Recently on Facebook some friends were passing around a quote by comedian Ellen DeGeneres who was responding to the charge that same-sex marriage will “threaten” heterosexual marriages. Ellen quipped:
I get you, Ellen, but you’re missing the larger point. Same-sex marriage does threaten “traditional” marriage.
Marriage equality is a threat to those who do not believe in equality between the sexes in general. Some who oppose marriage between two women or between two men believe that homosexuality is a sin, or that same-sex marriage harms children, or that it will lead to more divorces. But as I listened to the “protect traditional marriage” ralliers outside the U.S. Supreme Court hearings last week one unified message came through loud and clear: same-sex marriage threatens traditional marriage because it challenges ideas about proper gender roles.
Same-sex marriage makes a lie of the very foundation of traditional gender roles. Same-sex marriages say that a woman can run a household, or that a man can raise a child. This does not square with those whose lives and beliefs and relationships depend on upholding and living their lives based on differences between the sexes. Over and over on C-SPAN I hear people in 2013 arguing that both a mother and a father are needed in order to raise children — indeed, that children have a right to both a mother and a father. (And so, you see, proponents of same-sex marriage are not actually supporting the granting of rights, but rather the taking away of rights… of children. The twists in logic are mind-boggling.)
I am struck by the continual references from the traditional marriage camp to “the protection of the father” and “the tenderness of the mother.” To a view that only fathers can or should be breadwinners and only mothers can be caretakers. Traditional marriage defenders believe that a man is needed to protect and provide for a family — and a woman is needed to nurture a child. That a man/father/husband is the rightful head of the household and that a wife must submit to her husband in all things.
It’s easy to eye-roll on this one, since many of us take for granted already that there are different forms a family can take and multiple or varying roles that individuals, rather male or female, can fill within a family — from single working moms to stay-at-home dads to grandparents raising children to egalitarian marriages. But it goes deeper than that. Same-sex marriage threatens the very foundation of what it means to be a woman/wife or be a man/husband. Who is in charge? Who will submit? Who will raise the children? Who is the man and who is the woman in the relationship? These are not questions of sex or sexuality, they are questions of gender. And when it comes to gender, same-sex marriage reveals the questions themselves as flawed.
I am struck in listening to the opposition to same-sex marriage by the persistent denial that gender is a socially constructed role. This is a “traditional” view of marriage in the sense that it is grounded in “biology is destiny,” or specific roles assigned based on sex. It is an extremely narrow view of “marriage” based on specific roles assigned by sex, rather than marriage as an emotional and physical and social partnership between two individuals. Most telling, it is a view that denies that heterosexual people can be in egalitarian marriages, or should be. It is a belief in “traditional” marriage as hierarchical. Not as a true partnership of equals, but as a microcosm of society with a power structure that flows from husband to wife to children.
Therefore, opposition to marriage equality is opposition to equality.
I don’t doubt that most if not all opponents of same-sex marriage have a strong religious opposition to homosexuality itself and do not want to see the behavior sanctioned by law and society. Surely, they see the decline of civilization in the public hand-holding of Ellen and Portia. But make no mistake — this is not just an opposition to homosexuality. This is the same opposition to single mothers. The same opposition to working mothers. And the same opposition to no-fault divorce. It is the opposition to feminists harping about men doing half the housework, and men doing it. And it is the same source of opposition to reproductive rights. What does same-sex marriage have to do with reproductive rights? Everything.
An even more frightening argument against same-sex marriage that is blasting from my TV is that the state has an interest in “procreation” — i.e. who does it and under what circumstances. This argument is not simply about who can or should raise children — indeed, it was pointed out by a lawyer during the U.S. Supreme Court hearings that many states already allow gays and lesbians to adopt and foster children, not to mention that some individuals in same-sex marriages (like their heterosexual counterparts) are raising children from previous unions.
But the discussion about same-sex marriage and children goes deeper. It is about who should bear children and under what circumstances. In other words, controlling women’s reproductive behavior. We often hear the case of Loving v. Virginia (1967) — the landmark U.S. Supreme Court case undoing the ban on interracial marriage — brought up as an example or precedent for expanding civil rights when it comes to marriage. But equally as relevant to the current political climate, I would argue, is the 1965 case of Griswold v. Connecticut, in which the U.S. Supreme Court decided that married couples could use contraception. Let me repeat that: the United States Supreme Court had to decide that a married woman could practice birth control. And if you think that decision is untouchable and safely entrenched in the history books, then you haven’t been paying attention to threats to access to not only abortion, but birth control, in recent political battles.
Make no mistake, the “traditional marriage” camp is coming from the same quarters as the continued opposition to and attacks on contraception, abortion rights, or no-fault divorce. Along with same-sex marriage, all of these things do threaten so-called “traditional” marriage because they empower individuals to make choices about their sexual and procreative lives. They threaten patriarchy, which is the real tradition here. But to supporters of “traditional” marriage, the issue of marriage itself is not about privacy or sexual freedom. Indeed, I heard a traditional marriage activist say today that marriage has “nothing to do with personal intimacy.” That might come as a shock to those of us who view our committed relationships (legally married or not) in exactly those terms.
Instead, the conservative/traditional view of marriage is grounded not in the pursuit of personal freedom or individual happiness or rights, but in gender essentialism — in the belief that the purpose of marriage is procreation and that woman’s highest role is as wife and mother. The questions in the Griswold case are the same as those in the debate about same-sex marriage today: What is the definition and meaning of marriage if it’s not about procreation? How to define the sexuality of women if not exclusively around reproduction?
Just as the Pill separated sex from reproduction, same-sex marriage threatens to finally separate gender from marriage. (This is not to say that gays and lesbians in same-sex couples do not ever take on gendered roles within their relationships, only that same-sex marriage exposes the lie that gender is directly related to biological sex.) The lawyer arguing before the U.S. Supreme Court last week admitted that “the main concern [for opponents of same-sex marriage] is redefining marriage as a genderless institution.” Let that sink in for a moment.
Opponents to same-sex marriage reject the idea that marriage should be redefined as “genderless.” Feminism has been arguing for genderless marriage — for marriage equality — for decades! Most of that focus has been on equality within marriage — in matters of housework, childrearing, and sexual satisfaction. Same-sex marriage is the next step in the struggle for marriage equality, but also in the broader struggle for gender equality. So, yeah, same-sex marriage does threaten traditional marriage. And that is why it is being resisted as vigorously as women’s rights and African American civil rights were (are) resisted. It’s not just a matter of a “right to privacy” or live and let live. We are trying to argue it as such. But it’s more foundation-shaking than that. The opposition to same-sex marriage is opposition to a half century of feminist redefinitions of and challenges to “traditional” marriage that have brought us to this historic moment. To quote Ellen one last time, “Asking who’s the ‘man’ and who’s the ‘woman’ in a same-sex relationship is like asking which chopstick is the fork.”
Hmm. As a human being in female form with a brain more typical of a human being in male form, I’ve never been convinced that this stuff is simple. I don’t consider myself transgender; it’s simply that I’m not neurotypical for my phenotype. Neither was my mother. I grew up in a male/female two-parent household, and for most practical purposes it had two fathers.
The Catholic explanation of innate gender was presented to me many times, usually nicely, while I was in my teens, and it never made sense to me when I tried to apply it to myself. It simply doesn’t fit my experience of being human. I can see that it works for some other people, with their own perceptions of being human, and I recognize that I’m not in charge of their experience. I’m not going to tell them, “I know this doesn’t work for you, because it doesn’t work for me.” That wouldn’t make sense and it wouldn’t be respectful or fair to them. But I require the same consideration for myself and for others for whom that model doesn’t work.
Because of my nonstandard gender identity I’ve had a life that has forced me to keep looking at these issues. My existence itself is a refutation of many limiting ideas about gender, not just of the Catholic understanding of it. I decided during those teen years that a gay human being is a human being. I mean, a full human being. Nothing inherently wrong about it. That was nearly 40 years ago and while I’ve re-examined that conclusion, the conclusion itself hasn’t changed. It was a conscious commitment to choosing love that led to it, and that commitment hasn’t changed.
“The Sabbath was made for man, not man for the Sabbath.” Marriage as an institution should serve human need, and human need is not exactly the same for one human being as it is for the next. People who are committed to each other for life often can benefit from the framework that marriage provides. Society benefits from such stable commitments, whether dyadic or poly; making legal marriage available on a basis of equality supports them.
As human beings, we can in fact choose love. Sometimes, if we work at it, we can even grow up. Can human institutions grow up? I hope so.
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Very interesting article and comments. I’ve come to believe that gender roles arose out of necessity of the times. Long before the Industrial Revolution changed our society and how we live, the roles of males and females became entrenched in traditions that made sense at the time. It is much easier for a pregnant female to stay home (wherever or whatever that meant at the time) and for the man to hunt. It would have been impractical to give birth or bring a baby on a hunt (remember there was a time without baby bottles and formula), therefore, it made sense for men to be “breadwinners” and women to be “housewives”. I believe religion reinforced these roles and supports the notion of male dominance and superiority, based on these traditional roles. Even today, most people steer their children in the direction of gender specific roles and ideas. How many baby showers have you been to where you shop blue for boys and pink for girls? How many easy bake ovens do little boys get? How many little girls get toy trucks? I’m sure you see it more now than when I was growing up, but I never could understand it. I grew up playing with boys; there were no girls my age, so I played with both girl and boy toys. I had much fun with both. Gender specific roles no longer apply in our society in the way they once did, but it will take time before we think differently in this regard. It’s about choice. I believe being homosexual (or other) is not a choice and people should not be discriminated against (certainly not hated) for it. Marriage, however, is a choice and one we should be able to make for ourselves, regardless of gender or sexuality.
