Tuesday, January 16, 2007

The Trouble With Government-Licensed Marriage

Outright has posted often about the problems that marriage inequality provides. But we've also made clear our view that government marriage "licenses" -- with equal treatment for GLBT and heterosexual people -- are still imperfect because they involve government in our intimate lives.

Simply put, when government "licenses" your marriage or other family arrangements, it imposes its own standards upon you, which may or may not equal your values. Gay people in many states already acutely understand this, as they find their own families under constant assault from zealous "family values" hypocrites and their army of willing government bureaucrats.

Unfortunately, government marriages don't accommodate everyone either, and come with severe penalties. Take the present situation in Michigan, for instance:

In a ruling sure to make philandering spouses squirm, Michigan's second-highest court says that anyone involved in an extramarital fling can be prosecuted for first-degree criminal sexual conduct, a felony punishable by up to life in prison.

"We cannot help but question whether the Legislature actually intended the result we reach here today," Judge William Murphy wrote in November for a unanimous Court of Appeals panel, "but we are curtailed by the language of the statute from reaching any other conclusion."

"Technically," he added, "any time a person engages in sexual penetration in an adulterous relationship, he or she is guilty of CSC I," the most serious sexual assault charge in Michigan's criminal code.

Now I am a believer in monogamy. I expect a degree of sexual exclusivity in my relationship, and my partner and I mutually agree to this. However, many people -- heterosexual and homosexual -- have differing arrangements. Who am I to demand that they agree to my arrangement in their own relationships -- or face life in prison?

Even worse, what about the fact that most people are human? Statistics show that a majority of marriages encounter infidelity at one point or another. Michigan has chosen to transform what is typically solved either through private counselling and intimate discussion, or sometimes the break-up of a relationship, into a massive criminal case with a penalty that is potentially more severe than rape.

Think about that for a moment -- a drunken fling by a spouse resulting in a bit of hanky-panky with a stranger could land one in prison for life as a registered sex offender, with a longer sentence than a predatory rapist could receive.

Is this the proper role for government? We don't think so. It's an abuse of the criminal justice system. Imagine what would happen if a homophobic prosecutor in Michigan, after the creation of marriage equality under the present system, decided to disproportionately target gay men and lesbians who succumb to extramarital temptation with life-in-prison sentences as a "protest" against gay marriage, and suddenly the stakes become even higher.

In Massachusetts, where same-sex government marriage licenses are available, individuals who have been married have been publicly targeted by anti-gay and anti-privacy forces. Since all marriages are placed on a public registry, many gay people who have sought a low-profile arrangement for their own personal lives have been attacked in vicious, homophobic ways by others.

Consider the case of Republican activist Arthur Finkelstein. An outspoken critic of Hillary Clinton and a campaign strategist for the Republicans, he married his partner in a low-key ceremony in Massachusetts. The publicly-registered marriage was then transformed into a homophobic attack by Bill Clinton, who accused Finkelstein of "self-loathing" for criticizing Mrs. Clinton's policies. While Libertarians strongly reject Finkelstein's politics and those of his Republican employers, the fact that both Clintons are ardent supporters of the anti-gay Defense of Marriage Act (with Mr. Clinton signing the bill as part of his presidency) seemed to matter less to partisan Democrats than Finkelstein's sexual orientation. He was "outed" -- with Democrats who supported and implemented the nation's worst anti-gay federal law accusing him of "self-loathing" for criticizing them. Let's not even comment on the obvious hilarity of Bill Clinton criticizing the "family values" of anyone else, other than to note that he should probably be happy that he wasn't a Michigan resident during his "sojourn" with Monica Lewinsky.

Then, there's this recent Boston Globe article listing the employment of every same-sex-marriage applicant registered in 2004. Something tells us that most gay people getting married in Massachusetts are not interested in having their private details published in the media and being transformed into front page news simply because they live in a gay family. However, that's what Massachusetts' state law compels -- provision of publicly-available private information that transforms one's own relationship into a media circus.

Marriage equality under the present system cannot come fast enough. This country's GLBT community has been attacked and isolated under a system that doles out unequal treatment and odious regulations designed to redline entire households and make even basic administration of family budgets a bureaucratic nightmare.

But Americans of all walks of life won't truly be free of prying eyes and hypocritical politicians lording over our families until government is out of the marriage business altogether. At that point, every gay person, from the polyamorous to those who prefer commitment values to Clinton values, will be free.