Why I Support Marriage Equality

I’ve been talking about marriage equality a lot. Of course I’m ecstatic for my gay friends in New York who will now be able to marry. But I have to admit, I think there’s a lot of benefit here for us heterosexuals as well.

Dan Savage once remarked that gays made better lovers, because they actually have to talk about making love. Every heterosexual couple knows that tab A goes into slot B, well before things get serious. This leads to a tendency to think that the whole tab A/slot B operation is the most important thing, or even the only thing. Lacking one of the those parts, homosexuals have to put a little more thought into it.

I’m hoping that homosexuals will turn out to be better spouses as well as better lovers.

In America we’ve made tremendous progress on changing the nature on marriage. The people who complain that we’ve redefined marriage are a century too late. We’ve dismantled coverture, we’ve relaxed divorce laws and we’ve struck down anti-miscegenation laws. Legally, we’ve made marriage more egalitarian and more personal. But socially, the assumption that marriage is just a pair of interlocking gender roles still lingers.

I was reminded of this recently when I was doing an online survey for an advertising company. I got to see a string of ads from various makers of prepared food. Every single one of the commercials had the same plot: wife cooks, husband and children (hard to tell the difference) eat, and wife is looking for a way to spend less time in the kitchen while still satisfying her hubby.

Hopefully, same gendered couples are going to have more freedom from social expectations to define their own relationships. Since they can’t fall into the same standardized gender roles any more than they can have heterosexual sex, they’ll be free to work out their own relationship.

If California can make the next step, then something like 1/4 of the population will have marriage equality. As homosexual couples become more visible in this new climate, hopefully people will come to realize that the way our parents lived is not the way that we have to live. Pressure on heterosexual couples to try and recreate the standard sitcom nuclear family might then begin to relax.

And we’ll have taken the next step in the process of moving marriage way from being an institution and towards being a relationship. Rather than being a set of obligations defined from outside, the relationship could be something that’s negotiated by the participants.

(I tend to think in terms of gender roles here. Other people might be more radical and think of poly relationships or open marriage, which are other possibilities. My own marriage – eleven years today and still extremely happy – is pretty white-bread. Everything else looks like it would take way too much energy.)

  • http://knightsmovebrain.wordpress.com/ zach

    When I marry, I want to be cooking meals.

  • Zotz

    We have come a long way. When I was growing up Lucy and Ricky had to have separate twin beds…

  • UrsaMinor

    Same-sex couples can still have heterosexual sex. Just not with each other. Seriously, I’m willing to bet that as same-sex marriages become more common, cases of infidelity with opposite-sex partners will begin to surface. Once the binary-gendered-relationship straitjacket is unbuckled, you will see some interesting behavioral crossovers. Sex is sex. Sex is fun. People like to have sex. Research indicates that there is a vast middle ground between strict heterosexuality and strict homosexuality that we don’t often acknowledge or talk about as a culture.

    • Nelly

      I am bisexual

      and I approve this message

  • Olaf

    Just a question for those that promote marriage with equal gender.
    Would you also promote marriage with more than 2 people? Would you like it that your partner suddenly propose that he/she also want to marry a second person?

    I just want to know if those that are all for equal gender, do not get scared of other variants of marriage that are equally valid.

    • UrsaMinor

      I am not opposed to plural marriages per se. I am a little leery of historical and current examples of polygamy (Islam and splinter sectors of the Mormons), because they are built around the idea of an unequal partnership, where the wives are defined up front as subordinate to the husband.

      I can’t think of any egalitarian examples of plural marriage from the historical record. I do personal know one polyamorous trio. One man, two women, and they are all sexual partners. They have one child. Interestingly, two of the partners recently got legally married after the three of them had been together for more than a decade, and the odd one out is the mother of the child. I have no idea why they decided to do it this way. It has always appeared to be a happy and stable arrangement, and the child is doing well, and that’s all I care about. Their reasons for doing it the way they did are none of my business.

    • trj

      I don’t see polygamic marriages as being equally valid as same-sex marriages, and I discourage the practice.

      This is due to the historical experience with polygamy. I would have no problem with it if the partners in polygamic marriages were on equal terms, but very often the women are considered worth less than the man (as illustrated by how polygamy is almost always one husband with many wives (polygyny), not one woman with many husbands (polyandry)).

      Historically, we also see that women living in polygamic societies are pressured into such marriages, and at a young age, not having much say in the matter (yes, I know this also happens in traditional marriages, but that doesn’t really help).

      If we could dissociate polygamic marriage from its unfortunate relation with autocratic, male-centric religions, societal peer pressure, and a pattern of subordination to a patriarcal family leader – well, then I’d probably look favorably at poly-marriage. But it is unrealistic to expect all this. I’m sure many people would be able to live happily in a polygamic marriage, but in practice, when endorsed by society, it leads to repression of women.