After reading the article my eyes were opened even wider. Though I am a believer in equal rights for all, and the right for all to marry, the history of gender roles are being confused with sexuality. The church will continue to press forward with their thought process of homosexuality being a sin. We will never change that. However, as I listen to the young people of today, many are very open and believe that everyone is equal. I do believe that we will see marriage legal at some point for everyone. Many Christians are “scared” of traditional marriage going to the wayside, even though there is no evidence this will happen. By allowing everyone to commit and take on the responsibilities and opportunities that marriage allows through the federal and state systems actually helps the economy and hopefully enlighten the nation to the fact that there is no difference in love. Everyone has the right to love who they please, to marry with all the responsibilities and legalities it affords, and to raise children in a loving, caring home. As we see divorce rates increase, and single parents are no longer looked down upon, it gives me hope that this will also carry over to the gay community. As I am in a lesbian relationship, and was married to a man for 20 years, I see no difference other than two women who love each other. Gender as defined by society is no longer the norm for our country, as women have become the breadwinner and the husband the stay at home dad. Can’t we all just rejoice in two people loving each other enough to commit? Hopefully….one day 🙂
What drives me nuts about this debate is the religious aspect of it. Let’s not pretend that the ONLY reason this debate isn’t an open-shut case – as I do believe it’s pretty clear in science and history that gender-identity is just as inborn as sex, and that U.S. law should not by any means obstruct the civil rights of law-abiding citizens – is due to Christianity. Not morality – Christianity. Those two ARE similar, but NOT the same. The U.S. government is based on Kantian ethics of morality – that human beings are unique in that they have dignity based on their ability to choose freely what to do with their lives, and they have a fundamental moral right to have these choices respected. The other subsidiary rights to this philosophy are as such: 1) the right to the truth (e.g. factual evidence) that may significantly affect choices; 2) the right to privacy in personal lives (so long as we don’t violate the rights of others); 3) the right not to be injured, unless we freely and knowingly do something to deserve punishment and risk such injury; and 4) the right to what has been promised by others (e.g. in contract). So… 1) Research on brain functionality and genetics supports that homosexuality is biologically predisposed, while research does not show that same-sex marriage harms children raised by such couples or otherwise. 2) Homosexual couples deserve the same privacy as heterosexual couples, which means not having their sex- or emotional-life under question by the public or the law, given that it does not violate any others’ rights (as there is no right to be comfortable with others’ decisions and, as previously noted, children are not adversely affected by it). 3) It could be argued that homosexuals do not “freely” engage in homosexual acts and therefore do not deserve harm or punishment. Homosexual acts to a homosexual are as “free” as your decision to sleep in a bed rather than on the floor, in that it is “freely” made because it is the healthier decision. It’s more comfortable, if you don’t it will cause damage over time, and the choice has no direct, significant affect on others. And 4) all law-abiding citizens of the U.S. have been promised life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness in the nation’s greatest contract between government and people.
I thought it was interesting that an earlier commenter pointed out that the Catholic church recognizes homosexuality as an inborn disposition that must be bore by the individual. I wonder why that sentiment is not broadcast? I have always wondered why Christians are even fighting the law being changed. I’m not a Christian, but in Catholic school I learned that God gave us free will because he wanted us to CHOOSE him. Makes sense – if you can’t choose God over something more tempting because you have no free will, then the act wouldn’t be all that special. So why don’t Christians see this as a test to mankind? If the law allows homosexual marriage, wouldn’t that just up the ante for Christians who choose God anyways? God seemed to have a habit of throwing his followers in the desert to be tempted by the Devil when he wanted them to prove their love for Him. Isn’t this the same? Making the choice to God more difficult just seems to make it more meaningful for Christians… what’s the problem, then?
Hey everyone – Jacki here – the co-founder and executive editor of Nursing Clio. This has been an absolutely fascinating discussion. I am very proud that this post has created such an intelligent and well-mannered debate. If you’ve posted a comment and it hasn’t appeared in the thread it means that you somehow violated our commenting policy. This means your comment probably included name-calling or rudeness.
As our commenting policy clearly states:
“While we at Nursing Clio value the free exchange of ideas and opinions, we reserve the right to edit and/or delete any comments of an abusive, absurd, irrelevant, or nonsensical nature. We require that posted comments meet our standard for civil discourse. As in the salons of previous centuries, boorish behavior will not be excused.”
[…] been thinking a lot about this article. It creates a thunderstorm of emotion for me, because it is an exact description of the kind of […]
[…] just found this BRILLIANT and well-written post that everyone should read. Same-sex marriage is threatening because […]
Not sure how to link this…5,000 trans skeleton believed to be found…
The comments about how “it takes a man and a woman to raise a child,” have always bothered me as the child of divorced parents. My mother more or less raised my sister and I, and we were lucky that my father fought hard to have a presence.
In my book, claiming that two women can’t raise children says even worse things about one woman attempting to do the same. My mother is an incredible woman, and the implication that she couldn’t do what she did solo is insulting.
