j's Reviews > The Commitment: Love, Sex, Marriage, and My Family

The Commitment by Dan Savage
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's review
Jun 16, 2011

really liked it
bookshelves: 2010, 52-in-2010, non-fiction, library-books, 30-day-book-challenge, vote-getters
Read from March 28 to 29, 2010

I am getting married in a little over a month. I am fortunately able to do this, because I am a heterosexual. If I was not, my attempt to enter into a legally-binding, stable relationship with my significant other would apparently rock the very foundations of the institution, and possibly turn a bunch of small, innocent children into drag queens, like some kind of ray gun.

Dan Savage, famous syndicated sexual advice columnist (and now über-famous homosexual) either is or is not married to his long-time partner Terry. It depends on who you ask. If you ask Dan and Terry, they are married, because they looked into each other's eyes and made a commitment, for better or for worse. If you ask most state governments, they are not, because gay marriage doesn't exist. The federal government agrees.

It's all right there in the title: The Commitment is about Dan's struggle with what marriage means to him. Why should he want to be married when marriage won't have him? Marriage is an institution, a part of culture, and it is between a man and a woman. Kings and queens. Mommy and daddy. Princes and princesses. Simba and Nala. Even Dan and Terry's son agrees: he likes having two dads, but they shouldn't be married, because they are two men. Two men getting married is gay!

Gays also shouldn't be married because marriage is a covenant before the Lord. Never mind if you are a Hindu or an atheist. I mean, apparently. Otherwise, why would so many Mormons and Southern Baptists care if two ladies from Jersey want to tie the knot? Surely they are mocking God, and that is just going to bring the hellfire and brimstone down upon us all.

So, marriage. Marriage is sacred.

Except marriage isn't sacred, or isn't just sacred. Marriage is, governmentally speaking, a legal arrangement. It is an agreement granting two people certain rights and protections: inheritance, medical visitation, power of attorney. Tax benefits. People don't just get married because God says they are supposed to if they want to do it; they also want to have legal standing, vis-à-vis their relationship with their spouse. Lots of people cohabitate these days instead of marrying, thinking they don't need " a piece of paper" from the state to legitimize their relationship. Which, ok, they don't. Until one of them is hospitalized, or dies, or writes a multi-million selling international blockbuster mystery series and then dies. Then, they are probably screwed.

Just like all the gay couples are screwed, all the time.

My deal is, if you think marriage is sacred, fine. If your religious beliefs tell you a marriage is between a man and a woman, fine. But marriage in the church and marriage as a legal relationship are different things. That's why you still need a document from the court to legitimize it. And I would ask you, whoever you are, to please keep your religious beliefs off to the side when it comes to dictating who can and can't visit a loved one in the hospital.

I don't understand how gays marrying hurts regular marriage, which is cruising toward obsolescence just fine all on its own, with fewer people marrying later in life and extramarital affairs as popular as ever (a small joke: gay marriage exists; lots of gay men are married... to women). Of course, I also don't understand how saying the word "gay" in the classroom damages society either.

This book is Dan Savage's struggle with wanting and not wanting to be married. Approaching a milestone anniversary, he and Terry are alternately planning a party and a wedding. They aren't quite sure which it is going to be until the last minute. The thing is, it's all theoretical anyway, because whatever they -- two consenting adults in a committed relationship -- ultimately decide, it doesn't matter. Because it won't be legal.

I think that totally sucks.

Facebook 30 Day Book Challenge Day 9: Book that makes you sick.
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Reading Progress

03/28/2010 page 99
03/29/2010 page 336
100% ""Powers of gay marriage activate!""
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Comments (showing 1-27 of 27) (27 new)

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message 1: by Ian (new)

Ian "But marriage in the church and marriage as a legal relationship are different things."

Yes. Yes yes yes. I have the hardest time explaining this to my fundamentalist friends and family. It seems so simple, so obviously correct, to me. To them the idea of separating the religious institution from the civil institution is incomprehensible because, ultimately, they believe the government ought to enforce their version of conservative Christianity, even if they won't say so.

message 2: by j (new) - rated it 4 stars

j it is a logical disconnect that i can never quite grasp. it's like looking at a magic eye poster. i am just never going to be able to see things they way they see it.

message 3: by Janell (new)

Janell Bishop Well spoken Joel, I couldn't agree more!

message 4: by j (new) - rated it 4 stars

j thanks janell.

La pointe de la sauce 'Two men getting married is gay!' That cracked me up.

message 6: by Brad (last edited Jun 19, 2011 08:09AM) (new)

Brad The reason Erika and I married was to protect each other financially in case of death (visitation rights are a nice bonus). Our love existed and exists quite well outside of societal conventions, but we acquiesced.

I would like to see cohabitation given the same rights as marriage, though.

message 7: by Ian (new)

Ian If cohabitation has the same rights and obligations as civil marriage then cohabitation IS civil marriage. There plenty of reasons a couple might want to live together without having those rights and obligations. We could of course say that cohabitants aren't required to assume those rights and obligations; it would be a choice. But assuming the rights and obligations of civil marriage is just getting married. And people already have that choice.

message 8: by Brad (new)

Brad But not all people. I'd be happy with a simple opting into the rights and obligations, maybe a form that both parties sign that grants the rights, no ceremony or anything attached. But I'm fine with marriage being the "title" under which all this happens if everyone can do it.

message 9: by j (new) - rated it 4 stars

j the french have a form of civil marriage called "Pacte civil de solidarité" (or PACS) that is still not quite marriage but is better than what the u.s. has on offer. it was actually designed for gay couples but is now mostly used by younger straight couples that either aren't religious or don't want to take the final step of marriage. it gives some but not all of the tax benefits and protections of marriage, and dissolving one is much simpler.

it's still not quite the same. no one wants to quite go so far as calling it mariage and granting total equality. but it's better.

message 10: by Ian (new)

Ian Brad wrote: "But not all people. I'd be happy with a simple opting into the rights and obligations, maybe a form that both parties sign that grants the rights, no ceremony or anything attached. But I'm fine wit..."

