Tuesday, May 12, 2009

Understanding Gender/Biological Sex and Marriage Equality!

I often use Jenny Finney Boylan’s first memoir “She’s Not There” in my seminary classes to help students understand one transwoman’s experience. In today’s New York Times, she has an op ed piece titled, “Is My Marriage Gay”? A professor at Colby College in Maine, she shares that she was a man when she married her wife in 1988; following her transition, they found themselves as two women legally married to each other; in her words, “differently married.”

She writes, that until last week when Maine legalized marriage for same sex couples, had they divorced, “I would have been allowed on the following day to marry a man only. There are states, however, that do not recognize sex changes. If I were to attempt to remarry in Ohio, for instance, I would be allowed to wed a woman only.” (Read that again – because she was born male, in Ohio, she could only marry a woman even though Boylan is legally a woman and even though Ohio doesn’t recognize same sex marriage.)

But to new to me was how many different ways states recognize gender and sex. In San Antonio, Texas, only people with different chromosomes can marry (which means that if one member of a lesbian couple had a genetic make-up with a Y chromosome such as XXY, they could marry but two women who are XX’s couldn’t. Boylan writes, “This made Texas, paradoxically, one of the first states in which gay marriage was legal.”

She presents the case the lawyer made, “noting the absurdity of the country’s gender laws as they pertain to marriage.” The unnamed lawyer said, “taking this situation to its logical conclusion, Mrs. Littleton, while in San Antonio, Texas is male and has a void marriage; as she travels to Houston, Texas and enters federal property, she is a female and a widow; …in Kentucky, she is female and a widow; but upon entering Ohio, she is once again male and prohibited from marriage; entering Connecticut, she is again female and may marry; if her travel takes her north to Vermont [before Vermont changed its law this year] she is male and may marry a female; if instead she travels south to New Jersey, she may marry a man.”

Whew. Did you get that?? Our male/female fixed binary, our heterosexual/homosexual fixed binary ignores the incredibly sexual and gender diversity that exists. But more, laws that try to neatly categorize people and how adults can love each other do real harm. As Boylan concludes, “what matters is that my spouse and I love each other, and that our legal union has been a good thing – for us, for our children, and for our community.”

She’s right. It’s hard for me to understand how a person of faith would think otherwise. How often we have heard, “where there is love, the sacred is in our midst.” And so may it be.

1 comment:

Desmond Ravenstone said...

Perhaps then we should follow Norway's lead. They refer to their approach as "gender-neutral marriage laws".

Which in turn makes me think of a superb question to ask members of the Religious Right: "Are you saying that, when it comes to marriage, gender is more important than love?"