The right-wing has gone crazy since the Supreme Court sanctioned marriage equality in late June. What they’d been praying for didn’t come to pass – their angry, righteous, warrior deity didn’t intervene with fire and brimstone or floods and pestilence.
Neither Pat Robertson’s senile predictions nor the other threats of impending Armageddon materialized. Chaos did not ensue and the heterosexual divorce rate has yet to spike.
The American legal system moved on as if right-wing objections no longer mattered. And, believe me, that had to hurt the religious right-wing that’s been working for a generation to be taken seriously.
Right-wingers responded as if not knowing what to say. But clearly their responses play to their bases, frightening them about everything that will now victimize them, including one pastor saying that Christians pastors will now be punished for not marrying LGBT people.
It was such a good issue to rile up the base for fundraising and voter turnout. It was easy to demonize LGBT people and, with heterosexual marriage so precarious and disappointing to many, all of that distress could be blamed on the desire of LGBT people to join in a sick institution.
Their ultimate argument was that the marriage of two people of the same gender would destroy what they mislabeled “traditional marriage.” Up to the time when marriage equality was on the horizon, they had said “family values” were threatened, but the push for same-gender marriages eclipsed that well-worn trope.
In spite of the silly, historically uninformed response of the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court -- who said things like: “the Court orders the transformation of a social institution that has formed the basis of human society for millennia, for the Kalahari Bushmen and the Han Chinese, the Carthaginians and the Aztecs. Just who do we think we are?” -- history tells us that the marriage of one man and one woman is no more “traditional” than any form of marriage from polygamy to arranged marriages where couples seldom shared sex.
Most marriages historically were clearly that of a patriarch taking a wife along with other property such as slaves and livestock. One only need to page through both testaments of the Christian Bible to see that biblical marriages involved numerous arrangements other than one man and woman in love, in spite of what right-wingers pontificate about today.
Even the Mormon Church got into the act, declaring that “traditional marriage” was between one man and one woman. They never mention the U.S. troops in Utah that helped convince them of that fact.
Very few – I’ve seen none - mainstream reporters will contradict the phony claims repeated ad nauseum by anti-gay religious leaders and politicians, that “traditional marriage has forever been between one man and one woman.” But then, who any longer expects enlightened conversations on most cable television or those Sunday morning “news” shows and their ilk?
Traditional marriages in most societies were clear about the roles of the man and the woman. Marriages were about property, not love or companionship.
In fact, marriage and family historian Stephanie Coontz, who took on both “family” and “marriage” to explode the myths involved in our culture’s backward nostalgia, subtitled her 2005 book Marriage, A History with From Obedience to Intimacy, or How Love Conquered Marriage. She begins quoting George Bernard Shaw’s quip about modern marriage as an institution that brings together two people “under the influence of the most violent, most insane, most delusive, and most transient of passions. They are required to swear that they will remain in that excited, abnormal, and exhausting condition continuously until death do them part.”
Historically, the woman was the property of the man transferred from her father. She was to have no financial status and little value beyond her roles as wife and mother. This ideal was especially kept by a culture’s elite upper classes while lower class women worked alongside their husbands in the fields, factories, or shops.
It was post-World War II society that produced what the right-wing wants us to believe is “traditional marriage,” which was coupled with another non-biblical ideal: “the nuclear family.” In that recent definition we see an ideal of “straight marriage” in which gender roles are clearly established and one is assured thereby who “the man” and “the woman” is.
Now, “straight marriage” is not natural to heterosexual people either. It’s not how they would necessarily live if they hadn’t been conditioned by the institutions around us to expect what marriage really means and what the roles of “husband’ and “wife” clearly are.
“Straight marriage” as enforced since World War II is clear about who is supposed to do what. And if particularly the man deviates from these expected roles, the nature of the relationship is questionable.
Everyone knew which gender should mow the lawn, do the outside barbequing, wield the hammer for fix-it projects, be the primary bread-winner, drive the car when the family rides together, and be sexually dominant. Whether heterosexual people actually live the straight marriage role, we can all recall who’s supposed to do the laundry, host the parties, cook most meals, change the diapers, and change her name with the wedding ceremony.
If the image of a traditional marriage is this historically recent straight one, then it’s no wonder the right-wing looks back to the 50s as the good old days of Ozzie and Harriet and Leave it to Beaver. And if the right-wing definition of “traditional” marriage is this straight-acting one, then, yes, same-gender marriage will upset it.
Feminists have called for its destruction long ago, and they’ve been accused by straight marriage’s idolizers of doing just that. So, if two people of the same gender marry, there’s no way to ensure that either will live by “straight” marriage’s gender roles.
LGBT people as couples will actually have to sit down, talk with each other, maybe regularly, about who is going to take out the garbage and who is going to stay home with the sick child. And that interaction is actually healthy for any relationship but a threat to “straight” marriage. l