February 19, 2012

Love, marriage, and politics

By Lorraine Collins

Since we've been celebrating Valentine's Day, I've been in a sort of romantic mood, remembering the only poem my soon-to-be husband wrote me considerably more than half a century ago. He was a mining engineer, and I was a graduate student. I had a new typewriter, an Olivetti, and I wrote him singing its praises. Apparently, that's all I wrote about, because he responded with this verse:

"Lorraine now loves her Olivetti

And has forgotten me alretti."

I have never forgotten that charming bit of verse and he has never remembered writing it, which is kind of typical of many things about our long relationship. Our brief courtship was conducted mostly by air mail since he was in Canada and I in Colorado, so hardly anybody ever saw us together, which wasn't the only reason friends were surprised to discover we planned to marry.

Over the decades, I have come to realize that nobody ever really does understand the private relationship of other people---what attracted them to each other, why they decided to live together, what they see in each other that others may not see at all. So any law or social or religious edict that tries to make people fit one mold just isn't going to work, in the long run. It's no coincidence that a great many of the world's greatest tragedies are written about people who love each other but are denied the ability to be together because of family, religion, law, race or some sense of social standing. Not a whole lot of comedies are written about this.

In terms of law here in the United States, things are in a bit of a hodge podge. We no longer have laws prohibiting the marriage of people of different races, although these laws existed in some states until the 1960s. People who could be legally married in New York could not be legally married in North Carolina, for instance. Now we have another problem. Same sex marriages are legal in several states, whereas in 2006 South Dakotans amended the state Constitution specifically to prohibit this and also to deny recognition for civil unions and domestic partnerships. So if you are a gay couple legally married in Iowa, you are probably not going to want to come to South Dakota.           

Recently a court in California said that when voters overturned a law that enabled people of the same sex to marry, they violated the United States Constitution. The Constitution demands equal protection of the law, so California could not take away a right previously granted. No doubt this decision will be litigated for some time. Now we are witnessing a big brouhaha about whether Catholic institutions should have to be even remotely involved in health insurance plans that offer non-Catholic employees family planning, aka birth control pills. The church as an institution does not approve of such things, even though we are told that 98% of Catholic women have used them. Some call this controversy a public health issue while others frame it as a First Amendment issue. Whatever else it is, it seems to be part of somebody's political agenda.

So in this election season we suddenly stopped talking about jobs and the economy to dwell endlessly on matters of sex and marriage. To begin with, we just heard about the sex lives of some candidates, but then the topic expanded to include the private lives of people in general. Some think this is all a plot by the Democrats to distract us from very slowly improving economy, while others think it's a Republican plot to make the election about something other than the economy which is slowly improving.

 If voters concentrate on divisive issues such as who can marry and who can't, who can have birth control and who can't, and whether a woman can have an abortion, then more people might be stirred into action for one candidate or another. But as long as we are talking about people's private lives, we do not talk of the national debt, tax reform, our crumbling infrastructure, housing, poverty, and many other important issues. I hope soon we can get the national political conversation out of the bedroom.

Lorraine Collins is a writer who lives in Spearfish.  She may be contacted by e-mail at:  collins1@midco.net

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