Marriage rite right for all who want to wed

Posted Feb. 24, 2009, at 5:55 p.m.

Often, I have wondered why it’s so much harder to get a divorce than it is to get married. When it comes to a bad marriage divorce is simply a remedy. Prevent bad marriages and you won’t need divorces.

Think about it. If we outlawed marriage entirely, then there never would be another divorce. But we can’t: Nobody’s perfect and we can’t punish folks who love each other just because some people think that they have a right to judge the actions of others or control the outcome.

Besides, marriage has benefits, affording a myriad of rights that many couples desire. Certain rights are actually rewards for the official promise of continued devotion. We don’t deny married couples those opportunities just because the relationship could end in divorce and those promises get broken.

Anyway, practically speaking, failed marriages — no matter how devastating — are basically little job-growth schemes. At this point in the recession, if we eliminated divorce, our economy couldn’t take it. Think of all those out of work lawyers, judges, clerks, private detectives and therapists adding to our enormously over-burdened unemployment system.

In fact, divorce fuels our economy. According to National Spending Journal, the average divorce costs each party between $1,500 and $15,000 in legal fees and related expenses. The New York Sun puts the cost much higher, closer to $50,000 per couple, with “$175 billion spent annually” in the United States. Five years of divorces equals the stimulus package that the president just signed.

But the decision to allow divorce isn’t about the national economy; it’s about personal choice. U.S. Census figures state that as many as 40 percent of adult Americans have been divorced. And though it’s often a distasteful and difficult process, it’s insulting to insinuate that personal liberty and the pursuit of happiness should be less important than dollars and cents.

Denying adults a legal remedy to their contractual agreements, no matter how intimate the nature of their liaison, is just plain wrong.

And even though there are some religions that forbid divorce, no modern U.S. state would dare enforce spiritual doctrine in the civil courts. A person’s religious convictions may dictate their own behaviors but in a civil society theology is not allowed to dictate the actions of others.

Consequently, it doesn’t matter if divorce stimulates the economy; we would still protect it because free will is the bedrock of a free society.

Still, we have a practice in society, forbidden by some religions, but protected by our legal system that is accepted in the court of public opinion. It breaks families apart and yet the institution is as well protected as marriage itself.

And while no one considers it a particularly good practice, not once has anyone needed to remind folks that without it our economy would be less fluid and certain businesses might fail.

So I guess I’m stymied — nope, more than stymied — dumbfounded. Scratch that — not dumbfounded — thunderstruck.

This week, supporters of a bill to allow gay marriage in Maine released a study that concludes that over three years the Maine state economy would receive a “$60 million boost” if same-sex couples were allowed to wed. It turns out that the study further concluded that “estimated 2,316 gay or lesbian couples, about half of the estimated number of couples living in the state, would get married if state law allowed it. Also, they believe more than 15,000 couples from out of state would come here to wed if they could.”

This whole argument breaks my heart. Pointing out the fiscal rewards of gay marriage won’t sway a single vote on this issue. It is a grasping attempt by people who love each other to receive the same rights and freedoms under law as any other couple regardless of sexual orientation.

Straight couples have the luxury to choose their marital status not because of an economic impact analysis but because respect for human dignity necessitates personal choice.

Straight folks can’t be denied marriage or divorce based on whom they love. But the marriage rite won’t be right until it is enjoyed by every adult who wants to marry the person they love — no matter what somebody else thinks.

Pat LaMarche of Yarmouth is the author of “Left Out In America: The State of Homelessness in the United States.” She may be reached at PatLaMarche@hotmail.com.

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