakdown—"not himself" (meaning, no longer the husband Mrs. Smith thought she had). Everyone else would just be shocked. Mrs. Smith, if she survived, would get a divorce.

Decent opinion has understood for centuries that, whatever else marriage may be, it is a commitment to be there. In 1547 (according to Graff), Archbishop Thomas Cranmer wrote that marriage is for "mutual society, help, and comfort, that the one ought to have of the other, both in prosperity and in adversity." I mentioned a third strong kind of evidence for my view that the prime-caregiver status is the sine qua non of marriage. Here it is:

To have and to hold from this day forward, for better for worse, for richer for poorer, in sickness and in health, to love, cherish, and to obey, till death us do part.

I doubt there is a single grown-up person of sound mind in America who does not know what those words signify. They are from the Book of Common Prayer, dating from 1662. "Obey" is gone today, but otherwise not much has changed in four and a half centuries:

Wilt thou love her, comfort her, honor and keep her in sickness and in health; and, forsaking all others, keep thee only unto her, so long as ye both shall live?

So go the ancient vows, the first for her, the second for him. The text speaks twice of care and comfort "in sickness and in health," twice of love, twice of a lifetime bond. Those three, it implies, are interwoven: the commitment to care for another for life is the love which exceeds all others, the love of another even above oneself. There is no promise of children here, either to have them or to raise them, no mention of sex, no mention of inheritance, not a word about personal fulfillment. Perhaps the writers of the vow meant to put in those things but forgot. Or perhaps they placed at the center of marriage what most married people today also place there: "in sickness and in health, to love and cherish, till death us do part."

 

 

I know a couple who have been married, now, for sixty years. I know them well, although it would not be proper to name them. But they are people I love.

Often it is hard to spend time with them, because they needle each other, raise their voices, speak harshly—not all the time, but often, and almost always unnecessarily. One says, "Where's your coat?" and the other says, "Whatsa matter, I always have to have a coat?" They do not show affection for each other. If this is love, it is not the kind of love I would prefer for myself. It's not the kind of marriage I would like, either.

The wife freely admits that the marriage has not been pleasant for many years. So I asked her: Why did you stick with it? Because, she said, for her generation divorce just wasn't something you thought about. Because, after a certain point, inertia took over. But then she said something else, something which, from the sudden firmness in her voice, I took to be her real answer. "Jon," she said, "he has been there for me. He has always been there. Whenever I needed him, he came through."

Tevye and Golde concluded that they must love each other, or else what could you call their twenty-five years of living and fightingand starving together? They were singing, of course, not about passionate love, or romantic love, or erotic love. They were singing of the unique kind of love which grows between two people who learn they can trust each other through anything. They were singing about marriage.

Copyright © 2004 by Jonathan Rauch

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Sort by: Showing all of 5 Customer Reviews
  • Anonymous

    Posted February 16, 2010

    Great read

    This book was a good read. I felt the author, as he was trying to persuade his audience that marriage for gays in America is not so bad. He has acknowledged that fact that is good for America as a whole. I respect Jonathan Rauch and his emotional like approach, in which helped readers like me to understand what the gay community is going through as a whole. This book opened my eye to accept the gay community and there right to marry, because Rauch's evidence and facts about this subject persuaded me as a reader. Although Rauch lacked evidence on the political side of things he made up for it with his compelling argument as to why it would benefit America.

    4 out of 4 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted June 21, 2008

    'Vive la difference!'

    In a restatment of his arguments here, Mr. Rauch expends 19 paragraphs in the WSJ (21Jun, p.A9) in search of Gay Marriage. Doesn't he realize there is no such thing? Marriage is not a liberation, it is a promise to work hard for the benefit of the expected child. If you disagree, please consider the term 'shotgun marriage'. Do you know of any gay shotgun marriages? ..Why not? How about the 'arranged marriage'? What was the socially intended product? Was it personal expression and happiness? Or was it children in the family line? Mr. Rauch repeatedly broadcasts the term 'family'. My Random House Dictionary defines family pointedly: 'Family is parents and their children.' Is it really wise to forget that? Mr. Rauch seeks to redefine marriage as an arrival upon the shores of joy, rather than its long standing meaning of an embarkment intended to engender children. Must we lose such an important distinction? No one wants to deny joy to anyone, but the pursuit of happiness does not require us to dissolve the focus and goal of marriage. Why should we want to do that? P.s., In chemistry, we have covalent and ionic bonds. Great structures arise from each! We are called 'learned' if we understand the difference and advantages of each! Knowledge is a true freedom! 'Sex is an act, not a condition' G. Vidal, 'Commitment is an act, not a word' J.P. Sartre

    1 out of 5 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted May 15, 2004

    Wow!!!...

    A book debating both sides of the gay marriage debate. Jonathan looks at both sides of the argument (why gay marriage should be allowed, why it shouldn't) so you aren't getting a biased view. He's fair and even and is looking at all solutions from many different points. A wonderful read, whether you are for or against gay marriage.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted March 4, 2014

    Boo gay marriage

    Boooooo ># S

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  • Anonymous

    Posted August 11, 2012

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