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.)