Love should not be up for public debate
February 7, 2007
As we celebrate Valentine's Day, commentators and lawmakers should stop defiling love.
Take my friends Matt and Michael.
Gay activists they are not. Michael is an engineering professor at the University of Michigan; he studies fissures. While on a work trip to Washington, D.C., Michael dropped in on our group's weekly happy hour and met Matt.
We all watched and giggled as Cupid drew his arrow and took aim. It was cute. They still make a well-matched, brainy pair.
There are only so many places you can get a good gig studying fissures, and so Matt uprooted his life and moved to Michigan. They were comforted by the fact that the university offered domestic partner benefits that would give Matt time to figure out what to do with his new life.
They set up their new home and both got involved in the community. They got their parental feet wet through a godson.
Then the state passed a ban on gay marriages, and the culture warriors proceeded to fight in court over all of its implications. Earlier this month an appeals court ruled public institutions like the university can't keep giving benefits to partners like Matt.
Now, Matt and Michael's relationship has been turned upside down. That's not because one of them had an affair or is bringing home frustrations from work or snores too loudly. None of the myriad private things that complicate love is at work here, at least not right now.
Yes, Matt and Michael were asking something from the state, namely the right to participate in a publicly administered benefits program. And when we debate gay love, it is that step into public life that nominally justifies it.
But it takes a perverse bit of rhetorical repositioning to square that circle: By framing the discussion as a public defense of heterosexual love, we've legitimated a public fight over all other forms. That makes as much sense as trying to resolve the problems in your own marriage by judging those of your neighbors.
Still, "defense of marriage" laws have swept the nation -- now banning same-sex marriage in more than two-dozen states. They say they're not about hurting Matt and Michael, but about protecting everyone else. But Matt and Michael know that's not the case.
So, for Valentine's Day, let's propose a new law -- the Defense of Love Act. Under this law, the only question the state will be allowed to ask a couple is, "Do you love each other?"
It seems a much more appropriate place to start a public conversation about love, if we must have one at all.
Kai Wright is a freelance writer living in New York City. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.