Thursday, April 28, 2011

Book Review: Why Marriage Matters: America, Equality, and Gay People's Right to Marry

Why Marriage Matters: America, Equality, and Gay People's Right to Marry
by Evan Wolfson

"But fortunately, the general story of our country is movement toward inclusion and equality. The majority of Americans are fair. They realize that exclusionary conceptions of marriage fly in the face of our national commitment to freedom as well as the personal commitment made by loving couples. Americans have been ready again and again to make the changes needed to ensure that the institution of marriage reflects the values of love, inclusion, interdependence, and support."

Overall, I found this book to be compelling. His tone and use of language are effecting in making his case; I would imagine that this book could easily turn someone who is for marriage equality, though not at all invested in the issue, into an activist. Mr. Wolfson manages to take a hot topic, normally dripping with thickly-piled-on cliches, value judgments, false morals, and doom-saying, and distill out a cohesive legal and civil rights argument in favor of marriage equality. Neither his writing nor his arguments are strident or preachy, and his style is not pompous or lawyerly; it is accessible and eloquent. Even involved, critically-thinking people who are supporters will find themselves both nodding along in agreement and shaking their heads in disbelief as they read.

This book are divided into chapters that allow readers to hold an intelligent discussion about marriage equality. Chapter 1 answers the question “What is Marriage” and points out that America has been moving steadily toward equality in all things for generations; marriage is the next step. He lays out the many benefits one can only get by getting married, benefits that most married people take for granted.

Chapter 2 points out how marriage has evolved over time, analyzing the issue from a legislative and historical perspective, making comparisons to miscegenation laws and other anti-marriage laws and norms. Women were once property through marriage. People of different races were not allowed to marry. Marriage has been changing along with society. It has not been static.

In Chapter 3, the author takes apart arguments that this will harm society, simply stating that all changes have been accompanied by such doom and gloom prognostications, none of which have come through. Marriage equality benefits society. He points out that changes to the laws regarding divorce, interracial marriage, women's equality, and privacy have all altered marriage. None of this has perpetuated any sort of societal downward spiral.

Chapter 4 answers the "marriage is for procreation" argument, pointing out that the state says nothing about opposite sex couples who have no desire to procreate or cannot. People can and do marry for a myriad of reasons.

Chapter 5 talks about children, and how many of marriage's legal provisions protect children. Denying these benefits to same-sex couples hurts and punishes their children. This chapter takes down the arguments that children are harmed by same-sex parenting, pointing out that studies do not show that, and studies that show that two parents are the best say nothing about the sex of those parents.

Chapter 6 brings in questions of religion, mainly pointing out that the importance of marriage is, first and foremost, legal; 40% (and growing) of married couples engaged in a purely civil ceremony. “The rite is separate from the right”: your religious ceremony means nothing to the law, and changes to the law will not equal changes to your religion. You are free to do as you like in America, thanks to the separation of church and state.

Chapter 7 brings up the “separate but equal” idea that we should just use another word, pointing out that “separate but equal” has never worked because it’s impossible. Separate is not equal.

Chapter 8 discusses marriage portability, further pointing out that “separate but equal” does not work, and this is an issue that should not rest with the states. Married people don't have to worry about whether or not they are married if they leave their home state or the state in which they were married. People in civil unions or other “parallel” relationships, even married people of the same sex, do not have any guarantee that their rights will go with them when they move or travel.

Chapter 9 addresses this issue as a civil rights issue, pointing out that comparisons with other civil rights issues (women, racial equality, etc.) are appropriate. "Gay rights, after all, are nothing more than non-gay rights made available to all."

Chapter 10 discusses why this matters to Mr. Wolfson: "...taking seriously our country's promise to be a nation its citizens can make better, its promise to be a place where people don't have to give up their differences or hide them in order to be treated equally."

Favorite quote: "Gay rights, after all, are nothing more than non-gay rights made available to all."

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