on marriage equality and equal marriages

I just read a really excellent piece on marriage by Melissa Harris-Lacewell over at The Nation.  The entire blog entry is wonderful and if you’re interested in marriage, marriage equality, civil rights, and/or feminism, you should read the whole thing.  What particularly stood out for me was this section:

Typically advocates of marriage equality try to reassure the voting public the same-sex marriage will not change the institution itself. “Don’t worry,” we say, “allowing gay men and lesbians to marry will not threaten the established norms; it will simply assimilate new groups into old practices.”

This is a pragmatic, political strategy, but I hope it is not true. I hope same-sex marriage changes marriage itself. I hope it changes marriage the way that no-fault divorce changed it. I hope it changes marriage the way that allowing women to own their own property and seek their own credit changed marriage. I hope it changes marriage the way laws against spousal abuse and child neglect changed marriage. I hope marriage equality results more equal marriages. I also hope it offers more opportunities for building meaningful adult lives outside of marriage.I know from personal experience that a bad marriage is enough to rid you of the fear of death. But this experience allows me suspect that a good marriage must be among the most powerful, life-affirming, emotionally fulfilling experiences available to human beings. I support marriage equality not only because it is unfair, in a legal sense, to deny people the privileges of marriage based on their identity; but also because it also seems immoral to forbid some human beings from opting into this emotional experience.

We must do more than simply integrate new groups into an old system. Let’s use this moment to re-imagine marriage and marriage-free options for building families, rearing children, crafting communities, and distributing public goods.

Here I must first confess that I have been one of those people who has said that gay marriage doesn’t change my straight one. That it doesn’t matter to me what my neighbors are doing in their homes, with their families.  That two people in love committing to each other has no bearing on my love or my commitment.

But the truth is, it does. And it should. And I want it to.

From my hetero, married, feminist perspective, even being aware of and trying to avoid tired gender roles remains a challenge.  Trying to imagine a marriage of equals, even though most of the time I’m proud to have one, can be just plain hard, because there are just so few examples. Questioning routines that come so easy can become something I’d rather just not do, because it’s easier just to fall into the pattern.

Harris-Lacewell suggests that gay marriages could be a model for a more equal type of marriage. I hope so.  I’d love to be able to sort of spy on and learn from relationships of true equals, where gender roles aren’t automatically assigned, where negotiation is something that must take place, because stereotypes can’t be relied upon.

Of course, the part about a good marriage as a life-affirming, emotionally fulfilling, and I would say spiritual-formational and character-building experience is also very true of what I’ve found in my marriage, and that aspect of my experience forms the major basis of why I support marriage equality.  It DOES seem cruel to me to deny others the opportunity to have this experience.  I have just sort of realized that straight-supporters of marriage equality can sort of act like they’re doing their gay brothers and sisters a favor with their solidarity, when really, we all have something to gain by widening the scope of equality, both for those who choose to marry, and those who don’t.

4 Replies to “on marriage equality and equal marriages”

  1. I changed my name, and now my name is Sarah [Maiden] [Married]. Hyphenating would have looked terrible, but I didn’t want to get rid of my maiden name altogether, but I also like the idea of my whole family, hypothetical children and all, having the same last name. The way I see it, my maiden name is my father’s name, so that’s patriarchal too, though I do understand the folks who argue that it’s THEIR name. To me, the way I did my name was sort of a compromise all the way around. In my academic life, and in my IRL writing, I use my full name, maiden and married, all there. Also, generally, I prefer to be Ms. [Married], but will tolerate Mrs. [Married], but will under no circumstances accept Mrs. Dr. Jon [Married]. I joke that we’re both named [Married], but only one of us is named Jon. Ultimately the name thing is a deeply personal decision, and I respect whatever others choose to do with their names. I should probably also note that I even changed my own first name, as I was born Sara but changed it to Sarah several years ago, after years of using lies to get Sarah printed on things, even my drivers’ license. So I guess you could say I take an unusual amount of ownership of my name.


  2. That’s funny, my grandmother was named Shirley but changed it to Shirlee as an adult. Just because she preferred that spelling.

    Yeah I don’t know what I’d do but its something I do think about a lot and have gone back and forth on over the years. Like you say, “my” name is also my fathers name BUT its on my birth certificate so its as organically “my” name as it gets. I wonder though if this is one of the ways that gay marriage will “change” straight marriage as we know it. Because there wont be a “rule” (ie the woman is the one who changes her name) so maybe it will start more of a conversation between couples about name change rather than it being as much of an assumption as it currently is (off the feminist weblogs that is).


  3. My maiden name sucked. When you’ve got a German four-syllable monstrosity and you marry a one-syllable English last name… you don’t hyphenate. Or worse, when you marry a Ukrainian, you don’t hyphenate.

    I ditched my old last name with speed and with glee. My feminism remains intact.

    In other news, gay marriage has been legal here for well over 4 years. The sky has not fallen, and I hope my gay compadres are rockin’ some fabulous marriages.


Comments are closed.

%d bloggers like this: