Defense of Marriage Act. I thought the name was stupid then, and I think it’s stupid now. Defense from what, exactly? My state is not one of the few that has chosen to actually respect the Equal Protection Clause, so maybe I’m just not seeing it. But as far as I can tell, not one opposite sex marriage has suffered any ill effects from opening marriage up to any consenting adult couple that wants to enter it. Could it be that all this talk of defending marriage is, I don’t know, bullshit?
I was raised to believe that homosexual acts were wrong, because God inexplicably said so and shut up, that’s why. I still never understood why I was supposed to object to marriage equality. After all, didn’t God give people free will? Aren’t you trying to take it away when you tell people they can’t do something that doesn’t hurt anyone else just because you think it’s a sin? How about actually talking to these people instead of just hoping that they’ll say, “Oh, the law says we can’t get married? Well, then, it must be wrong! Let’s break up, repent, find nice Jesus-loving members of the opposite sex and settle down and have lots of babies and a white picket fence!” I mean, seriously?
Oh, but we’re protecting marriage, so people continue to respect it. You know, like straight couples have always done. Because apparently a respectful attitude can be mandated, kinda like desegregation stopped racism and feminism put an end to misogyny.* Right? I don’t know, I’ll admit to a bit of guesswork here, because I’ve never found the “protect marriage” argument to be particularly coherent.
That’s not to say that I think marriage equality will have no effect whatsoever on the overall institution of marriage. On the contrary, I hope it does.
For example, it is hardly news that in most U.S. households, women tend to do the majority of household chores. The gender pay gap is an equally well-known phenomenon. Then, of course, there are societal perceptions of working mothers, of stay-at-home dads, of masculinity and femininity, and the pervasive idea that men need to be in charge because God gave them the ultimate symbol of superiority between their legs.
No, I’m not saying that marriage equality is the magical answer to all of the issues that concern feminists. I’m not even suggesting that it’s going to break down gender stereotypes. But I do think it may help. It’s easy even for the most feminist couples to slip into patterns where it’s expected that the husband will be the sole or primary breadwinner, that the wife will do certain chores, or that the husband should have the final say in major decisions as “head of the household.” So how does that work with two wives or two husbands?
I’m hoping that, as we see couples who are working from a clean(er) slate when it comes to figuring out how to manage their households, those of us in more “traditional” marriages can learn a thing or two. I hope they begin to rub off on the rest of society, and we begin to relax about who does what. Not that I assume people of the same sex never have problems dividing labor (I’ve had enough female roommates to harbor no illusions on that point); I’m just saying that however those disputes are decided, I don’t see how it could be done by traditional gender roles (“You need to listen to me, I’m your husband!” “Yeah? Well, I’m YOUR husband, you jackass! How about you listen to me?!”)
So maybe, just maybe, as same-sex marriage becomes more commonplace, people will stop freaking out about stay-at-home fathers. Maybe it will finally sink in that sometimes working women have families to support, too. Maybe seeing couples dividing chores without worrying about what’s “man’s work” or “woman’s work” will inspire the rest of us. Not that these things aren’t already being done to some extent, but soon we’ll be surrounded by families who have no choice but to defy certain expectations. I, for one, find that encouraging.
I don’t mean this post to sound self-serving. I’m not trying to say that we should support marriage equality for the sake of feminism. We should support it because treating people like second-class citizens is wrong, it has been going on for far too long, and there is not one good reason to deny other couples a chance at something that makes so many of us so happy. I’m just saying that, as someone who is about to be part of an opposite-sex (but hopefully not traditional!) marriage, I don’t merely think that same-sex marriage won’t hurt my own. I think it actually has great potential to help.
*I linked these sites not because I couldn’t find actual source material, but because what I found through fifteen seconds on Google was absolutely vile. I’m not giving any of it more page hits through my blog. If you must see it, go find it yourself. Sadly, it won’t take you long.