The EFM Feature

Nancy, I must confess — I barely know who Hannah Montana is, but Charissa heard about that little incident on the set. We were glad to learn from the story that it was minor — and we’re even happier to hear straight from you that it wasn’t a problem.
As ignorant of pop culture as I am, though, I do know who Rosie O’Donnell is — and a statement she just made ties perfectly into a point that’s really worth making about marriage. Ms. O’Donnell was telling a reporter that she isn’t going to take advantage of California’s newly-legalized gay marriage until such unions are recognized across the country. Here was her reasoning:

The same way it was illegal for black and white people to marry at one point and people couldn’t conceive of that ever being different, I do think that two consenting, law-abiding adults who want to share their life together should be allowed to do that.

That’s probably convincing logic to most young people today. We’re inclined toward a live-and-let-live mindset, and we sure don’t want to be discriminatory. And as I’ve already mentioned, this line of reasoning was pretty compelling to me, personally, for some time.
However, it totally misses the point.
If you actually take a moment and parse Ms. O’Donnell’s words, you’ll realize something: Two consenting, law-abiding adults who want to share their life together are allowed to do that. Nobody is stopping her and Ms. Carpenter from living together, sharing a bed, calling each other honey, pooling their shopping lists, or doing whatever else they want to do.
No, those things aren’t what she’s after. She’s after the moniker of “marriage.” That’s why this debate is over gay marriage, not gay cohabitation or gay partnership. But even there, this protestation still misses the point.
Why? Because Ms. O’Donnell is perfectly free to get married. If she can find a minister willing to call two females a married couple — which, come on, she lives in California — she and Ms. Carpenter can have a ceremony, a white dress, some rings, and the whole deal. They can show their commitment to each other and the entire world. They can live happily ever after.
Think about it. This debate is not over “legalizing” gay marriage. It’s already legal for two gay people to get married and consider themselves life partners. You just have to find a minister, and in today’s world, that’s not hard to do.
Now, I know what you’re thinking: In most states, if two gay people did what I just described, the state wouldn’t recognize it as a marriage. You’re right. That’s the entire point.
This debate isn’t about who can show their commitment to whom. Anybody can do that and nobody can stop you. It’s not even about who can marry whom. All you need for that is a receptive minister. It’s about getting certain unions accepted by others — through the state — as “marriage.”
I’m as much a fan as anybody of our American mindset of “Live and let live.” But if you evaluate this debate according to what it actually means, it’s not about letting gay people live their lives, even if we may disagree with how they’re doing it. It’s about whether we will bestow upon same-sex unions benefits from the state that, throughout history, have been confined to relationships between one man and one woman.
Basically, we are living and letting them live. But they want us to stop everything and give distinct, state-based benefits to the way they choose to live. They want us to recognize it, not just as an intimate relationship others have chosen, but as marriage, something God invented before the state ever existed.
Of course, none of this is to say that whether this sizable change would be right or wrong. I’ll leave a discussion of that to another day. All I’m trying to point out is that the marriage debate isn’t really about what many gay-marriage proponents say it is — or what most young people believe it is. And just in case you’re wondering, I certainly didn’t figure this out by myself. As usual, David French schooled me.

About Charles Mitchell

EFM's resident Yankee, Charles Mitchell, works in the non-profit arena in his native Pennsylvania. He and his wife, Charissa, live near the state capital of Harrisburg with their daughter, Adeline, and are members of a congregation of the Presbyterian Church in America.

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