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I Am For Those Things

October 22, 2009

The State of Maine is near and dear to my heart. My mother’s family is from there, and I have spent more time there than in any state except the state of my birth and the one I live in now (with New Hampshire a close second. I have a tremendous affection for Northern New England).

Marriage equality is also near and dear to my heart. Not because marriage is a panacea for anything or even the most important right, but because the glaring inequality is a continuing and blatant symbol of exclusion and second-class citizenship. We do not extend civil rights to some of our people because it would offend the religious and social mores of the majority: that may be the way the Puritans did things in their theocratic monocultures* but it is not the system we codified in the Bill of Rights, where the First Amendment has an establishment clause that prohibits the state from taking a side in religious disputes and a free exercise clause that provides that my mother’s Unitarian church should be able to marry who it believes it should without the fear or favor of the State.**

All of Northern New England is there.*** They have marriage equality by legislation. Bigots in Maine are trying to reverse it at the polls. The excellent polling-and-quantitative-poli-sci blog Fivethirtyeight (were we not all glued to it last year about this time? Nate hasn’t quit) is
all over the story.

Nate, who is firmly on the pro-equality side of this, got an email to marriage equality opponents, and he summarized the talking points like this:

1. The new law won’t make gay marriage equal to straight marriage. Instead, it will create a new kind of marriage in which gay people and straight people are equal.
2. Although we may not have proven any connection between gay marriage and public education, our opponents haven’t disproven the connection, and it’s their fault that the subject came up.
3. If gay marriage is upheld, then marriage will exist solely to make people happy.

Tactics aside, my first reaction to this was, “Yes, I am for that.”

Will marriage equality make marriage gayer, change it from an institution with a lot of barriage about gender roles to a more intentional and custom-crafted union between two people who go through the comedies and tragedies of life together? I sure hope so.

Will school children learn that queer people and straight people are equal, that same sex marriages and opposite sex marriage are equal? That’s what we teach in my house. I hope some day that will be what they teach in my kids’ school.

Will marriage equality mean that marriage is only to make people happy? Wow, if ever there were better proof of the continuing influence of Puritanism! My marriage exists solely to make people happy. My spouse and I are raising children together. Our union is an expression of our commitment to do that as a team, to help and support each other. We share our incomes and our spending, we take our vacations together. We live in a house and make a home together, and we work on the house together and we decorate it together. We cook some of our meals together, and we eat as many as we can together, either just the two of us, or us and our kids. We do these things because it makes us happy. Because we are happier doing these things with each other than with anyone else.

I am for that. I am for that being available to everyone.

So if that’s what marriage equality is for, why are some people against it? Nate has it right:

The fact is that the overwhelming majority of people who dislike gay marriage do so for one of two reasons: either their religion has a taboo against homosexuality, or they find the practice gross.

*(lifting Russell Shorto’s terminology from Island at the Center of the World, which I recommend).

**There are constitutional scholars who don’t agree with these interpretations, and who despite fancy educations and access to all sorts of persuasive facts and arguments continue to be wrong. What can I say? You can lead a horse to water …

***All of New England, in fact, except Rhode Island, where the Governor is a stumbling block and the legislation has a good shot as soon as he is out.

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6 Comments leave one →
  1. October 22, 2009 4:02 pm

    I actually disagree with a bit of this here — I find that the most outspoken anti-gay-marriage folks aren’t outspoken for religious or ‘it’s gross’ reasons. and here is where I reply with (ew, does this make me an asshole who links to their own blog posts? Not my intention.) because it may be too long to point out here.

    The end point is that the worst opponents of marriage equality aren’t the ‘cuz butt sex is gross’ or ‘cuz god hates u’ ones, but the ones who have thought-out analyses about how gay marriage upsets the existing social order and bring up horrifying things about dowries and women needing a man and gender roles and whatever as what is ‘logical’ and ‘correct.’

    which is why gay marriage IS a ‘feminist’ issue — because the “logical” anti-gay-marriage stance is a defense of patriarchy. it’s because when one defends “traditional marriage” with those arguments, one defends every single misogynistic, repressive tenet of american culture.