      • Elemenope

        The question becomes what must come first: liberalized marriage policies that include polymarriage, or cultural enlightenment?

        I think, historically, societies change only when confronted with some form of pressure, which lends immediacy and impetus for the change. If you allowed polymarriage in, say, the modern US, I think there would be great friction at first between the baggage you described and the social expectations of most women in American society. I think it fairly likely that would have only one outcome (one not favorable to the baggage); women-as-equals has more cultural inertia than the scattered oppressive doctrines of prior purveyors of the practice.

        • trj

          The societies that currently practice polygamy are not exactly known for being progressive or egalitarian. Though women in the USA have a higher status and social freedom, I very much doubt that (re)introducing polygamy would benefit women overall, and especially not those living in Utah.

          Maybe I’m not up to date on American cultural trends, but polygamy doesn’t seem to me to be a high wish among American women – and not nearly as high as among certain ultrareligious men – so I don’t see how it could be much of a force in a social reform.

          Perhaps in fifty years time the conditions for polygamy are suitable…

          • Noelle

            The other ladies can speak for themselves, but I for one do not wish to take on another husband. Sometimes I just want to sleep.

            • Olaf

              In polyamory it goes in two ways, you might not need a second husband, but your husband could have a second partner. So you could sleep every even day. :-)

          • Olaf

            Well I am polyamore (do not confuse with polygamy or polyginy). even though I do not have the marriage gene, I do know other polyamore people that would love to marry their multiple partners but can’t because of the same reason why gay people have a hard time to get accepted.

            The interesting thing in reality is when I would say that I am gay to people that this get better accepted than that I would say that I am polyamore. People are used to the idea that same sex people could love each other. But when you express that you have more than one partner then suddenly you are a threat to them. I have seen very stable people freaking and become hysteric out big time when they realize that their friend could be a polyamore too. I still have to be careful to express to other people that I am polyamorous.

            Don’t confuse polyamory with a mid-life crisis. People in mid-life crisis will try polyamory, but polyamory people have it in their genes. When I look at my past, the past of my girlfriend, the past of the other people I know that are polyamore, they all have this built into them. It is not something learned because none of these people have a broken household or being abused or had an polyamore example.

            Now that I see that gay people can marry, I would love to see my polyamore friends to be able to marry with multiple partners in the future. Nowadays one has to give up his/her dream just because it is forbidden.

        • Ty

          My only rule for this stuff is, “Is everyone legally allowed to give consent, and is doing so?” As long as those two things are true, I don’t care if people do same-sex, polyamory, or whatever.

          • UrsaMinor

            Phrased that way, it sounds like you must be against plural marriages because no one is legally allowed to give consent to it.

            Polyamory is an interesting case legally. In many jurisdictions, you are free to have a polyamorous relationship as long as you do not live together under one roof. There are still municipalities with ordinances against more than two unrelated adults cohabiting.

            • Ty

              By legally allowed to give consent, I mean: no longer a minor, not under compulsion or threat, and considered of sound mind. Basically anyone who can sign a contract.

            • UrsaMinor

              Ah. That’s more or less what I thought you intended to say.

            • Ty

              I did make the main character in my book the child of a polyandrous relationship.

            • UrsaMinor

              Polygynous, too. There was more than one woman in the relationship, as I recall.

            • Ty

              Yep, I meant to type ‘Polyamorous,” not polyandrous.

          • Olaf

            It had surprised me a lot of times that a lot of people have this double standards. It is OK for gay people to marry but the moment they realize that you are polyamorous then they really freak out of the idea. One time a girl forbid me to talk to her husband because I might give him some “ideas”. Another girl that I thought was very stable freaked out big time when she projected the situation on her current boyfriend already imagining that he was unfaithful.

            So do people here that promote the gay marriage also have this double standard?

            • UrsaMinor

              I am completely unfazed by polyamory. I don’t consider polyamorous people to be weird or unusual in the least. I support changes to the law so that the people who wish to do so can enter into plural marriages.

              It is really difficult for me to imagine how somebody could freak out about hearing that somebody else is polyamorous.

            • Olaf

              Well the threat is that their partner will also want to try polyamory.
              The other threat is that I might also get interested in their partner.

              It is a very funny sight when you see someone in a top position and should have nerves of steel become hysterical. The last thing you expect.
              But I also have seen the opposite, people that are scared, have neurosis just accept it you being polyamore. I have not seen any predictable pattern so far to see who will freak out or not.

    • Yoav

      Would you like it that your partner suddenly propose that he/she also want to marry a second person?

      This can happen in a heterosexual marriage as well, there is no reason to assume that same sex relationships will be in any way more susceptible.

    • CoffeeJedi

      If plural marriages are legalized, I think there would have to be some provisions built into our insurance and health care laws to stop people from simply marrying into a “family” for free insurance. Maybe limit benefits to self + 2 partners or some such.

