The marriage test


In what ways would same-sex marriages be the same or different from heterosexual marriages? Answer: It’s nobody’s business.

Yet the matter was explored at length in court this week by an expert for the plaintiffs -- the pro-gay-marriage group challenging Proposition 8. Homosexual couples are much the same as heterosexual couples, Letitia Peplau, a UCLA professor of social psychology, testified. They form relationships in which the closeness and stability measure as high.

We’re sorry the topic even came up. Not because we believe there is necessarily anything different about same-sex relationships, but because it doesn’t matter if there is. Same-sex couples shouldn’t have to prove that their marriages would be as “normal” as those of heterosexuals or meet some kind of artificial bar -- a bar that many heterosexual couples fall short of -- for an ideal marriage.

This strikes at the heart of what’s wrong with denying marital status to gay and lesbian couples. Somehow, society -- and in this case, a federal judge -- are being put in the position of deciding whether these unions are “good enough” to earn the legal and social status of marriage. We don’t judge these issues for heterosexual marriages.

Marriage is, at its core, a contractual agreement that confers certain legal privileges and responsibilities on its signatories, as well as social respect. Within that definition and behind the closed doors of every couple, the institution of marriage takes many forms, some of which are more attractive to society than others.

Some people wed for money or health benefits. In this town, some of them enter short-term marriages for the publicity. (You know who you are.) Teenagers barely old enough to vote marry despite the higher likelihood that they will divorce. Serial monogamists wed. There are couples who swap spouses, and those who live apart yet maintain their sense of affection and responsibility toward each other. Many a marriage, even those begun in love, ends up quirky at best and dysfunctional at worst.

The public as a whole might not look favorably on all of these marriages, but it does not try to deny others the right to form such unions. It’s gay and lesbian couples who are singled out for this. Only in a hearing on same-sex marriage would we hear arguments judging whether a relationship between two adults is loving and committed enough to gain legal and social standing -- evidence on its own that homosexuals, who have long faced unreasoned hatred and abuse in many forms, are being singled out for the withholding of this basic societal right.