[…] Tiffany Wayne suggests something deeper that I find more likely: Defense of “traditional marriage” is really about defending traditional gender roles. Same-sex marriage is threatening because it frames marriage as a negotiated relationship between equals, not as the divinely mandated submission of a wife/mother to the authority of a husband/father, each of whom has a well defined, divinely mandated role in the household. […]
Reblogged this on Queer Landia and commented:
If my sexuality and/or my relationship truly threaten the stability of outdated, socially constructed, baseless and oppressive gender roles, then they are weapons of mass destruction that I am only too happy to wield.
Thanks for reblogging!
[…] just reblogged a thoughtful and brilliantly insightful post from the blog Nursing Clio on which I have a few thoughts that I didn’t want to include in a […]
Thank you for your viewpoint.I wholeheartedly agree.The lines of female male roles should not be altered and only lead to confusion about what is expected from a male or female.
It’s not clear if you are responding to my original post or to one of the previous comments? In my post I am certainly not saying that gender roles should not be altered… quite the opposite. 🙂
[…] Here is an excellent essay on why some people are threatened by gay marriage. Not because gays marrying threaten the institution of marriage, but because they threaten traditional gender roles. […]
“They threaten patriarchy, which is the real tradition here.”
Oops. Do they not threaten matriarchy as well? Are you saying that there are no mothers against same-sex marriage?
Here’s the thing. What I would like is for someone to go out an find all of the oldest references to marriage in writings…not just the Bible. What I’m looking and what we should be seeking is a definition of the word itself. If you find the oldest references of marriage, and they all essentially state that it is the union of one man and one woman, then is that not the definition?
See, I can change the words to associate to different definitions that describe unions. From now on I will refer to unions in this fashion.
Man and Woman – MarriageForReal
Man and Man – Marriage
Woman and Woman – Marriage
Man and Woman and Woman – MarriageAlot
Woman and Animal – Sick
Then I’ll say
That man and woman are married for real.
That man and man are married.
That woman and woman are married.
That man and woman and woman are married alot.
That woman and animal are sick.
In saying that, I have to ask – is it the rights that you want or the word…or did you just want something because someone else had it? If the latter is the case, in 2000 years will you want MarriageForReals instead of just Marriages?
Bill – I’m pretty sure that patriarchy, in this context, is not about individual father’s beliefs about same-sex marriage. Matriarchy is not the opposite of patriarchy, or about individual mothers’ beliefs about same-sex marriage. Dr. Wayne’s post, as I understand it, is about the structure of patriarchy, which is the political, economic, cultural system under which most societies are organized and function. In this piece, marriage is understood to be an institution that reinforces the structure of patriarchy.
Patriarchal social organization predates the bible, but regardless of when and how the first textural reference describes marriage, why should this be the final word on its current social expression? If this were our cultural methodology, we would still have slavery, human sacrifice, public stoning and other various social norms documented in the bible and elsewhere.
At the personal, relational level, for LGBTQ individuals and their families, access to marriage holds various personal meanings, just as it does for straight folks. Unlike straight folks, one of these meanings is that of full inclusion in the social fabric of our society, in other words: equality. At the level of our ever-evolving “more perfect union,” marriage equality is about civil rights, period.
However, at the macro level of the deep patriarchal structure of society, which in my view, is at the heart of Dr. Wayne’s post, same -sex marriage challenges the very foundations of patriarchy by asserting that patriarchal beliefs about gender, specifically about the place of women, and by extension, the other marginalized groups.
For more on the relationship between homophobia and patriarchy, see John Stoltenberg’s brilliant book, Refusing to be a Man ( 1989, 2000).
For an excellent overview of matriarchal social systems, see Societies of Peace: Matriarchies Past, Present, and Future, edited by Heide Goettner-Abendroth (2009).
Oh please! Hey, if you want to believe in what you call traditional and proper gender roles then have at it. I could not care less because it’s none of my business. And if you want to raise your children to believe the same that’s just fine and dandy with me as well. I’m certainly not going to tell you what you can or can not do. I only ask that you not discriminate against me for having a different belief about gender roles. Get it?
You are completely missing the point of my post, unless you are responding to one of the comments above?? If you read beyond the title of my post you will see that I am arguing AGAINST traditional gender roles.
I’m pretty sure that the words “human sacrifice” and “public stoning” still mean the exact same thing they did thousands of years ago when used in conjunction with each other. I’m not talking about ethics, I’m talking about definitions. I’m saying, this word was created to specifically define this specific circumstance. Now, you are saying you want a different circumstance to be defined under the same word. It seems to me that you want the word and don’t care whose belief system your actions may or may not infringe on. Rights, at this point, are secondary.
Well, fair enough re: the definitions of “human sacrifice” and “public stoning” But maybe you should think about ethics, Bill.
In terms of definitions, however, many do evolve and change over time. I expect you’ll recognize these lines from our founding document, “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.” The definition of “equal” at the time applied only to white, male property owners. Only they were endowed with these “unalienable rights,” poor people, women, Native Americans, and enslaved African- Americans were not so endowed, nor were they enfranchised. In our “pursuit of a more perfect union,” we have expanded the definition of “equal” significantly.
