Monday, July 28, 2008

Gay Divorce

In an odd twist of fate, one of the headlines appearing on the front page of the LA Times on the very day of our wedding (July 25) was: "The next same-sex challenge: divorce." Since my brother subscribes to the Times, the headline was there waiting to greet me on the kitchen table after we arrived home from our wedding. It was a strange, almost grim reminder to me that as joyous as we were having literally just made these covenants of union, things don't always work out as we intend.

Later that evening, as I was enjoying my brother's outdoor hot tub with my niece, the topic came up again. "Sometimes divorce is the only right thing to do," my niece reminded me. She told me the story of a woman friend of hers who was married many years, only to find out that her husband had been cheating on her almost the entire time they were married.

Another friend of mine, in the week or so before our wedding trip, recounted to me his own sorrow at the recent divorce of a friend of his under quite different circumstances. The couple were devoutly Catholic and had been married many years, and had each apparently desperately prayed to God to help them save their union. But in the end the pain of trying to stay together was too great.

Number of years married doesn't seem to be a predictor for whether a marriage will end in divorce. Göran and I have been together for almost 16 years, but very close friends of ours recently divorced after 18 years together. I have personally known (or known of) couples who have divorced after 20, 25, 30 or more years together. As a teenager I remember hearing of an elderly couple my parents knew, who had grown kids and grandkids when they got divorced. Divorce rates apparently drop among the religiously devout, but are still relatively high, around 25%. Thus, as my friend observed, piety is no guarantee either.

I've also known of people who apparently stayed the course and remained married until parted by death, but who spent their golden years making each other miserable, leaving everyone else wondering if divorce hadn't been the more merciful (and honest) option for everyone.

My sister went through a very painful divorce, and so have a number of close friends. It's easy, from a distance, to oversimplify and to blame. The closer you are to a divorce, the less simple blame becomes. In a way, blaming people for their divorce just becomes a way to distance ourselves from it, to pretend that that can't happen to us. True, people are responsible for the choices they make leading to divorce, but I've never seen a divorce that wasn't extremely painful for both parties. When you see the heartbreak up close, you start to realize that to the extent there is responsibility (or blame) to be doled out, it is of a different order than the kind of blame you dole out for more quotidian mistakes. Life is for learning, and often the more important the learning, the greater the pain that can come along with it.

In asking for the right to marry, gay folks are, in essence, also asking for the opportunity to fail in marriage. We are asking for the right to learn the same life lessons that heterosexual people take for granted they have the right to learn. So yes, ironically (or not), the LA Times was right in calling divorce "the next same-sex challenge."

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