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The problem with Valentine’s Day is that nobody wins.
Single people are the obvious losers, since they’re surrounded from dawn to dusk by in-your-face lovebirds and the ever more pressing certainty that they’re going to die alone. Non-single people are also losers because they never seem to get the right thing for their significant other. The entire holiday is a little humiliating.
But the biggest losers, the ones who barely make it through the day alive, are the people who know anything about history. These are the people who see the boxes of chocolates, homogenous rose bouquets and mylar balloons for what they really are: completely un-Valentinian.
There are, historically, up to three possible “St. Valentines,” all of whom were Catholic priests around the 3rd century. The one we care about is one St. Valentinus, who was martyred in the year 269 for marrying Christian couples. The Roman Empire under Claudius II was very busy prosecuting Christians, so St. Valentinus’ actions are considered bold moves. He was imprisoned, beaten with rocks and eventually beheaded.
The common phrase “Be my Valentine,” then, is basically asking someone to officiate an illegal wedding and then get brutally murdered by Roman soldiers. While it’s not very romantic, it may actually serve another, better purpose.
St. Valentinus represented a group of oppressed people whose marriages were not recognized by the state, whose very existence offended those in power. He was so passionate to ensure that these people were married according to their beliefs that he was willing to die for them.
It is as important to modern couples as it was to 3rd-century Christians that they be able to partake in a dedicated, romantic union recognized by their peers and government. If a marriage is what a person wants, then a “civil union” is never going to sit right. If the basic and harmless pleasure of a wedding is denied to someone, then they will never feel secure in the other rights they once took for granted.
At this very moment, 33 of our 50 states still do not recognize same-sex marriage. Twenty-nine states are allowed to discriminate based on sexual orientation and gender identity. This means that any US citizen who is a member of the queer community has a 58 percent chance of being turned down from a job because of their sexual orientation and that their state won’t have any laws in place to back them up. Christian same-sex couples who wish to be married through their church stand a remarkably slim chance of success—Catholics don’t have a prayer.
Now more than ever, our nation is in need of more Valentines. These days we can take action without fear of public stoning or decapitation, so there should be nothing stopping us. Let us use the spirit of a century’s old tradition to invite progress. Let us not forget what St. Valentinus really stood for: the freedom to marry someone when you love them.
Contact CU Independent Opinion Editor Lauren Thurman at Lauren.firstname.lastname@example.org.