You write: “you want a different circumstance to be defined under the same word [i.e. marriage]. It seems to me that you want the word and don’t care whose belief system your actions may or may not infringe on.” Bill, I feel I have to point out that this appears to be a bit of projection on your part. I could easily argue that you are, in fact, the one who seems not to care whose belief system your actions may or may not infringe on, including the belief systems of lots of straight folks.
I’m pretty sure not all straight folks share your belief system or definition of marriage. I know lots of straight folks who think marriage is unimportant, a joke even. Also there are polygamists, open marriages, serial monogamists, marriages of convenience,
arranged marriage, financial marriages…all of these are based upon straight people’s beliefs about marriage. Gay men and lesbians also have a wide variety of beliefs about marriage.
Which is why the Declaration of Independence refers to the endowment of “certain unalienable rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.” This reference to rights is in there so that one cannot assert as you do, that ” Rights, at this point, are secondary.” Well, one can assert, but one would be wrong. The reason for these RIGHTS is to prevent the “beliefs of one group, usually those in the majority, from infringing upon the RIGHTS of others, usually, except in the case of women, those in the minority. And given the givens of human diversity, our system of governance was established, primarily, to achieve this.
P.S. There are those who claim that the very first textural reference to marriage defined it as a union of two men based on property ownership. I haven’t corroborated this claim, but wouldn’t it be a hoot if true?
The last comment you made actually made a legitimate argument…if the definition of marriage was that two men created a union then there could be an argument over what the original definition was. Now, you mention polygamy and these others. When I read polygamy, I read marriage between one member of one sex and multiple members of the other sex. When I read open marriage, I read open union of one man and one woman. When I read marriage of convenience, I read union of one man and one woman for convenience, etc, etc. It’s the definition that was created a long time ago. Here is the problem I see. If our oldest definitions of marriage stem from religious texts that say it is a union between one man and one woman, doesn’t it seem ludicrous to attempt to be redefining it? Particularly when those religious texts specifically call out the thing you want to include in the definition as an abomination? Now, if there are older texts which state it doesn’t matter who or what is involved in a union in order for it to be called a marriage, then I believe the argument becomes far more valid.
Here is something I wish people would consider. When these things were written long ago, what do you think the reason for purposely not including homosexuals in their definition was, going so far as to say they will absolutely not be included? Were the ancients just homophobes? Why would they do that?
“When these things were written long ago, what do you think the reason for purposely not including homosexuals in their definition was, going so far as to say they will absolutely not be included? Were the ancients just homophobes? Why would they do that?”
The short answer is that my post speaks *precisely* to this point. That marriage has historically been about controlling women’s reproduction and securing property rights (in children, in inheritance), and so there was no need to address homosexuality (non-procreative sex) in the context of marriage as a patriarchal social institution. Your comment and question here brings it around to my original point: i.e. that same-sex marriage is a challenge to “traditional” definitions of marriage, and that’s a good thing.
Seems to me marriage was implemented to reduce philandering.
Bill – My references to polygamy, open marriage, marriages of convenience, etc were simply to point out that many straight people do not ascribe to your belief systems about marriage, which according to you is defined by “religious texts that say it is a union between one man and one woman.” The point is that there are many belief systems about marriage, not just yours, therefore is unreasonable to assert that yours is the only valid one. In any event, your choices of issues to address only serve to distract from the point of the original post.
Your last question goes to the point of the original post. You ask, “Here is something I wish people would consider. When these things were written long ago, what do you think the reason for purposely not including homosexuals in their definition was, going so far as to say they will absolutely not be included? Were the ancients just homophobes? Why would they do that?
They defined marriage as they did because it was meant to be a contract about property…wife and any property she brought to the marriage (dowery, money, land, slaves, etc) and eventual children as property of the husband. The wife had no rights to any of the marriage’s assets, including her children. This was not a romantic contract with any regard to love, etc.
This is the answer to your question and I’ve actually considered it at length, for years and can tell you that this information is readily available for your review…including in the bible if you read it. Not that religion should have any place in the conversation about equal civil rights.
Bill is right about definitions. If the Church was Apple Inc., they’d be suing all the people that are calling their union a ‘marriage’ over copyright or trademark infringement.
No, sorry, but he’s not. The Church did not come up with the term ‘marriage’ nor did it define it until the 14th century–well after its origins in prehistory. There were people getting ‘married’ way before the Bible, and not all of those participating in it were of opposite sex.
Minimal reading in historical texts will show you marriages between people of the same sex in ancient England, Rome, Greece, China, Ireland, Germany, Native America… it goes on. Pick up a history book. Look up a definition of marriage that wasn’t written by a church. Good grief, you can’t even dip into a cursory history of the ancient Celts or the Gauls or the Pagans without coming away with at least a small education in the male/male dynamic.
Just because the Church has appropriated the word ‘marriage’ does not mean they own it or that they invented it. Marriage existed before Judaism or Christianity did, and it existed in varying forms in varying lands. If the Church wants exclusive rights to a word to define the unions they’ll sanction, that’s fine–let them invent a new one. It’s all theirs. Just because they want ‘marriage’ doesn’t mean they can just take it and horde it for themselves. It doesn’t belong to them.
