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As Marriage Role Models, Straight Folks Need Work

September 14, 2004|Michael Gross | Michael Gross is an actor. His roles include that of the father on the television series "Family Ties."

Affixed to our refrigerator door is a photo of my wife and several of her friends: five attractive, intelligent suburban women, some professionals, some housewives, many of them friends for more than 20 years. Among the many things they have in common is the fact that their marriages were all put to the torch by husbands who once publicly avowed to stand by their spouses until death did them part.

One of the husbands decided that his marriage and family interfered with his time at the gym. Another went searching for a "new and improved" woman, while another had already found one. One nurtured his personality disorder like a hothouse flower, and -- my personal favorite -- one walked out on his toddler and pregnant wife during Christmas week. Oh, tidings of comfort and joy.

Unfortunately, stories like these are all too common, even in good, solid, conservative communities like my own. But in our zeal to defend the institution of marriage, I can't help wondering if a constitutional ban on gay marriage may just be shifting the blame.

I admit that blame-shifting does have its rewards. Nothing could be more satisfying than to think that gay men and lesbians -- not we -- are responsible for the shameful rate of failed marriages in this country. If, as the Rev. Jerry Falwell claimed, they were indirectly responsible for the attacks of 9/11, they might be capable of anything! How very gratifying to conclude that my adversary is the embodiment of evil, while I am the embodiment of good.

But the first casualty of shifting the blame is often common sense: the rapist blaming his crime on the immodest dress of his victim; a defense lawyer assigning his client's murder spree to a Twinkies diet; or a Talib concluding that his obsession with a woman's bare ankle is best addressed by blowing up a pair of 1,500-year-old Buddhas.

If the conservatives are right and we've become a society of whining victims -- fighting for a spot on "Oprah" and blaming others for our troubles -- then let's stop rebuking homosexuals for the sad state of conjugal bliss and pass some laws that really make a difference.

How about a constitutional amendment to deny marriage to any couple that did not take a mandatory, government-sponsored prenuptial class? Or denying divorce to any couple that did not submit to a minimum of six months of twice-weekly marriage counseling sessions? Sterilization for any heterosexual man who abandons his children? A tax deduction for joining Promise Keepers?

I understand the moral outrage of those who invoke the biblical injunctions against homosexuality, but if we're not going to observe its equally no-nonsense penalties for adultery (i.e., stoning to death), maybe the fairest thing to do would be to leave the homosexuals to themselves while we put our own houses in order. I can't imagine they'd botch the job any more than some of us have.

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