About Me

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Policy provokes me to think and write. I currently work in ivory towers inspiring people to engage in their world. I am a student of the human condition and my classroom is the world. I don't need credentials to have an opinion but I've got paper to prove I know a few things about public health, social welfare and economics. I'm coming out of the tower and taking the words to the people and hope you will send some words back at me.

Monday, November 14, 2011

Humpty Dumpty, straight marriage and what gay people are thinking

Can all the kings horses and all the kings men and civil union policies and the Defence of Marriage Act and lots more legally entangled people put marriage back together again? I dont think so but let's entertain the thought. Today I am really asking the question: What does marriage equality mean? And though you may not find the answer below, that's where my mind started. First some disclaimers:

1. If you're looking for an advocacy piece on gay marriage this is not it but you will get the point at the end if you're patient enough to read through my why I think marriage is.... well.... I'm not really sure. 2. I am not a believer in the institution of marriage because its balance of power is not in a woman's favor. Gay marriage presents a whole other set of factors which I may explore on another day. 3. I have no idea what gay people are thinking but it gets attention in the title. 4. Who knows? I may lose my mind over someone and..... well.... my mind cannot imagine it no matter how hard I think so on I go with my discourse.

We have a Dream Act, and we have various marriage acts, and we have the American Dream (For a great Vanity Fair article on the disappearing American dream click here).

America is a land of dreamers. Go west young man (kill Native Americans along the way but I digress.... Silicon Valley and Redmond here we come!!!!) And you would have to have your head far up in the stratosphere to dream that your marriage, among all others, will succeed. A\I wonder what else I could sell someone by telling them there is a 33% chance of failure in 10 years (see CDC data) with the highest risk being the first year after giving birth to that first little baby? I couldn't sell a car with those stats. Or even a bed or a television. But people put their happiness, financial well-being and future on the line for love.

At one point a few years ago, a pro-marriage website listed more than 1,000 social rights and benefits that came with being married. The Nolo Press website lists some of the categories into which marriage benefits fall: tax, government, medical, employment, estate planning, death, housing, consumer etc etc. The law also considers all children born within a marriage to be that of the father (I am not sure how much of a right or benefit that affords the husband but it can be quite beneficial to the mother or the child).

What our imaginations fail to consider is that these laws were written under certain assumptions and they can be rewritten to be inclusive of other forms of partnerships that make a family and not just the institution of marriage which was primarily a way to guarantee transition of property across generations. Women like to ignore the historical context of this because it makes them 'uncomfortable'. As does the historical context of black and white relationships make us 'uncomfortable'. At least in the latter case we thought it unconstitutional to oppress one race by another. So it should be that it is unconstitutional to oppress one sex by another. And before individuals go beserk on me: oppression is collective, not individual so I am not accusing any one person but this is a cultural norm.

In places like Norway where there is no such legal connection between marriage and social benefits there are much lower rates of marriage and relationships last much longer and their high rates of out-of-wedlock births is not the tragedy it is here (For more info click here). Furthermore, among OECD countries the USA still has one of the highest rate of marriage (and we win by a long shot on the multiple marriage per person count) with only Turkey and Cyprus higher, and the highest divorce rate. So since we are getting married younger and getting divorced more and getting married more.... maybe we want to re-consider what we are doing. Because we ain't doing it right. (For loads of data on OECD marriage rates click here and for data on other forms of partnerships in the OECD, click hereยบ)

It is for these rights and benefits and social recognition that gay people want to get married. At least, so I read. Or perhaps they too want the pomp and circumstance of virginal white dress and splashy suit and a party. (By the way folks a party can be had at any time to celebrate anything you please and you can dress anyway you want). But from Bridezilla to the dress to My Big Fat Gypsy Wedding, there is a cult of marriage that holds women in its sway and I wont insult my wonderful friends who have gotten married by saying anything about how they behave once they say yes. And don't get me started on the knight in shining armor on one knee bit with a shiny thing that represents love. Really??????

