Is your marriage strong enough to survive civil unions?

Updated 12/1/2010 11:59 PM

I woke up this morning to the devastating suggestion that my wonderful, heterosexual marriage of almost 23 years is not as good as it had been the day before. I've seen this with my 401(k), but I didn't realize my marriage would be depreciated as if it were my house, my 2004 minivan or my hairline.

The Illinois General Assembly is to blame, explains an e-mail from Peter C. Breen, executive director and legal counsel of the Thomas More Society. During this Christmas season, when nativity scenes are popping up across the suburbs and "reaffirming the value of strong families, like the Holy Family," our state legislators delivered a "lump of coal" by passing a civil-unions bill that "devalues the notion of family," Breen declares.


I don't possess the chutzpah to compare my family to the holy union of Joseph, Mary and the son of God, but I still can't see how civil unions diminish my family or even dampen my Christmas spirit. It seems Scrooge-like to argue that I've got civil rights and don't want to share them with others. I admit to feeling a bit cheated when I buy a coffee maker and three months later see the same model selling for $10 cheaper. But that doesn't make that first cup coming out of my old coffee maker weaker.

If I follow that Biblical vow to "let not man put asunder" my marriage, why wouldn't I have faith my marriage will stand up to the prospect of two men, together, sharing an insurance plan and possibly a hot tub surrounded by sandalwood candles?

That's an image that is supposed to inflict damage upon heterosexual marriages and families? Maybe it does for some of my heterosexual friends.

"Not tonight," a wife might say in begging out of her marital duties, "I have an image in my head of a lesbian visiting her partner in a hospital emergency room without having to file a lawsuit."

Speaking of images, I've noticed that anti-gay readers can grow apoplectic at the photo of two men wearing leather chaps, but those same readers don't get so worked up about two women falling in love. I suspect that is simply because they are completely dumbfounded as to how two women manage to engage in illicit activities that weaken heterosexual marriage.

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Giving gays rights concerning adoptions, decisions about health care and estate planning, as well as other benefits granted in heterosexual marriages, doesn't weaken marriage. My wife and I didn't feel so much as a rumble in our marriage foundation when our lesbian friends had to travel out of state to get married because Illinois was behind the times. I'd argue that their faithful devotion, support and love for each other even strengthened our marriage by giving us another happy and strong family example to emulate.

None of these anti-gay critics suggested the seven holy matrimonies piled up by Newt Gingrich and Rush Limbaugh sent the marriage between my wife and me into a tailspin. When Michael Jackson divorced Lisa Marie Presley and married Debbie Rowe that same year, it might have been considered an attack on my marriage (heterosexual-on-heterosexual crime), but I saw it more as Jackson and his partners exercising their civil rights.

I admit to one of those mini-throw-ups that time I picked up a Vanity Fair and saw newlyweds Roseanne and Tom Arnold frolicking mostly naked in mud, but I've come to realize (and perhaps resemble) the notion that marriage is not one of those civil rights reserved for the good-looking, charming, wise or those who should reproduce. If we reserve marriage strictly for those who are able and willing to procreate, that cuts out a lot of loving heterosexuals the war hero left impotent by his wounds. the teenager whose cancer treatment made her unable to have kids, and even the elderly couple who crave companionship.

I've always thought marriage was more than just sex, but if we want to define marriage strictly by whether the government considers the sexual activities normal and good for society, well, perhaps Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas finally will have something to say about videos entered as evidence.

Before I can put this column to bed (where I trust it will not engage in any acts that will weaken my future columns), an e-mail from the Liberty Counsel warns that, despite the opinion of our military, gays are out to ruin our armed forces.

I don't get that argument, either. But when a gay military person from Illinois dies in battle, it would be nice if the flag that represents his ultimate sacrifice could be handed to the partner he loves.