Jennifer Roback Morse

Well, it is official. You won. We lost. Same sex marriage is the law in California. We might win the amendment in the fall, but let’s face it. The momentum is on your side: the Inexorable March of Progress and all that. Those of us in the Marriage Movement can go back to our main business of trying to make marriage more permanent and stable. To tell you the truth, same sex marriage is a bummer of a topic that isn’t much fun to talk about. I’d much rather spend my time trying to steer people away from divorce and cohabitation and teen sex.

But enough about me. I have to give you guys credit. Those of you who made “the conservative case for same sex marriage,” did more defeat the Marriage Movement. You kept the crazies on your side at bay long enough to persuade the judges that same sex marriage will be a simple extension of opposite sex marriage. You allayed the public’s fears that same sex marriage will bring about triple parenting and polygamy. You made the case that marriage would confer the same benefits on gay people as it does on straight people.

So now that people with same sex attraction can marry, we need to start giving them sensible advice about preparing for marriage. Item #1: stop living together. Straight people have learned a lot about premarital cohabitation in the last 30 years. Women in cohabiting relationships are nine times more likely to be murdered by their partners than married women. Children in cohabiting relationships are more likely to be abused than children living with married couples.

Now that same sex couples can marry, there is no longer any excuse for the State of California to encourage non-marital cohabitation, by opposite sex couples or same sex couples. California should shut down the domestic partnership registries. Cohabitation is socially and privately inferior to marriage. The state should insist that couples either put up or shut up: get married or be single. No more half-way house of marriage-lite.

Few same sex couples have taken advantage of the opportunity to marry, even where it is legal. So far, Massachusetts has the highest rate of marriage among gay individuals: a mere 16% of the gay population has married. I somehow doubt that the remaining 84% are living celibate lives. Some of them are cohabiting. These high rates of same sex cohabitation have got to stop. David Popenoe and Barbara Dafoe Whitehead surveyed all the research on cohabitation available in 2002. They concluded, “no positive contribution of cohabitation to marriage has ever been found.” Moving in with a sex partner is not preparation for marriage; it is preparation for divorce.

Surely you want to inform people with same sex attraction about these important findings. I have a whole presentation on the hazards of cohabitation. I’ll be glad to adapt it for gay and lesbian students. I’ll be waiting for a phone call from the Gay Straight Alliance.

Speaking of divorce, we could use your help in divorce reform. You may not realize it yet, but marriage is one of the least binding contracts in this society. Adultery is one of the most painful and disruptive experiences a person can go through. Yet, the law takes no notice of this egregious violation of the most basic condition of the marriage contract. Normally, the law requires the breaching party to provide compensation to the injured party. Only violators of the marriage contract get to walk away without any accountability.

I have in my filing cabinet some model legislation that would make adultery a civil offense. That means that a faithful spouse has the right to sue an adulterous spouse for damages. Don’t get me wrong: no policemen will be peaking in people’s windows. The injured party gets to decide whether it is worthwhile, all things considered, to sue. My guess is that few people would bring such suits. But lawyers and marriage counselors who practiced back in the Bad Old Days before no-fault will tell you: the threat of such lawsuits deterred a lot of bad behavior. Now that gays can marry, you have just as great an interest in marital fidelity as the rest of us.

I’ve been looking for someone to introduce this legislation. Maybe if a member of GLBTQ caucus introduces the legislation, it will get some traction.

You who made the conservative case for same sex marriage convinced the public that same sex marriage would provide the same private and social benefits as opposite sex marriage. But marriage is more than just a set of benefits: marriage also is a set of obligations and constraints. Those of us in the Marriage Movement have been trying to help people see that there is freedom within those constraints. But it has been a tough sell. People want only the benefits and none of the obligations. People go for the short-term gratification and miss the Big Prize: lifelong married love.

Now that you can marry, I assume that you are on board. I look forward to hearing from you.


Jennifer Roback Morse

Jennifer Roback Morse, Ph.D., is the author of Smart Sex: Finding Life-long Love In A Hook-up World. She blogs at jennifer-roback-morse.blogspot.com

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