The federal government’s number crunchers believe some 21,318 same-sex couples call Georgia home, according to the U.S. Census Bureau’s most recent accounting, and new research forecasts that as many as half would jump the broom within three years if allowed by their government.
I’m one-half of one of those aggrieved couples — denied, for more than five years, the social stability and legal protections of marriage. And, as a former spokesman for the Republican National Committee and adviser to prominent party figures, I’m also a professional political operative who’s helped install in government those who perpetuate marriage bias in America.
Throughout my career I’ve publicly advocated for the freedom to marry, urging the party for which I work to allow gay men and women to wed even as I never openly disclosed my personal stake. I’ve preached the small-government virtues of equal marriage, echoing a conservative case that had been made many times before by thinkers more eloquent and far brighter than myself. Never once did I write that I am gay.
For my admission here, I will alienate friends whose faiths regard my sexuality as culturally corrosive. I’ll suffer the snickering of those across the aisle whose politics regard my own as personally injurious. And conservative clients may regard me as a liability. After all, the tide is not as unidirectional as people say.
While the conventional wisdom holds that the public’s dramatic shift was driven primarily by expansive support among millennials, pollsters estimate that one-in-seven equal marriage supporters were once opposed to the convention. Nearly one-third of these belated boosters say they were won over through personal encounters with gay family members or friends, so the potential reward of convincing even one dubious neighbor is greater than the assumed risk of a diminished social orbit. And it’s okay if I alienate a Facebook friend or two.
It’s not always easy to love Georgia, or love in it. Our state constitution explicitly forbids same-sex unions, and the local economy remains defiantly sluggish. Yet in spite of its blemishes, my would-be groom and I are deeply committed to our community, one whose values of faith and family we share.
On Saturday we huddled with 90,000 of our closest friends in approaching-100-degree heat to cheer on the University of Georgia Bulldogs in the season opener. And this Sunday, as those before it, we’ll be in the pews of the same evangelical church we’ve quietly attended for years. We bless our suppers, we pay our taxes, and we own a home in the suburbs. Norman Rockwell would have thought us boring, because, frankly, we are.
But even if we failed, or refused on principle, to cross straight America’s bourgeois threshold for normalcy, gay people deserve the same the legal and moral considerations — and rights — enjoyed by all others. They are Americans whose rights were granted by God and the grit of their forbearers, yet they are forced to defend their love, and the various planes on which it may be judged (constitutional, cultural and economic), to distressing and revolting ends.
Still, America’s marriage detente is not helping anyone. Consider the numbers: Georgia rates 49th in the nation for joblessness, only narrowly edging the vastly-more-rural Mississippi to our west. Within just three years of legalizing same-sex marriage, according to a new white paper by the Williams Institute at the UCLA School of Law, upward of 1,000 out-of-work Georgians would find stable employment and the state treasury would bank $5.5 million in new sales tax revenue borne of a big gay dowry for an expanded hospitality industry.
That’s revenue that could revitalize the state’s long-suffering transportation and education systems. More importantly, it’s money that won’t exist until (and unless) government gets out of the way of responsible gay couples wishing to honor one another and their families and communities in lifelong commitment.
But this isn’t, or at least shouldn’t purely be, a discussion of wages and government revenue. That confines broad ethical and constitutional questions to one merely about utility. Instead, this is a debate about individual Americans and the dignity their unions are necessarily due from their government. My partner and I are envious subscribers to the conventional, conservative family model; yet together, as two men wishing to grow grey and ornery in matching rocking chairs, we are consigned to “cohabitation” as a consequence of law. That’s unjust, and it’s uniquely painful.
On the foundational question of marriage’s value, to individuals and society, gay couples and the institution’s cultural conservative gatekeepers agree: marriage is deeply special. We wish to participate in earnest, to strengthen the institution that our straight peers are abandoning. Gay couples don’t want to rock the marriage boat — they only want a ticket for two to ride.