Benefits level playing field for gays

My parents’ decision to marry was anything but romantic. They had been living together for some time when my father said he would agree to marry (read: elope to Iowa) if she bought him a television. Now I certainly do not wish to offend anyone, especially not my loving parental units, by suggesting that they married for a television. But had that been the only justification for their marriage, the balding guy at the courthouse in Iowa still would have pronounced them husband and wife.

Ah, yes — marriage. The controversial topic du jour for many activists — at least, when uttered with the word “gay” in front of it. In the wonderfully progressive world of Yale, however, it is the heterosexuals who are feeling snubbed. Ten years ago, the University made an extremely bold move by extending to same-sex domestic partners of Yale graduate students rights afforded to heterosexual spouses. Recently, the Graduate Professional Student Senate and the Graduate Student Assembly asked Yale to extend these benefits to heterosexual domestic partners who are not married to their Yale-affiliated better half. What we are talking about here is the most unbelievably misguided action by Yale graduate students since someone within their ranks decided to form the Graduate Employees and Students Organization. The problem at hand is not that Yale is a progressive institution offering a truly admirable rights package for gay people in committed relationships who cannot get married while not doing so for heterosexuals. It is, rather, that this country does not yet allow civil marriages for gay people, and in doing so retains a two-tiered society of the kind supposedly overthrown during the civil rights movement. Yale’s policies serve to mildly level a playing field that consists of a mountain and a canyon (the setting for an ineffective ball game).

Some people think of marriage as the ultimate expression of “undying” love, while others consider it to be a heinous institution originating in oppressive religious practice with no value to modern citizens. Others, however, view marriage pragmatically — facilitating, for instance, financial arrangements. And what we have here is ultimately a very pragmatic discussion. Yes, you may not want to be married. Fine, it is a horribly outdated institution. These are all nice value judgments, but they’re completely unrelated to the question at hand. Are you heterosexual? Find a Yale graduate student and get married a la Britney Spears (no need for the trip to Vegas). That very day, you’ll get your marriage certificate and all of those things that you wanted — health insurance, Yale affiliation, and that precious gym membership.

Is it wrong to marry for money? That is, not because your partner has money, but for the purposes of financial security? Few people truly think so these days. Now, for one brief second — don’t wince — pretend that you are gay. You develop a committed relationship, after a few years get married (not officially, but still), and sign up for a domestic partnership. Marriage affords couples 1,049 rights and responsibilities; most gay people in America are likely to get as few as 12 with a domestic partnership agreement and a few other things thrown in, like power of attorney. My point here is not to argue for gay marriage (although I will stop for the required “I just want to get married like everyone else”). It is, rather, that if a heterosexual person really wants a gym membership, he or she can hop down to city hall for a marriage license and the next day be puffing away on the elliptical. Now this is certainly not to say that all heterosexual couplings are as meaningless as Britney’s, or that all gay pairings are as committed as Donna Reed’s. But as things stand, heterosexuals are the last people to be claiming that they are in any way oppressed.

Instead of lying to get around the current system, as some heterosexual couples apparently do (“Graduate students propose extending partner services,” 1/23), graduate students should be targeting this so-called injustice at its actual root. Instead of begging Yale to extend benefits to people who are already at an advantage in society, these students should work to extend marriage rights to all couples, so that Yale can in turn get rid of its uneven policies (whose only purpose is to in some small way remedy current injustice). Giving unmarried heterosexual couples more rights is simply skirting the true issue at hand, which is that the current proposal shouldn’t even be at hand.

Do heterosexual graduate students who don’t believe in marriage really think they should be given domestic partnership benefits, or do they actually just feel slighted? I wonder if these demands would be so present in people’s minds if they didn’t feel there were some kind of “discrimination” involved. If I truly mistake my fellow students’ purpose, I apologize. But if I am at all right to suggest that this debate would not be on the fore were gay couples not given such rights, I recommend that we all take a step back. No one here is getting “extra” rights. In fact, by granting gay domestic partnership benefits, the University is only recognizing the sad truth that our society remains beset by the results of homophobic values and, in many places still, by those values themselves.

Someday, I may want to get married in exchange for a boxy, wood-paneled television — or, more likely, for a plasma-screen HDTV-capable super-TV. While that may not be a particularly responsible rallying cry for the promotion of gay marriage, my point is simply this: before any heterosexual can complain about any kind of discrimination, that exceedingly tired metaphorical “playing field” I mentioned before must be sufficiently level to allow for the playing of a decently fair pee-wee soccer game. I said earlier that the decision to marry could be a very pragmatic one. On the other hand, the decision to allow heterosexual couples domestic partnership rights is not ultimately a pragmatic consideration about how many more people might be at the gym at 4 p.m. For me, it is simply another very depressingly emotional sign that people in our society are not grasping the ferocity of the injustice that gay people must experience well beyond Yale’s gates.



Jessamyn Blau is a junior in Morse College. Her column appears on alternate Fridays.

Comments