This weekend, I’m reading several chapters of Tracy Baim’s Gay Press, Gay Power: The Growth of LGBT Community Newspapers in America (Prairie Ave. Productions/Windy City Media, 2012) for the New England Archivists LGBTQ Issues Roundtable quarterly discussion group (say that five times fast). One of the best things about the book is that between each chapter comes a long section of press clippings illustrating some of the publications, articles, and events they discuss in the text. Paging through one such section I noticed the cover pictured above.
Many opponents of same-sex marriage talk as if the quest for marriage equality is some latter-day issue invented around 1995 by activist judges. Even some queer rights activists assume that the push for marriage rights either came out of the AIDS crisis of the eighties (which certainly gave it a boost), and/or is a domestication of the movement — something palatable for mainstream America to swallow (also a partial truth). In light of those attitudes, I think it’s interesting to see that as early as 1953 — sixty years ago — the LGBT community was exploring the question of same-sex marriage.
Relatedly, anyone else notice the cover story in the latest issue of The Atlantic?
In “The Gay Guide to Wedded Bliss,” Liza Mundy asks, “What can gay and lesbian couples teach straight ones about living in harmony?” and “What if same-sex marriage does change marriage, but primarily for the better?” She points out (as many feminists and queer folks have been doing for, um, decades):
Same-sex spouses, who cannot divide their labor based on preexisting gender norms, must approach marriage differently than their heterosexual peers. From sex to fighting, from child-rearing to chores, they must hammer out every last detail of domestic life without falling back on assumptions about who will do what. In this regard, they provide an example that can be enlightening to all couples. Critics warn of an institution rendered “genderless.” But if a genderless marriage is a marriage in which the wife is not automatically expected to be responsible for school forms and child care and dinner preparation and birthday parties and midnight feedings and holiday shopping, I think it’s fair to say that many heterosexual women would cry “Bring it on!”
I have to say, painting a picture of same-sex couples “hammering out” our domestic lives makes it sound like we’re drawing up intensive prenups and chore charts. Perhaps some people do (and if it helps you, go for it)! In my experience, it’s more just the freedom from falling into cultural patterns of “wives cook, husbands wash up” (my grandparents’ pattern), or “husbands wash the car and mow the lawn, wives do laundry and remember family birthdays.” In our case, we’re also aided by the fact that both sets of (hetero) parents were mindfully and/or of necessity non-traditional in their spousal roles — something that I think is often overlooked when people ask why some relationships are more egalitarian than others: parental modeling! (Perhaps because, sadly, it’s still a rarity.)
I have grumbles about The Atlantic penning this article as if it’s a possibility that’s just occurred to them — what queer folk might have something to offer the wider world! And I’m also slightly irritated (paradoxically, it seems) for the framing of marriage equality as a “control group” for heterosexual marriage. Um — don’t we get to simply exist without being one half of a scientific experiment.
Also, what’s up with the sudden resurgence in mainstream articles hauling up the myth of “lesbian bed death” from the murky depths? First last week’s woefully glossy and irritating NYT magazine article on female arousal, and now this, where a researcher suggests that the “lesbians [in her study] may have had so much intimacy already that they didn’t need sex to get it.”
That suggestion implies a) that women use sex to gain intimacy or they don’t need it and therefore, b) there may be such a thing as “so much intimacy” that you kill your sex life.
This is just such a limited understanding of the role of sex in human life that I can’t even.
But I’m also struck by the fact that a publication as culturally staid, if not hard-core conservative, as The Atlantic, has published such an article — a mere sixty years after the August 1953 issue of ONE Magazine was held for three weeks by the post office while they tried to determine whether it was violating U.S. obscenity laws.
Anyway. Have you read the Atlantic piece? If so, what did you think of it?
. Re: Anyway. Have you read the Atlantic piece? If so, what did you think of it?
Well, obviously, I was mildly alarmed by it. I don't think that the egalitarian model of marriage is the best, and I think the best marriages and relationships are those with different, complementary roles, in which one partner takes on a kind of protector/provider/guardian role over the other, and the other partner takes on a more submissive, 'honor and obey' kind of role. One of Rod Dreher's commenters put it best, I think.
“Maybe the real problem is the whole development of the “romantic love” idea of marriage and the idea of marriage as complementary companionship of equals. Greek ideas of “love”, whether heterosexual or homosexual, presuppose inequality: there is a lover and a beloved, a pursuer and a pursued.
When marriage was mainly about children and property and inheritance, people seemed less likely to have the sort of existential angst that we have about it.”
I believe fairly strongly in distinct gender roles, in other words, and the idea of genderless marriage, a 'companionship of equals', is one that I don't really support. That said, I don't think this is a good reason to *oppose* same-sex marriage. If the traditional, complementarian model of marriage is the best, then it should be strong enough to survive criticism and competition from alternative family forms (and, of course, I believe it will).
Also, that ridiculous Episcopal priest they interviewed has go to go, he's a disgrace to my church. He's also wrong: while the 'honor and obey' language isn't *mandatory* for the marriage service, it isn't forbidden either: if I was to get married in the Episcopal church, my wife absolutely could promise to honour and obey me.
This is good, in a way, though, because it shifts the war over the definition of marriage from the legal sphere (where it doesn't belong) to the cultural sphere (where it does).