In the centuries that straight Americans like me have had exclusive domain over marriage, we have managed to take it from a sacred and bindinginstitution to one that ends in divorce nearly half the time.
We’re taken it from a union of fidelity to one in which 30% to 60% of spouses cheat on one another.
We’ve taken it from an institution designed to create economic stability to one in which “I want half!” is a common phrase.
We’ve morphed it from fostering children in stable, loving homes to a nation’s worth of bitter custody battles and kids who celebrate four Christmases in a single day.
We’ve moved it out of the church and into Las Vegas, out of family photos and into reality TV. We’ve created alimony, divorce law, child support, counseling and therapy, all as a means of dealing with its problems.
So now that the U.S. Supreme Court has ruled that gay marriage is officially part of the American system, the straight world might want to say this to its celebrating gay peers:
Good luck doing better with it than we have.
An institution to nurture
Because what a shame it would be if after all these hard-fought battles, all the name-calling and finger-pointing, all the endurance and resilience that is being trumpeted in feature stories across America, gay couples quickly lapse into the same cavalier mistakes that straight couples have been making. Not all straight couples, clearly. Not even the majority. But a great number.
Sadly, don’t be surprised if it happens.
Julie and Hillary Goodridge were the lead plaintiffs in a case that eventually led to same-sex marriage in Massachusetts in 2004. They got married right away.
Two years later, they separated. Three years after that, they divorced.
Talk show host Rosie O’Donnell has been an outspoken advocate for gay marriage, including her own. She’s now dealing with her second divorce, and in a bitter custody battle with her current estranged wife. Actress Jane Lynch and figure skater Johnny Weir both married their gay partners and not long after divorced.
Of course, you can’t insist that gay couples hold marriage in higher regard than straight couples. That’s the whole point of the Supreme Court ruling. No double standards, right?
But it would be nice, after all these years of being locked out of the institution, to show it some old-fashioned respect. Particularly when it comes to family. Gay couples need to go to greater lengths to bring children into their unions. Why endure the long waits, the paperwork, the interviews or the enormous expense of adoption or in vitro fertilization, only to create another broken home for another child? Not to mention the damage done to kids taken from orphanages or foster homes, only to become the object of custody disputes.
Haven’t we done enough in that department?
A time for respect
“Ten years ago, this would have been inconceivable,” I heard a jubilant New York Mayor Bill de Blasio tell CNN on Friday about the ruling.
That may be true. But when social change that was inconceivable 10 years ago is suddenly law today, it will almost by definition take time getting used to.
Now that the Supreme Court largely has settled the issue, even critics may admit some relief in knowing where the country stands. No more one state this, one state that. As Gov. Rick Snyder said in a statement, “Recognizing that there are strong feelings on both sides, it is important for everyone to respect the judicial process.”
And respect each other. That cuts many ways. Respect for the newly recognized gay marriages by their previously vocal critics, yes.
But also respect by same-sex marriage advocates for churches and faiths that choose not to perform such unions. They didn’t lose their standing just because five justices voted one way and four voted another.
Most of all, we could all stand to show some respect for the institution of marriage itself. This should not be some in-your-face victory. This should not be celebrating strictly the right to marry like everybody else does.
This should be about embracing an institution that is joyous, yes, but also solemn, serious, difficult, demanding, committing and requiring of sacrifice.
If all the Supreme Court did was give a green light for more people to make the wedding bigger than the marriage, we didn’t progress as far as we think.
Contact Mitch Albom: firstname.lastname@example.org. Check out the latest updates with his charities, books and events at MitchAlbom.com.