      Also, divorces in a poly household could be extremely messy. I don’t think our legal system could handle it at the moment.

      • UrsaMinor

        I do see plural marriages are requiring a different legal approach, but this is not insurmountable. One interesting side effect might be marriages that outlast their original members. If you keep topping off with new partners as the old ones die or divorce, one particular marriage as a legal entity could exist for centuries, or indefinitely. Rather like a corporation, no?

        • http://ohmatron.wordpress.com/ Custador

          It occurred to me to wonder if a bi person could have a straight marriage and a gay civil partnership concurrently…

          • UrsaMinor

            Wouldn’t that mess with people’s heads? I’d be willing to be that there might be a loophole in the law that allows this. You can’t marry more than one partner, and you can’t have a civil union with more than one partner, but beyond that…?

        • CoffeeJedi

          Exactly! It could become rather cult-like in that way actually.

          • UrsaMinor

            It is equally easy to envision it becoming the normal way that a society functioned. Marriages would be stable, permanent entities with a changing membership over time.

            Ooh! I think I’m going to file this idea away in my brain and use it in an SF story sometime.

  • Brian M

    Perhaps one way in which poly marriage would be less suspect is if they occur in an overall social context where your understandable fears are not legally and socially enforced. Note that I would in no way claim that American society is at that point, but I would imaging plural marriages within a secular, reasonably egalitarian society might be OK??? I don’t know if this is realistic at all, but Elemnope does ask a good question above.

  • Brian M

    Oops. I think Elemope is saying (more eloquently and clearly) the same thing as I am. carry on!

    • UrsaMinor

      Carrying on is our specialty around here.

  • Noelle

    Congrats on the 11th anniversary!

    Will be my 12th in a little over a month. Those advertisers you speak of haven’t been to my house. I work full-time. My husband is the stay at home dad. He does almost all the cooking. And for good reason too, he’s a great cook and I’m so absent minded I forget important stuff, like stirring or keeping my fingers away from knives. I can cut and sew people no problem, but ask me to chop an onion and I’m yelling with papertowels clutched around my fingers, refusing to go to the ER for stitches (I’m a bad patient). I’m so glad he wanted to stay home. We broached the subject briefly before getting married. He asked if I wanted kids. I said sure, but wait until I finish school so I can get a job and support them. I mentioned it would be nice to have someone to stay with them, and he offered immediately to quit his crappy job and stay home with whatever progeny we came up with, and was disappointed when I told him to wait a few years. He learned pretty quick how hard it was to take care of babies. Our oldest has autism spectrum disorder and ADHD and is always a challenge. Our younger one is a completely normal and adorable brat. It is so nice having a house husband. I don’t know if it would’ve worked out so well with someone who had preconceived gender roles in mind.

    • http://knightsmovebrain.wordpress.com/ zach

      ADHD and autism spectrum disorders run in my family. It can be tough. (Especially when your mother used to think that psychiatry was an anti-religion atheist crock…still love you mom.)

  • http://www.agnostic-library.com/ma/ PsiCop

    As far as I’m concerned, only one thing matters on this issue (and on several others): Freedom. It begins and ends with that. One person’s metaphysics — no matter what they are — should never have so much power that they get in the way of other people doing whatever it is that they wish to do, so long as it doesn’t harm anyone.

    To date, I’ve never seen any gay-marriage haters explain to me precisely how permitting gay marriage directly harms anyone. About the only harm they can cite, are dubious complaints: That it will somehow destroy civilization, and that gay marriage will be “taught in schools.” The former of those is a whine that’s been used about pretty much anything and everything, going back to ancient times. It’s not specific, it’s entirely subjective, and therefore doesn’t impress me.

    The latter objection is ambiguous. What is it that about gay marriage, exactly, that they fear will be “taught in schools”? That there are gays that can now marry, when they couldn’t before? That’s an objective fact (in states like Iowa, Connecticut, Vermont IIRC, and now New York) … so why shouldn’t it be taught? Are they afraid schools will “recruit” kids into gay marriages? If so, that’s a loony proposition; I mean, no one is going to marry the same gender unless they’re gay in the first place. Do these people think schools will somehow, magically “make” kids gay, then coerce them into marrying their own gender? This insane scenario is what these people are alluding to when they bellyache about schools “teaching gay marriage.” And it’s too insane a scenario even to discuss.

    No, I don’t buy that gay marriage “harms” anyone. Ergo, given that we live in a supposedly-free country, gays shouldn’t be prevented from marrying. That’s about all there is to it.

    (OK, so one can argue we don’t live in a truly “free” country. Even so, it would be nice if we did. And as long as politicians are going to talk about “freedom,” then it’s not asking too much of them to behave as though it were one.)

  • smithy

    So, if my wife likes to sex it up and marry other people, I am obviously not the most important person in the world to her, at least, not worth her full time or concern, so what is the purpose of the marriage?


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