There was a very frustrating column by Ellen Goodman in yesterday’s paper on the intersection of gay marriage and divorce law. I know from numerous examples that Goodman can be a charming and insightful essayist; unfortunately, it seems that she discards that ability every time she writes about partisan politics.
The story at issue here is that a gay couple got “married” in Massachusetts, moved to Texas, and tried to get a divorce; the marriage amendment to the Texas constitution, according to the Texas Attorney General, prevents that, though the judge overruled him. Goodman thinks that the marriage amendment is rooted in a desire to deny equal protection under the law to gay couples and argues that we should allow them at least enough equal protection to divorce. Or, in her words, that Republicans are conspiring to keep them “unhappily joined” “in perpetuity.”
However, this premise is a fundamental misunderstanding. The point of the so-called “traditional marriage” movement is not that we have anything more against gays than against alcoholics or movie stars (to name two other categories of people with strong, usually indulged tendencies toward particular sins which we might condemn), or that we wish to deny them their rights granted by God and the Constitution. Our problem with the Massachusetts decision, and the reason this divorce ought to be denied, is that (whether a court says otherwise or not) “gay marriage” is a contradiction in terms, like “square circle.” This has nothing to do with the Constitution’s guarantee of equal protection for all; a gay man, just like anyone else, may marry any woman who consents (and is legally permitted to consent) who is not married to anyone else. In this case, even if the state of Massachusetts says otherwise, the couple are as entitled to a divorce as a man who “married” his dog, a man whose wife has been dead for years, or any unmarried couple. No one is conspiring to keep this couple “unhappily joined” because they could never have been “joined” at all.