March 29, 2013
The incredible outpouring of support for same-sex marriage this past week has been truly moving, especially for those of us who are affected by this issue so directly and personally. It is amazing to see how far we have come and how quickly. After all, just a few years ago most Americans were pushing to actually amend the Constitution to define marriage as between a man and a woman! Remember this?...
June 10th, 2006
Let’s talk about sex—no, wait, marriage—I’m supposed to be talking about marriage.
But perhaps you can forgive my confusion. This past week Americans witnessed the greatest confusion over sex and marriage since, well, since we suffered through the same thing last year.
It’s June and marriage is in the air, but since it’s an election year, same-sex marriage is filling the airwaves. Conservatives and the Religious Reich spent three days this week furiously working to protect marriage from an evil homosexual plot to redefine their most traditional institution. Since there is no constitutional reason for limiting marriage to heterosexual couples, the only option is to change the Constitution—and that’s exactly what they’re trying to do.
Enter the Marriage Protection Amendment, an amendment to the Constitution that says, “Marriage in the United States shall consist only of the union of a man and a woman.” Supporters claim to be protecting “the most fundamental institution of civilization” as evidenced by “thousands of years of tradition.”
Of course, as far as definitions go, this is nonsense—and I don’t mean that in a trite, flippant way. It’s literally nonsensical. Any historian, anthropologist, or sociologist will tell you the only thing traditional about the definition of marriage is that it’s always changing.
It is too tiresome to delineate the many variations of marriage across time and cultures that so easily refute today’s “traditional marriage” claim. Suffice to say that there are so many examples of marriage traditions that encouraged polygamy, homosexuality, and out-of-wedlock sex that today’s definition—where boy meets girl, they fall in love, that love is made legitimate with a public ceremony after which the couple begins to have sex, create children, and remain monogamous ‘til death do they part—this fairytale is so historically uncommon, it’s more often the exception rather than the rule.
So they say, “We’re not talking about traditional harems in Egypt and India. We’re not talking about homosexual coming-of-age rituals of New Guinea and Indo-European people. Gay Greeks and lesbian marriages in China are irrelevant. We’re talking about America here and the sacred Judeo-Christian marriage tradition as ordained by God!”
Setting aside the fact that this whole issue now becomes moot in light of the First Amendment Establishment Clause, let’s consider traditional Judeo-Christian marriage. Though the traditionalists would rather us believe otherwise, even this has been changing, but this change is hardly the fault of same-sex couples wanting to marry. In fact, there’s a good argument that our heterosexual founding fathers are responsible for the redefining of marriage that is so troubling to religious conservatives.
America’s revolutionary ideas of individual liberty, freedom from tyranny, freedom of religion and conscience, and equal justice—these ideas have permeated American society since our founding. They’ve affected and reformed every social institution. Divine Kings are gone. State churches are gone. Slavery is out and civil rights are in. Marriage—especially traditional Judeo-Christian marriage—has been the last hold-out of patriarchal privilege and acceptable inequality. It’s the last place associated with a loss of liberty and freedom.
That’s why the push to legalize same-sex marriage elicits some great jokes: “Of course gays should be able to marry. Why shouldn’t they be as miserable as the rest of us?”
This sentiment reflects an honest portrayal of history. Far from love and happiness, traditional Judeo-Christian marriage has been defined by legalized hierarchy, preservation of power and property, women in labor, and child laborers. In other words, marriage was defined by sex and the sexual reproductive functions of a male/female coupling. When people talk about protecting the traditional definition of marriage, this is what they mean: women and children subordinate to men and the state for the purpose of propagating power and populating a domain.
They say they are trying to protect traditional marriage, but they are really talking about protecting traditional roles, limited roles that, against a backdrop of American individualism and self-actualization, have lost their credibility and their appeal.
Americans don’t do well with limitations. We are famously free, and freedom is having the ability to make choices, so, long before gay marriage entered the picture, we started to change the meaning of marriage to match the meaning of America.
Over the past century, the meaning and purpose of marriage has evolved from a limited role of reproduction into a full-blown expression of individual desires for life, love, and happiness, desires that, if we’re lucky, come together by finding and joining a soul mate in an intimate and lasting relationship. With a few rare and accidental exceptions, this is an entirely new understanding of the purpose of marriage. Though intimate sexual relations are certainly a part of this new equation, they are no longer the reason for marriage.
The only difference between a heterosexual couple and a homosexual couple is the sex part, the physical part. When people say that same-sex couples shouldn’t be allowed to marry, they tacitly admit that, to them, marriage is primarily about sex, a limited and restricted definition that actually diminishes marriage. If this traditional definition of marriage is failing, it’s because marriage for sex is no match for marriage for love.
When you remove the spin and double-speak of the past week, supporters of the Marriage Protection Amendment aren’t really interested in protecting marriage. They’re trying to protect a very limited interpretation of marriage that flies in the face of our American principles of freedom, choice, and the pursuit of happiness. Religious contracts based on sex are as inappropriate in America as arranged marriage and feudalism.
If we really want to protect marriage, we must redefine it. When marriage is about more than sex—when it’s about life, love, and happiness—it makes sense that everyone, straight or gay, will make the commitment, and it makes sense for society to support them.