CA (where I live) has that exactly: domestic partnerships.

message 11: by j (last edited Jun 19, 2011 10:43AM) (new) - rated it 4 stars

j domestic partnerships don't generally grant the same protections as marriage and are not recognized by the federal government.

i think i am thinking of civil unions. i have to read up on it.

no, i was right -- no federal government recognition/benefits.

message 12: by Jasmine (new)

Jasmine I believe they are also married in canada and england recognizes that.

apparently married people are allowed to refuse to testify so they don't incriminate their spouse. THAT IS A SUPER IMPORTANT RIGHT!

message 13: by j (last edited Jun 19, 2011 10:46AM) (new) - rated it 4 stars

j yeah they married in canada before their "party/wedding reception" (spoiler!) but they live in washington state, where they aren't legally married. it's stupid.

message 14: by Jasmine (new)

Jasmine you think at least washington could accept that. I thought there were laws about respecting what is legel in another place, maybe that just counts for states though.

message 15: by Miriam (new)

Miriam Ian, CA domestic partnership also no longer includes health coverage and a number of benefits (it has changed since we were younguns, I'm afraid).

message 16: by j (new) - rated it 4 stars

j the problem is, i think, that the benefits to marriage in the u.s. are specific to the u.s. you can't hold every foreign marriage to the standard of the country the people come from. or a man could go marry a child in another country and come back and go "hey, it should be legal!"

message 17: by Ian (new)

Ian Joel is right in that the Feds don't recognize state civil unonw or domestic partnerships. But under California law (and keep in mind that almost all property and relational rights are creatures of state law, not federal law) domestic partners have EXACTLY THE SAME rights and obligations as married couples.

I'm not saying that gay couples should be happy being dmestic partners; indeed you'll find no bigger supporter of same-sex marriage than me. I think both marriage and domestic partnerships should be available to opposite-sex and same-sex couples.

message 18: by Miriam (new)

Miriam the benefits to marriage in the u.s. are specific to the u.s. you can't hold every foreign marriage to the standard of the country the people come from

That's a really interesting and complicated topic. My general impression (based on marriages of immigrants I know, not any research) is that the U.S. tends to accept the marital status reported by immigrants when they arrive, unless there is some obvious problem.

A friend of mine, born in Ohio to Indian parents, was married in India to a man picked by her parents. The marriage license was signed by her husband and her father; she was not present. This seems like something that would have questionable legality in the U.S., doesn't it? But how often does anyone ask to see your marriage license, anyway? My parents said they were married for decades and no one asked for proof until they retired (at which point they had to actually get married for pension protection and were really pissy about it).

message 19: by j (last edited Jun 19, 2011 11:43AM) (new) - rated it 4 stars

j it depends obviously. a man and woman, both of legal age, entering the u.s. as married (whatever the legal status actually is in their own country) have a relationship structure accepted in the u.s. not so with a gay couple or, in my somewhat hyperbolic comparison, a man with a child bride.

ian, there are apparently over 1,100 "rights and responsibilities" of marriage recognized at the federal level. not that i have a list...

message 20: by Ian (new)

Ian I dare say that if you are not a federal employee and if you are not currently collecting social security or are on medicare, there are few if any federal marriage benefits for you to worry about. I have trouble believing there are 1,100 truly, substantively distinct marriage rights and obligations that are a creature of federal law. There must be some serious overlap in that count. (e.g., the same spousal right but at ten different federal agencies) Send me a link for where you got that number and I'll be happy to dig into it further and report back.

message 21: by j (new) - rated it 4 stars

j uhhhh. i don't want to say "wikipedia" but...

message 22: by j (new) - rated it 4 stars

j of course the other problem is that those rights don't necessarily transfer from state to state, do they?

message 23: by Bonnie (new)

Bonnie I agree. And CONGRATULATIONS to you on your upcoming "legal," but more importantly, "emotional" commitment! Why would anyone oppose a loving relationship between any couple? Why create laws that make life more difficult and painful by denying simple rights that should be guaranteed for all? Go figure...

message 24: by j (new) - rated it 4 stars

j thank you! on all counts.

message 25: by mark (new)

mark monday nice! this review makes my queer heart feel all warm & fuzzy. congrats in advance on your marriage!

message 26: by j (new) - rated it 4 stars

j thanks!

message 27: by E. (new)

E. Chainey (Bookowski) Very well said. I agree all of the things you wrote about marriage right. It's a basic right and governments should be equal to all the people in a country etc. And I do not understand either, how "gayness" effecting badly the society. Seriously. I am a heterosexual, too. But I do not say it aloud like "I AM HETERO". And who cares if I am one. I am a human, a woman who likes men. So what? So gay people should be able to live freely, and get married, have children. They think -the society- as if all gays get married and have children, the family thing will be damaged. This is sucks. Family is not only man, woman and a child/children who biologically belongs to them %100. It is about loyalty, love, protection, acceptence, caring etc. Sorry to write too much, but I am very sad that there's still to many country which doesn't allow gay marriage.

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