real life

Why straight people who CAN marry must stand up for gay people who can’t.


When Richard and Mildred Loving got married, they had to choose their location carefully. You see, Richard was white and Mildred was black and in 1962 America, this made their marriage illegal in 16 states including Virginia where they lived. Returning home after their honeymoon, police broke into their bedroom in the middle of the night and arrested them.

Much to the disappointment of authorities, Richard and Mildred weren’t having sex at the time so they couldn’t be charged with the crime of ‘interracial intercourse’. They were still hauled off to jail and charged for being married. The judge ruled their vows null and void, noting that “Almighty God created the races white, black, yellow, Malay and red and He placed them on separate continents. The fact that He separated the races shows that He did not intend for the races to mix”. Nice.

Richard and Mildred were forced to move to Washington DC where their marriage was recognised but after a few years they were desperate to visit their family and friends.  Facing arrest if they returned home, two civil rights lawyers took their case to the US Supreme Court where the judges overturned the Interracial Marriage Act in 1967. In their unanimous ruling, they noted that: “The freedom to marry has long been recognised as one of the vital personal rights essential to the orderly pursuit of happiness by free men” (and women one would assume). Happy and orderly. Amen to that. The idea of two people being banned from marriage because their skin didn’t match is a preposterous one to consider in 2010.

So how can we blithely accept the same kind of discrimination based on sexuality? How long until we look back at 2010 and say REALLY? What were people THINKING? My guess is it won’t be too long. Because the arguments against same-sex marriage are just too silly.

The most vocal opponents base their arguments on God and the bible. Which is ironic given that marriage certainly didn’t start out as a religious institution. For most of European history, it was simply a business arrangement. Love and God had nothing to do with it, which is why the church was anti-marriage; because it undermined its power base. Today, you may choose to get married in a house of worship but that’s not what makes your vows legally binding. Marriage is a civil institution so how can we allow some taxpayers to do it and not others?

In Committed, Elizabeth Gilbert’s book about marriage where I first read the story of Richard and Mildred Loving (yes, their real names), I also learned that over centuries, the only thing consistent about marriage has been its ability to evolve. Adapting to changing social standards is the only reason it’s still around.  So the idea of same-sex couples ‘eroding’ the institution of marriage is pure poppycock. It’s simply evolving in the same way it has for centuries.


I’ve never understood the ‘eroding’ or ‘devaluing’ argument against gay marriage. If two people want to pledge their love and lifelong commitment in front of their friends, family and even children, what does that have to do with my marriage? How can that possibly be to its detriment? Does Tiger Wood’s definition of marriage affect mine? Hell to the no.

Gilbert also makes the point that as an institution, modern marriage is in pretty bad shape. Fewer people want to get married and those who do, often bin their vows a few years later. So while heterosexuals are walking away from marriage in droves, there’s a steady stream of gay people trying to head the other way. Except their path is blocked by governments and religious leaders because…well, nobody seems to be able to come up with a very good reason beyond ‘just because’.

Julia Gillard is neither married nor religious and I don’t for a moment believe her public opposition to marriage for same sex couples is her privately held view. It just doesn’t seem to fit. The Coalition doesn’t seem to have a policy beyond “Not on our watch, buddy”.

Here’s a fun fact: when the US Supreme Court legalised interracial marriage in 1967, a whopping 70% of Americans strongly disagreed. It happened anyway. So when politicians hide behind public opinion polls, it’s disingenuous. And cowardly. Sometimes you have to do what’s right – not what’s popular – and public opinion inevitably catches up.

Not all same sex couples want to marry. Some don’t believe in it or think it’s unnecessary. Just like straight couples! Surprise! One gay man who has been with his partner more than a decade explains that he doesn’t want to marry but supports same sex couples who do: “I don’t really care why they want to tie the knot, I just want them to have the right to.”

I feel the same way and if you do too, start making some noise. Heterosexual people and married people and single people need to stand up and say, “I’m secure enough in myself or my relationship not to be threatened by the definition of marriage becoming a little more inclusive of other loving couples.”

There, that wasn’t so hard, was it?