When I ask many people why they want to get married they talk about tradition and the romance as if everyone had a double extra large scoop in a whooper waffle cone of Disney and Once upon a time (though they clearly weren't reading Grimm). Women who give me the tradition nonsense make my eyes go swirly.... REEAALLYY???? Tradition??? The tradition of your father handing you over to another man to take care of? ("I can't wait for my Dad to walk me down the aisle"). The white dress that represents purity? (You gotta be kidding me!) And I do not care if you write your own vows..... The 'tradition' is based on a history of ownership and control that in many ways still exist today especially legally. You are not 2 people joining as 2 people; under the law if he runs up debt you owe it too.

And what really fascinates me is how selective we are with our 'traditions'. When people want to display the Confederate flag, black people get huffy and talk about what it represents. And yet those same people will 'jump the broom' and join an institution which has historically and presently oppressed women. (Ignore the stories of women cleaning out a man for his  money. For the most part, women are thrown into poverty when they get divorced. And as women ask for more than 70% of divorces then I wonder why we are bothering to say yes in the first place). If you dress in black face - symbolizing negative stereotypes of black people - its a PC incident of epic proportions but all around the country on any given day, women put on a dress that symbolizes their control by men who pass them one to the other across generations as chattel. No matter that blackface is comedy, this voluntary signing up for an institution, and signing away of autonomy is a collective psychological process that stuns.

There is a documentary currently out called Miss Representation (to see trailer, click here) that look at how women are portrayed in the media. And there have been precedents to this sequence - the 4 editions of Killing Us Softly did the same thing for media in the 70's, 80's and 90's. (For a clip of Killing Us Softly 4 click here). There is no question in my mind that these images infiltrate young minds. My poor kid had to miss a lot of the 'girlie' stuff cuz I wouldn't have it in my house. I tried not to play radical feminist mom but when she told me she had decided not to play lacrosse (after begging me to) because girls were not allowed to check and what was so different about girls from boys when they are young?" she asked. Well, then.... I figured feminist mommy job was a job well done :D.

Well, again, not a bunch of numbers but if I'm wrong on anything, send me feedback. The wonk in me tries to get it right but sometimes my human fallibilities may win out.

So I ask my gay friends: "So what is it about this marriage thing you want again?" "Is it the right to get divorced?" "Is it the legitimacy of coupledeom by the state?" (Or perhaps the church?) Or perhaps because there is no man/woman dichotomy and no history of oppression to weigh it down, you have the chance to do marriage your own way and show straight people how it can be done.

7 comments:

  1. The LGBT community wants acceptance. By denying us a civil right excludes us from the rest of society. It's like a big "DENIED" stamp on our forehead. We're just the same as anyone else, so why shouldn't we have this right? Our society also promotes marriage like Macy's promotes a sale. Everywhere you see, read, and hear about marriage, and the family. It's the way to be. Also, as you mentioned, all of the benefits one enjoys after marrying. Jodi O'Brien wrote a great article on it. I'll have to find it for you. Marriage is also a public declaration, and even entire ceremony, of one's love and commitment to another. I can understand that anyone in love may want to do that. I've been engaged twice myself. Thank god I didn't get married though, because I'd be twice divorced.
    It's so stupid that this difference between heterosexuals and homosexuals has become so huge, and such a source of conflict, when there really isn't that much difference. Such as the difference between the colors of our skin.
    I, myself, no longer believe in marriage. I think it's lost all meaning and people don't really care about it. There is also the historical aspect of enslaving the wife to the husband. However, there's a part of me that does want a wedding, but I'll be the only one at the altar. Buy a new dress, a new ring, have a party with friends. That's basically what marriage has come down to anyway, and I've met very few people that proved me different. My grandparents, who are dead, and that's about it.
    Just now as I previewed my comment, I had to go back and change all the "theys" to "we." I am bi, but really don't consider myself part of the LGBT community. I must admit it is a bit uncomfortable to...admit it. However, a day may come (tho I highly doubt it) that I will meet a woman I want to marry, and I want the option to do so.