“Seems to me marriage was implemented to reduce philandering.”
Good point – but don’t assume that’s for moral reasons. The problem with philandering – historically speaking – is that paternity could not be established. Back to issue of property rights.
“(And so, you see, proponents of same-sex marriage are not actually supporting the granting of rights, but rather the taking away of rights… of children”
No I don’t see how having the RIGHT to a mother and father takes away any other RIGHT to the kid.
Does the no reply mean the author has no definition of marriage? If so, how does she say anything at all about it since it is an undefined concept?
It is not an undefined concept. You and I may define it differently – in religious or social terms – but that does not mean it’s undefined. For our purposes (that is, for the Supreme Court’s purposes), marriage is a recognized legal family unit. For better or worse (pun intended, haha), the state has long ago determined it has an interest In promoting marriage and so it confers certain rights and privileges upon married couples and families.
In this blog post I am debating the social terms or consequences of same-sex marriage, but the question before the Court is not whether a certain type of marriage is valid, in religious or sexual or even social terms, or whether it “changes” marriage, but whether it is unconstitutional to deny rights to one specific group of citizens that are already enjoyed by other citizens.
It’s undefined in this article, which is why I’m asking you to define marriage according to your understanding of marriage. The one you gave as the working “concept,” allegedly used by the Supreme Court, is by no means a definition.
If I had to guess at your definition I’d say it has something to do with the legal recognized union between two people who love each other, or something to that extent. You were bold enough to write the article, I’m only asking you to be bold enough to give your definition of marriage so that I can make sense of what you have to say on the matter.
Marriage is a social institution that is in essence a legally binding contract between two adults, currently in most states a male and female adult. This contract ascribes certain rights (such as tax benefits, inheritance, next of kin privileges in hospitals) and responsibilities (such as care of children if there are any) to the individuals in the couple that can only be dissolved by divorce. Some folks love each other when they enter into this institution, some marry for other reasons.
Ann, that’s a fairly sterile definition of marriage. Sounds like any other legal contract; one may as well be making a real estate transaction as the boundary lines set by your definition allow for pretty much any sort of interpretation one may with to make.
That’s my first push-back, my second would be according to your view there is absolutely no reason why marriage (as nothing more than a legal contract with the purpose of allowing mutual tax, hospital, inheritance and other like benefits)should be denied to same-sex couples (since it is essentially a meaningless term at that point), but by what authority do you make such a case for the definition of marriage? In other words, for the vast majority of mankind since the dawn of civilization people have had very different ideas about marriage than what you propose, what makes yours the one that should be considered by the US Supreme Court?
Why not push for legislation allowing for the same rights and privileges for “civil unions” rather than marriage? That makes a lot more sense and I think you’d have buy in from the majority of your opponents.
It’s not a sterile definition – marriage IS a legal contract, that’s exactly what we’re talking about. We’re not talking about romance here. It doesn’t matter if I define MY marriage in terms of committment, love, sex, loyalty, etc., we are talking about the legal rights accorded to marriage, which are nothing new. I disagree that “for the vast majority of mankind since the dawn of civilization peole have had very different ideas about marriage than what you propose.” NOT AT ALL. Marriage in Western society has ALWAYS been about rights – to property, to citizenship, to women’s reproductive capabilities – whether formally set down in law or regulated informally by social and moral codes. Indeed, the idea of marriage as romantic love is what is NEW, historically speaking.
We (marriage equality proponents) are not redefining marriage as a legal concept or asking the Supreme Court to consider different “ideas” about marriage, per se – we are just asking for expansion of rights to include more people. That is it, plain and simple.
There are many books about the history of marriage for anyone interested. In the U.S. context I would start with Nancy Cott’s _Public Vows: A History of Marriage and the Nation_. (Harvard, 2000).
If you want to go even further back in history, to ancient times, take a look at Gerda Lerner’s _ The Creation of Patriarchy_ (Oxford, 1986).
Ah, but everyone is already included, we are all held to the same legal status of marriage – i.e. I am only allowed to marry one woman, I am not allowed to marry a man; a gay man is held to the same standard, thus there is no inequality from a legal standpoint. If marriage is to be whittled down to a mere legal contract for the reasons mentioned above (taxes, inheritances, etc) then I as a straight man should be able to marry any other man for the sole purpose of gaining such rights, which could come in handy if my male friend and I want to secure extra tax benefits, etc.
Do you see where this is going?…
There is no inequality happening here. However, if you want to argue that same-sex marriage is more than a mere legal contract and inject an enormous amount of moral reasoning/debating, that’s a whole separate issue. But I’m fairly confident that neither you nor any other same-sex proponent is willing to make the moral argument for the simple reason that one must argue by what “authority” they make such arguments. In short, they must argue that their moral reasoning is superior to their opponents, which is impossible and it becomes a stalemate. The same-sex crowd does not want a stalemate, thus they reduce the debate to a ridiculous level – that of being a mere legal contract.
