Over the last decade, we’ve seen a tectonic shift in our culture regarding same-sex marriage. And now, gay and lesbian couples have been able to marry long enough that we’re starting to see the first generation of same-sex divorces, along with the emotional toll that divorce has taken on these couples.
In Sunday’s New York Times, author Meredith Maran admitted with stunning transparency that she regretted both her marriage and the divorce that followed a few years later. She writes:
In 2008, gay marriage was so new, my wife and I had a hard time finding a lawyer to help us legally join our lives together.
In 2013, gay divorce was so new, I had a hard time finding a lawyer to take our marriage apart.
Maran talks about the thicket of changing laws that governed her divorce, about how the domestic partnership she and her wife had before the wedding made their divorce more complicated. And, most tellingly of all, she opens up about how she felt like a letdown to the other same-sex couple whose trails she and her wife blazed. In her words:
In many cities over many years, my wife and I had marched for marriage equality. We’d argued with the haters and we’d argued with the gay people who said that legal marriage would co-opt us, diminish us, turn us into a caricature of “normal” married people. We swore we could enjoy the rights only marriage conferred and still have our gender-fluid commitment ceremonies, our chosen-family configurations, our dexterity at turning friends into lovers and vice versa.
Divorce felt like more than a betrayal of my wedding vows. It was a betrayal of my people and our cause.
Theology professor Danny Burk had an interesting take on Maran and her heartbreaking admission. On his website, he writes:
She admits that she and her partner never wanted the norms of marriage, but only the rights of marriage. As a result, she regrets her gay marriage only because it made breaking-up more difficult. Divorces are expensive and messy, and it turns out that both marriage and divorce cramped her gender-fluid “dexterity at turning friends into lovers and vice versa.”
I appreciate Maran’s candor in this article. I do think it is revealing. I suspect that many of those who marched for legal gay marriage in our country weren’t really that concerned about adding traditional marriage norms to gay relationships—norms of permanence, covenant, fidelity, etc. What they wanted was social acceptance of their relationships as they were already configured—many of which were admittedly “monogamish” rather than monogamous. The legal recognition served to remove a stigma, not to convert “dexterity” into permanence.
The obvious point here is that a legal right to marry doesn’t mean that marriage is necessarily a good idea. A couple cannot get married simply to prove a point or blaze a trail. Without a heartfelt commitment to love a spouse exclusively and without a priority on fidelity and the determination to make the marriage work at all costs—and I would add to those the promise to worship God together—all the rings and vows and “love wins” hashtags in the world are worthless and useless.
(And yes, I’ll admit that these principles apply to heterosexual marriage just as much as they do to same-sex marriage.)
This point appears to be lost on Maran, who admits that she would go through her entire ordeal again. She undergoes no self-examination on whether fighting for same-sex marriage was necessary or worth all the heartbreak she and others have endured. She played her part in changing the culture, and the ripple effect be damned.
Same-sex marriage advocates love to argue that the right to marry someone of the same sex doesn’t affect marriage as a whole, but as Burk points out, “Legal marriage has not transformed gay unions. Gay unions have fundamentally redefined marriage.” But for Maran and others like her, the regret only stems from the difficulties of their own stories with no concern for anyone else.