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  2. I told my conservative, Christian, republican cousin that if gay marriage was legalized (which he totally abhors at the thought of), that the divorce rate would go down. Strangely enough, he didn't have a response to that.

    BTW, great blog. (o;

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  3. Provocative entry, Ruth! Of course, gay people should be able to marry. The half-joke, half-truth that gays should have the right to be as miserable as straights is perfect.

    I don't see gay marriage creating a model for how to do marriage correctly. People are people. Marriage, as currently designed, is flawed. Granted, the problem is occasionally gender oppression. More often, it's religious and societal indoctrination, way over-the-top romanticization, and unrealistic expectations.

    We're learning that marriage is a poor fit for most people. Congrats to those for whom it works. Maybe there are ways to "marry" that can be more successful. There's a long history of non-traditional marriage. Ah, here we see the definition problem. My own idea of being married for two weeks alternating with being single for two weeks hasn't polled well among friends and colleagues.

    Best wishes,

    Andy

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  4. You know, Ruth, the same-sex marriage debate, in my opinion, isn't about the idea that everyone in this country wants to be married; many hetero couples and non-hetero couples (perhaps due to legal limitations, but perhaps due to choice if the choice were possible) opt for civil unions or domestic partnerships. At this point, the debate is about an archaic way of law: a self-righteous group with (political, social, economic) power further isolating and marginalizing another group. Haven't we been slapped across the face by our neighbors enough times to realize this is ineffective?

    Many hetero couples choose marriage for their personal commitment to one another, not a recognition by a church, state, or nation, though the benefits granted to them are definitely on the table. (And, really, not every hetero couple benefits from marriage. In a marriage where both partners are barely employed and thus barely pushed above the poverty line [ridiculously out of date and misclassified, btw], the option of social assistance can be thrown out the door.) Just like a ten-year-old kid being told to not touch the pretty vase continuing to edge closer and closer only to almost touch it, same-sex couples will not back down (maybe) because the blatant denial of this lifestyle, founded in arbitrary difference, is enough to enrage.

    As social workers we are well aware that when someone is repeatedly identified as "other," there are severe effects. Usually when this happens in our line of work, we are working with folks who have very little economic, social, or political power, a product of many, many things. However, same-sex couples come with typically higher education levels and thus higher economic power... it's a different ball game in some respects. And maybe our liberal arts educations have overly empowered us to take on our passions. Still, we see the lasting effect. And thanks to cities like Seattle and Portland and San Francisco and Austin and NYC, where to think anti-liberal is to commit social suicide, we maintain movement.

    Honestly, who knows if the LGBT community truly cares about this issue, or whether the most powerful of this semi-powerful group (and its allies) just won't give up. Whatever. It's happening, so we face it.

    Last note: as a gay man of color living in the mid-south (Missouri), a state with an extensive history of violent oppression, slavery, and bigotry, no one will tell me I'm inferior, less deserving, "other". Period. And when they do I will do my very best to break them down in the same way they did me. Call it arrogance or ignorance or pure fury... it's happening, so I face it.

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  5. Oh, and to answer the question: I just want people to stop creating/perpetuating barriers between one another. Yeah, what about that idea of social support, equality, social justice?

    So, for me, what is it with the same-sex marriage thing? Heterosexual couples who hate on same-sex marriage, don't dare tell me I can't have something because your morals are twisted. Remember, we teach your children in schools, we coach their sports teams, and we are their pediatricians. And we will recruit them. HAH. (Joking...)

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  6. I try not to take a position in my blog though my bias will show through:) I have chosen to opt out of marriage personally but honor those who can go for it and have no judgement of them. Marriage is anachronistic for many reasons. The power discrepancy in a patriarchal society makes it a challenge for many egalitarian-minded het couples to pull off. Homo marriage creates a new framework re: power/sex relationships in which to conceptualize marriage, which I could not fully discuss here.

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  7. Religious freedoms and the "gay agenda are on a crash course in America and this is a speeding train no mere earthly can stop.

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