Again, why not just argue for stronger civil union rights?
You think you’ve uncovered some loophole in the logic of claims to inequality, but it is my argument that it IS sex/gender-based discrimination for the law to dictate that you can only marry a person of the opposite sex.
Its discrimination that you cannot marry multiple persons of the opposite sex. Why stop with one? I’m a raging polygamist; and it wasn’t my choice, I was born that way.
Back on task… I think I’ve uncovered that you do not have an actual working definition of marriage, except to say that its a “legal contract.” You want marriage to be undefined in any serious sense, and this is the “logic” that I’m interested in uncovering about your article. Those of us who oppose same-sex marriage do it for the sake of preserving what “marriage” means and not for the purpose of discriminating against gays and lesbians.
Btw, are you opposed to bisexuals marrying both the man they love and the woman they love? If not, why the inequality?
But why should more definition be required than that it is a legal contract? That is what it was for centuries before religion (or love) was brought into the equation, centuries before Christianity even existed. It was necessary to make the contract legal and binding, because property and inheritance rights depended on it. If you look at the proliferation of laws and customs regarding inheritance as determined by parentage, sex, and birth order, it becomes obvious that marriage had far more to do with property than it did with religion. In fact, the wife and children were treated as the man’s property in most legal systems.
The church’s role, when it had a role, was to bless the union, not to validate it. When the church was powerful, that blessing was important. The church generally had stricter rules than the state, such as the Roman Catholic prohibition of remarriage after divorce, but the church’s rules only governed those who chose to be governed by them. People could still be married by civil authorities, ships’ captains, or ministers of faiths with different rules, and as long as the proper legal papers were filed, the marriage was valid.
As others have pointed out, and as is obvious from even a casual reading of the Bible, one-man-one-woman is actually a fairly recent definition, a change from centuries of polygamy. Other variations have been recognized in other cultures at other times. Religion has not always been involved in getting married. The one constant has been property and inheritance.
You want marriage to keep on being what YOU think it ought to be. Fine. So stay within a church that agrees to bless only that type of marriage, and you’ll be happy. But marriage is a civil contract, and it should be the right of any two adults to enter into that contract and enjoy the privileges the state offers as an incentive for doing so.
My view is that opponents to same-sex marriage missed the boat on “civil unions,” which have been proposed and passed at the state level for years now, withou bi-partisan support at the federal level. Instead, opponents put their energies into DOMA.
First of all, I appreciate your dissenting voice, Eric. It makes the conversation that much more interesting, even if most of what you say seems spurious and nonsensicle, to me.
I actually am of the opinion that polygamy is fine…for those who choose it, as well as polygyny ( a woman marrying more than one man). There is historical context for both of these situations in many cultures. i think maybe the reason polygamy is outlawed in most cases, and rightfully so, is that it has been used in the past as an excuse for child sex slavery. The harems of old, and the mormon culture are two examples. When three (or more) adults enter in to such a relationship willingly, I can find no reason for objection.
Also, re civil unions. First, that term is very loose, and has been defined in many ways. So one state will have it mean some things, and another leaves out certain aspects, including rights, in the definition. Marriage, as a legal state of being, had a long term definition, and so is more desirable.
Also, there are a great many gay and lesbian Christians, who actually hold the word marriage in high value, and they would like to be have the right to be at the table.
Thank you for a very informative article.
[…] “Same-Sex Marriage Does Threaten ‘Traditional’ Marriage” at Nursing Clio (Gender Socialization, Sex and Culture, Marriage) […]
In regards to Carole C’s comment about same-sex marriage in antiquity and in non-Western cultures, I want to add something. Many of these ancient and non-Western customs did not relate to homosexuality as we understand it today– that is to say, a specifically sexual relationship. Some of them related to nonsexual relationships, since other cultures have been more expressive of emotional passion in friendship than we are, and often treated close friends literally as family, with corresponding ritual and economic obligations. (An example of this would be the medieval Catholic custom of gossipry– a ceremony joining “siblings before God,” who, like other siblings, were expected to be nonsexual.) In other cultures, it didn’t matter whether the relationship was sexual or not. (Some ancient Greek writers made this assumption– the friendship was the key source of passion, and whether it was expressed sexually or not was simply irrelevant.) Some types were sexual but had more of the flavor of our concept of transgender–one of the partners in the marriage took on the opposite sex-role within the society. And yes, other types of “gay marriage” are more like the type that is being proposed today, specifically referring to a sexual relationship between two male-identified or female-identified people.
Yes, of course, some people we would understand as sexually “gay” could have their relationships celebrated by calling themselves “siblings before God” and not telling anybody they have sex. But it is anachronistic and ethnocentric to assume that that is the only way they could feel strongly for each other. In fact– and I say this as a bisexual man– nonsexual same-sex love is the most common type, and in most non-Anglo cultures it is expressed rather more effusively than we do here in America.
