Cook: With this vote, I thee wed

Cook: With this vote, I thee wed

November 19th, 2013 by David Cook in Opinion Columns

David Cook

David Cook

Photo by Ashlee Culverhouse /Times Free Press.

Mark West, head of the Chattanooga Tea Party, is right.

Tonight's vote on domestic partner benefits should be rerouted to a public referendum. If, that is, West's group -- Citizens for Government Accountability and Transparency -- can gather enough signatures needed to detour the vote from the nine-member City Council to the citizens of Chattanooga.

A petition drive could lead to the empowerment and re-activation of thousands more voters on both sides. It would redirect and reestablish democratic power down toward the ground, like a water witch, into the hands of We The People, which is marvelous and necessary.

Yes, I'm for the domestic partner benefits legislation. But that doesn't mean I shouldn't support and hold the door open for a petition just because I oppose the issue it promotes.

Nor is this to say the council is incompetent; but rather, when given a choice between decision-making power resting with representatives or with actual people, the latter is most frequently healthier than the former.

Plus, the math is wrong. Hundreds of people have been attending council meetings because of this. Hundreds. Yet last week's first reading passed by a 5-4 vote. One man's vote should not determine the fate of thousands, especially if those thousands are itching to determine their own.

In America, we're meant to roar, not be given three minutes at the Council microphone and nothing more.

"Cast your whole vote, not a strip of paper merely, but your whole influence," wrote Thoreau.

Yes, let's vote on this. Let's also vote on the budget. Vote on crime policy, nonprofit funding and everything else under the sun. One of the best things about this issue is the outpouring of response; even though it's been mean-spirited at times (not all protesters, but plenty enough), it still has turned the council chambers into a hot ticket, a packed house, ground zero of civic debate.

That's just what should happen in a democracy.

And also what should happen in a marriage.

Both need engagement to stay alive.

The domestic partner benefit plan is about all the things its proponents say it is: equality, workplace fairness, attracting the best and brightest to city work.

But it's also about same sex marriage, or rather, what happens when it's not legalized. This benefits plan is what is created when all avenues towards marriage are closed. Like that old saying: when a door closes, a window opens. If the state won't hand over the keys to the castle door of marriage, then other windows will be pried open.

"How do you define marriage?" a reader named Edmond emailed.

Like a Swiss Army knife, it can both cut and fix things. Marriage is the best hardest and hardest best thing I've ever done in my life.

Like so many have said before, marriage is a foundation of society, and yes, it is being torn apart. Good marriages are an ecology. Like a cultural rain forest, marriage puts so much good stuff into the air and provides shelter and life to so many things.

That's why I wish gay and lesbian Americans could marry. Instead of starving the definition of marriage, let's expand it. We ought to beg for same sex marriage; please, come join us and share in the beauty and trials of marriage; help us in the heterosexual world glean more ways to celebrate, understand and fix it.

Not long ago, my wife and I celebrated 13 years of marriage. Best years ever. Feels more like 13 minutes than 13 years, right babe?

"Oh yes. Thirteen minutes," she said. "Underwater."

A joker, that woman. Keep this quiet, but she's right: Marriage is not easy. But neither is medical school or boot camp. Marriage is hard because it's demanding and it's demanding because it can also be life-saving.

Just like democracy.

Our political relationship has reached the point of irreconcilability. We are becoming irredeemable to one another. Defeat is our main goal, understanding our last. We forget to respect. I'm as guilty as anyone.

"What do we do?" Edmond asked.

He was talking about the future of marriage. He could have also been talking about the state of our democracy. With both, the answer lies in engagement.

Contact David Cook at or 423-757-6329. Follow him on Facebook and Twitter at DavidCookTFP.