The Problem With Labels

On June 28, 2013 California became the 13th state to allow same sex marriage. This window of opportunity had been opened briefly five years earlier, but Prop 8 slammed it shut, stranding thousands of newlyweds. For five years these legally married couples tread water in a state that no longer allowed their unions. Two days after the Supreme Court’s historic ruling, same sex couples in CA were finally vindicated. Not only could they celebrate the renewed right to marry, they finally had access to genuine marriage, the kind with federal benefits, the kind enjoyed by….what’s the term? Straight couples? That’s a misleading adjective. Heterosexual couples? That’s a mouthful, and overly emphatic, don’t you think? Heterosexual. Homosexual. Why are we defined by our romantic preferences? How is this distinction socially significant, and how can it foster anything but division? That’s the problem with labels.

Take the term “civil union.” Many so-called Christians favor the idea of labeling same sex marriages as civil unions in order to distinguish them from.…real marriages? Why do we need two terms for the same condition? Marriage is a legal bond between two consenting adults. It is not the purview of any religion and cannot be usurped in defense of any religion. Whether you are wed in a place of worship, your own backyard, Las Vegas or city hall, you are legally united. Call it what you want, but call it one thing. For everyone.

The Supreme Court’s recent ruling on DOMA was not complicated. Legally married same sex couples filed a suit against the federal government on the grounds that they were being denied the benefits accorded other married couples. There are 1,138 federal benefits in all, ranging from tax advantages to pension, health and social security benefits. The Court ruled in favor of the claimants and struck down this key aspect of DOMA, declaring it unconstitutional. This decision was inevitable—life wants balance and is always moving in the direction of equality. The only surprise regarding the Court’s decision was the fact that it was not unanimous. No matter. It is done. It is law.

Given the prevalence of divorce in this country, given the shocking statistics on spousal battery and child abuse, shouldn’t we be looking for healthier examples of domesticity? The same sex parents I’ve met are wonderfully attentive and supportive of their children. Perhaps, having fought so hard for their right to be parents, this is a privilege they do not take lightly. Perhaps there are things to be learned from them. What this country needs are more expressions of love, not malice and vitriol. The Supreme Court has opened a door. This is a time of congratulations and celebrations. This is a chance to revel in our unity.

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Published by

Jean Ryan

Jean Ryan, a native Vermonter, lives in Napa, California. Her stories and essays have appeared in a variety of journals and anthologies. She has also published a novel, LOST SISTER. Her short story collections, SURVIVAL SKILLS and LOVERS AND LONERS, are available online. STRANGE COMPANY, a collection of short nature essays, is available in paperback as well as digital and audio editions.

5 thoughts on “The Problem With Labels

  1. This brought tears to my eyes, 5 years ago I married my soul mate, then our marriage was thrown into limbo, because of prop. 8. I can honestly say, this was the first time I had ever in my life felt discriminated against. I was devastated. To finally have our marriage recognized by our federal government is a victory and one we will continue to celebrate everyday of our lives. In love and unity we will conquer the world!

  2. Hi.  Behind in my reading.  Great article.  You speak the plain and simple truth sista!

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