You could practically hear the sounds of celebration coming out of California last week as gay and lesbian people there reveled in the newfound right to be legally married. Not only were the newlyweds whooping it up, the people who make money from tourism and special events were popping a few corks of their own. Spending for same-sex weddings in California — which will include out-of-state couples as well as residents — is expected to add over $683 million to California’s economy over the next three years.
All anyone with doubts about the validity of gay marriage had to do was think about the journey of Phyllis Lyon and Dorothy Martin. This octogenarian couple has been together for 50 years. In 2004, when San Francisco’s mayor, Gavin Newsom, impetuously declared gay marriage legal within his city limits, they were first in line for a ceremony, only to see their status flipped by the courts. Now, with a new state Supreme Court ruling on their side, they were back at City Hall, determined to make honest women of one another.
Good for them. And good for California for understanding that all people are created equal, meaning we all deserve an equal chance to pursue happiness and, it must be said, to screw up. The latest thing may be gay marriage, but, as long we’re alluding to self-evident truths, let’s face this one: Gay divorce is next.
Just ask those wedding planners who are probably reserving exotic vacations for themselves with the profits they plan on making from the gay marriage bonanza. They’ll tell you that everybody loves a party. And nothing rocks like a dream wedding. A funny thing happens when some people decide to get married; they use the occasion less for a public declaration of the commitment they’re making to one another than as a celebration of self. All that’s missing at some of these fandangos are a team of cheerleaders and a homecoming parade.
Weddings like these aren’t the beginning of something, so much as the high-water mark for a lot of relationships. It’s all downhill after that. Someone in this country gets divorced every 10 to 13 seconds.
This is what makes the protestations of the Defense of Marriage people seem so ludicrous. When you look at what we heteros have done to the institution, if anything, you want to welcome gays aboard in the hopes that maybe they’ll set a good example.
Trouble is, when it comes to basic things like marriage, our fundamental equality suggests that gays will be as prone to post-nuptial remorse as anyone else. According to the U.S. Census, almost one out of every two younger adult couples who marry for the first time will wind up divorced.
And it doesn’t help if they live together before tying the knot. It isn’t just sexual preference that makes that old San Francisco couple, Ms. Lyon and Ms. Martin, a minority. Their commitment and unabashed dependence on one another are what make their love story truly rare. If they stay together from here on out, they will be exceptions yet again, because most couples who live together before marrying wind up splitting.
Now that gay marriage is legal in California, gays will face the increased risks of mental and physical problems associated with marital distress. A variety of studies going back to the 1980s indicate that people’s health is one of the first things to go when their marriage hits the skids.
Oh, and that windfall California plans on collecting thanks to the gay marriage boom could also be a mixed blessing. If gays are like the rest of us, their marital problems can be expected to result in the same decrease in work productivity that has been observed in broken-hearted heteros. So much for gay marriage as an economic development tool.
Given all the pitfalls, you have to marvel that our gay brothers and sisters are still willing to make this leap of faith. Yes, there are certain legal advantages to be had, but, for many of us, these have never been enough to keep divorce at bay. In the end, the story here is really about freedom. Real freedom isn’t just about success; it grants everyone an equal right to fail.
And so, my gay friends, welcome to matrimony!