I want to add that I am a strong supporter of marriage equality– my main concern is that it does not go far enough, since it legally excludes more-than-two-partner households and makes the continued cultural assumption that sexual relationships are always more worthy of ritual respect. So I am not a conservative. Homosexuality in the sexual sense is fine– I do it myself sometimes! But it is not the same as same-sex love, and to respect same-sex love requires us to go beyond what even most radical Gay Liberationists are willing to consider. Not only is love tender and knowing no gender, as it were, it also knows no sexuality. There are many people in our culture who can’t imagine a friendship being as “passionate or deeply felt” as a romantic relationship. But there are also many people in other cultures where that is a key assumption– even our own ancestors defined friendship as “the highest form of intimacy” in Samuel Johnson’s 18th century dictionary, and the word derives from an Anglo-Saxon term meaning “beloved.”
And there are many people in our culture who remain attached to spouses after the sex has faded from the relationship, or to lifelong friends. If you truly believe sexuality is necessary for a long-term relationship, how can you explain the existence of lifelong friendship at all? And yet, it exists worldwide, in almost every culture, even in those cultures that claim friendship is not that important.
No, love knows no gender, and it knows no sexuality– as we can see from the diversity of past relationship celebrations, neither homosexuality nor heterosexuality is innately required for a significant chosen relationship between people of either sex. We have come a long way in understanding this as a culture. We still have a long way to go.
I have played the role of mother to my children without thought or hesitation. I did the traditional things usually associated with females. Cooking, cleaning, bandaging, wiping of tears, school meetings. At the same time I was doing the traditional male role. Attending sporting events, practices, Heck, on senior recognition days I got the mom flowers they give out at the games! And I am damn proud of that. Never thought of “roles” really. I did what needed to be done. My ex took over the sometimes “male role” of excessive drinking, staying out all night and cheating. I guess we were cutting edge in our lifestyle. lol All this opposition to same sex marriage stems from not religious beliefs, but economics. Insur, co’s and others that have to cover spouses want to limit the payouts. I don’t really think they give two nugents who marries whom, they just don’t want to cover twice as many spouses. The idiots in the religious right (wrong) are being used to fight this. They are too stupid to realize what’s going on. Thye are used as a voting block to fight anything that benefits everyday Americans and makes corporations and millionaires pay their fair share. None of them are protesting divorce. Divorce is the real assault on marriage. No one is protesting extra-marital affairs that lead to the break up of hundreds of thousands of traditional marriages. Jeebus Cripes, Limbaugh is on his fourth wife and Newt is on his third. That’s the sanctity of marriage? Not a word about it. It is all a smoke screen to hide the agenda.
[…] Here is a great article on marriage equality. Same-Sex Marriage Does Threaten Traditional Marriage […]
Absolutely marvelous. It is nice to see someone else writing about the ties between heterosexism, cis-sexism, and sexism in general.
Excellent article. I’m doing a write up for my Facebook on why marriage equality matters, in response to those in the queer community who consider it a frivolous issue focused on weddings and cake. I plan to post it on Wednesday evening New Zealand time, which is when full marriage equality should pass its final reading in our parliament (we already have civil unions, this is to allow for marriage and amend adoption laws). It’s very exciting and a time for celebration even as we also keep a close eye on the US Supreme Court.
I found this article by Googling one of my two key reasons why I believe that marriage equality is revolutionary, to see whether anyone else had written something convincing and clear (I’ve read other similarly-themed pieces in the past so I knew they were out there). I’ll link to it in support of what I’ve written because it goes into more detail about my own point. Thank you, and I agree that marriage equality is a major threat to heterosexual marriage as it exists today because it cuts to the heart of the issue of gender and dominance/hierarchy. I’m actually very glad that conservatives have not been able to elucidate a clear response to “how does this threaten your marriage?” because I honestly think that talking more about this particular destabilisation of heterosexual marriage would really rally support for the anti-equality groups in a way that, “Gays: ew, God told me so” does not.
Thanks so much for the feedback and glad you found my post.
Heki, I agree that it’s good that the anti-equality crowd hasn’t come up with a clear articulation of how same-sex marriage threatens straight marriages. For me, on an individual level it doesn’t threaten individual straight marriages. And this is where most of their rhetoric remains: pandering to personal ignorance, prejudice and fears.
If any of their ilk is actually capable of unpacking the issues regarding patriarchy and gender to make such an argument, they would be acknowledging the intersectional structures of oppression, In other words, they would have to pull back the proverbial curtain on the patriarchal plutocracy…not gonna happen IMHO. 🙂
Very well put, Ann. I’m stealing the ‘lifting the veil on patriarchy’ (or curtain) idea as that’s exactly what it is. I doubt most could unpack it anyway but you’re quite right that it would be far too damaging to all their other bullshit gender rhetoric even if they could actualise the idea.
I am the proud daughter of a lesbian cupule. i have found in my parents and in other lesbian parents that the two parents take on two different roles. That same structure is there, I still got a stable healthy family. The gender of my parents did not hinder or negatively affect me or my siblings.