A Sacramento judge made the best comment I’ve ever heard about divorce. The judge has been married and divorced. He knows how it feels when a wife claims her husband’s sports car was a gift to her from her late parents and therefore not community property.
“I would much rather preside over a murder trial than a divorce,” the judge told me. “In criminal trials, you have bad people on their best behavior. In divorce, you have good people at their worst.”
I have spent a lot of time in recent weeks trying to explain this to gay friends who are excited about marriage. The conversations are awkward. These are smart people, but they don’t quite get it.
What I really want to say is this: There are silver linings in legal barriers to marriage.
I can think of a million heterosexual couples who would have benefited from a law rejecting them at the marriage altar. Imagine how many divorced people wish they could have avoided the whole mess by saying, “I’d love to get married, darling, but you know the state won’t issue a license to two blue-eyed adults.”
I know, I know. The gay marriage debate isn’t about blue eyes. It’s about fundamental fairness. Or it’s about natural law and religious canon. No matter how you feel about gay marriage, Californians can take pride in knowing the Golden State goes the extra step to make almost everyone feel welcome and fulfilled. That’s why much of the nation thinks we’re crazy.
Which brings me back to divorce. The media have been filled with tales about the gay marriage revolution in California. I have heard about hotels capitalizing on gay honeymoons, about jewelers, cake bakers and tuxedo shops cashing in on gay couples hungry for matrimonial bliss. I find it curious that so many gay people want to duplicate the conventional, commercialized wedding experience—some with cheesy, hollow and expensive ceremonies—once exclusive to couplings between men and women.
Nobody wants to talk about divorce. But separation and dissolution will become a major part of gay marriage. If gay couples are anything like their straight friends in the matrimonial game, half will call it quits.
The excuses will be the same: growing apart, financial pressure, lack of passion, wandering eyes. But the consequences will be different. A gay couple from Alabama who marries this month in San Francisco won’t necessarily be able to file for divorce back home in Mobile. They don’t cotton to that sort of thing in Alabama, at least not yet, and probably not for a while.
I have great respect for people who endure and overcome discrimination, and admire groups who show forbearance in a place that regards them with disdain. I spent time with a Mississippi preacher named Linwood Bolton, who was the father of the basketball star Ruthie Bolton (and 19 other children with his wife, Leola). The Rev. Bolton was African American and knew the worst sort of racial prejudice, but never said a bad word about anyone.
The reverend is dead now, and I hesitate to wonder what he would say about gay marriage.
We talked about how he overcame bigotry in 1940s Mississippi.
He told me good people stood up for him and treated him fair, and all he wanted was a chance for the same success and failure as white people. I figure that’s why gay couples want to get married, basically. I wish them success and hope they can handle the failures.
R.E. Graswich co-hosts the afternoon news with Kitty O’Neal weekdays on NewsTalk 1530 KFBK AM radio and reports nightly for CBS 13.