Why the Hell Does it Matter What a Football Player Thinks About Same-Sex Marriage? Marriage is About Rights, Not Religion

According to CNN.com, football player David Tyrees weighed in on same-sex marriage through the National Organization for Marriage by claiming that allowing same-sex marriage will result in “anarchy”:

Former New York Giants receiver David Tyrees celebrated catch in the closing seconds of Super Bowl XLII was pivotal to his teams victory.

Now out of football, he is trying to claim a last-minute win over another foe — same-sex marriage.On the same day that the New York State Assembly approved a same-sex marriage bill, Tyree warned of dire consequences if the legislation becomes law.

The bills passage would “be the beginning of our country sliding toward … anarchy,” he said

via Super Bowl hero warns of anarchy if NY approves gay marriage – CNN.com.

Tyrees’ comments reflect an ignorance about what marriage actually is and insensitivity toward equal rights for all citizens.

Tyrees and others claim that marriage is an intimate bond that is grounded in their religious faith. They believe that allowing same-sex couples to marry will lessen the sanctity of marriage. Marriage is seen as a religious rather than a secular institution.

The fact is that marriage has long been held as a social and legal contract rather than something dependent upon any church. Certainly, the marriage ceremony, at least in the West following the rise of the major modern religions, is intimately connected to religious practices. However, it is approval and acknowledgement by the state that has granted marriage legal standing. Put another way, marriage is a legal contract between two people to observe certain roles and obtain legal rights not given to non-married persons.

Today, you have to have a marriage license in order to marry. It is the state, not the church, that bestows legal rights to the married couple. Those significant rights include joint ownership, rights of inheritance, rights in a court of law, and rights of care and decision making. Same-sex couples are denied these rights even though they may do the same things that heterosexual couples do, such as live their lives together, intermingle finances, and care for one another. Because same-sex couples are denied these rights, a same-sex partner may not be able to see a loved one in the hospital since they are not “family,” and they have no right of inheritance if the deceased-person’s family objects. They do not qualify for tax breaks reserved for married couples. They cannot always obtain health insurance through their partner’s policy. They may not be able to get life insurance since they do not have a legally defined relationship. They cannot obtain other juridicial or business opportunities given only to married couples. Thus, same-sex couples are denied many legal rights enjoyed by heterosexually married couples despite, because the law denies them the rights given to heterosexual couples.

In both cases, heterosexual or homosexual couples essentially desire to enter into a legal contract that guarantees them certain rights. This is the main issue at stake in extending those legal rights to homosexual couples. People like Tyrees who talk about “anarchy” and lessening the sanctity of marriage are blurring the issue in terms of their religious beliefs. I would hope that they don’t believe that heterosexual couples in general believe in the sanctity of marriage due to the high rates of divorce and low probability for marriages to survive past 10 years [read the data here].

The fact that divorce in the United States is relatively high for some age groups belies the fact that marriage itself is not a highly sanctified institution. When it comes down to it, marriage is about a relationship between two people who enjoy certain rights during the marriage and other rights to dissolve that marriage in divorce. Same-sex couples also deserve this right to divorce–a right often overlooked by those who are in happily married relationships. Nevertheless, divorce is a legal right that allows for the dissolution of the relationship and all joint properties and business relationships. The right of divorce is almost as important as the right to marry, because the right of divorce allows for a bad relationship to be dissolved in a legally arbitrated and binding way. Same-sex couples do not have access to this legally streamlined method of dissolving relationships that heterosexual couples apparently use to a great extent.

What might lead to anarchy is the fact that CNN.com gives voice to someone who can catch a football in the arena of fundamental rights. This is a problem of big media today that favors the sensationalism of celebrity opinions and pronouncements when those celebrities are neither truly invested or experts on a given political issue. Why doesn’t CNN talk to more same-sex couples to let people know the FACTS of same-sex marriage issues. These rights affect people’s real lives while the things that Tyrees and other anti-same-sex marriage advocates lament is their loss of control over other people’s lives.

What does it really matter to Tyrees that two gay men can file their taxes together? What does it really matter to Tyrees that an aging lesbian woman can visit her dying partner in the hospital? What does it really matter to Tyrees that two lesbians raising an adopted son can get health insurance for their entire family? Those things don’t matter to someone like Tyrees, because they are too caught up in what they think marriage means rather what it really means–those easily ignored rights that only married people can enjoy.

UPDATE: Sarah Kate Ellis wrote on the Huffington Post today about the issue of same-sex parents and children–an important issue that I didn’t fully explore earlier in my post above.

Published by Jason W. Ellis

I am an Associate Professor of English at the New York City College of Technology, CUNY whose teaching includes composition and technical communication, and research focuses on science fiction, neuroscience, and digital technology. Also, I direct the B.S. in Professional and Technical Writing Program and coordinate the City Tech Science Fiction Collection, which holds more than 600 linear feet of magazines, anthologies, novels, and research publications.