    Being against gay marriage is more than being against homosexuality — it’s about being against ‘marriage as happiness and love rather than a power structure’ as you said.

  2. October 28, 2009 10:22 am

    I agree with MC — there are a lot of retrograde opponents of equality in amongst the SSM opponents; you can see this with the “Who’s the wife?” line of commentary, because someone has to be the “wife” in the relationship and have the subordinate role, and if you have two people of the same gender, how do you choose which one?

    Of course, there are a lot of retrograde attitudes wrapped up with marriage amongst even those who support SSM — see, for example, the recent survey in which something like 70% of respondents thought a woman should change her name and 50+% thinking such a change should be legally required.

    I’m also going to take issue with your assertion that marriage makes people happy or that the purpose of marriage should be to make people happy. I realize you’ve been married forever, but it’s not like singlehood equals misery and marriage rescues you from that. Many people are unhappily married, and many single people are quite content despite societal pressure to be otherwise because they’re not married. I’d rather see you make the argument that SSM will change marriage into an institution that people will enter into voluntarily rather than because it’s what you do. Or something.

  3. October 28, 2009 2:00 pm

    So perhaps not my most carefully thought-out post …

    No one form of relationship will make everyone happy. In fact, not all people can be happy in a romantic or sexual relationship at all, and that ought to be fine. Once we jettison the notion that relationships existing to make people happy is a bad thing, people can start being intentional about crafting the arrangements that work for them. Lots of folks want to raise kids with a long-time romantic partner, and think a marriage of some kind will make that a better experience, and marriage ought to be flexible enough to do that for them. Other folks just want a way to sort out the legal and social rights that go with a long-term partnership among adults, and marriage ought to be flexible enough to serve that, too. I do think that SSM could have the effect of changing marriage to make it more flexible in those ways.

    Marriage needs equality as much as equality needs marriage.

    BTW, I was shocked and appalled by the numbers in that survey — not so much the pro-name change faction, as the pro-mandatory name change faction. So many people’s (and especially men’s) knee-jerk reaction to even the most modest reform steps that affect the day-to-day personal balance of power in het relationships is hysterical (yes, I mean that ironically) overreaction.

  4. October 29, 2009 10:15 am

    Other folks just want a way to sort out the legal and social rights that go with a long-term partnership among adults, and marriage ought to be flexible enough to serve that, too. I do think that SSM could have the effect of changing marriage to make it more flexible in those ways.

    Hey, let’s do something really radical and argue for the decoupling of all those legal and social rights from marriage.

    That way, nobody would get married unless they really wanted to, because all the things they would be able to get via marriage would be available to them as human beings/citizens.

    This, really, is the part of the whole SSM debate that’s most troublesome to me; instead of going no further than leaving the whole deeply flawed institution standing and allowing more people access to it, why not take the opportunity to rethink the institution so that it’s completely optional? I realize that would give the wingers the vapors even worse than they have now, and I understand the strategy of the “we just want you want, we’re not going to *destroy* marriage” movement, but frankly, it’s an institution more than overdue for an overhaul.

  5. October 29, 2009 10:17 am

    we just want you want

    We just want *what* you want.

  6. PatriarchySlayer permalink
    January 10, 2010 9:48 pm

    @zuzu, I agree with your analysis of the situation. Marriage is entrenched in the patriarchy, and we all need to take a long hard look at it. If we overhaul marriage, is it really going to destroy our society? People so firmly believe that the family unit is the bedrock of civilization and without this we will become crazy, unstable people. I’m not sure I really believe that. I think that we can make our own society the way we want it. Something based on mutual respect.
    That goes for marriage as well.
    So should marriage just be a ceremony of commitment in front of family, but with no legal rights attached?

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