“Love is legal” tooted the headlines this past week, as we all rejoiced at the expanding vision of who is an “upstanding citizen.” Pride Day parades enthusiastically celebrated the inclusion of non-heterosexual love matches. As well they might.
For me, the most telling commentary on the SCOTUS decision was a one-liner: “Now it is no longer called ‘gay marriage,’ only ‘marriage.'” When I heard that line something in me realized that the gift the gay community may have given all of us is the framing of a vision of two EQUALS, two individual human beings, electing to establish an order in their relationship that has the potential to support the expansion and inclusion of community – a wider community, even deeper community, perhaps. Shall we say, a more enlightened love?
I had always suspected marriage to be, as D.H. Lawrence dubbed it, “égoïsme à deux,” an ego trip for two: the enclosing of two people in an arrangement basically excluding and competing with other “nuclear family” (sic) units, with the concomitant constraints of wife and husband thinking alike – facing the world as one person, really.
As an adherent of the wave of feminism of the ’60’s and ’70’s, I saw that ego trip as allotted to the male’s choice, with the woman remaining “behind every great man” – this, of course, in the “advanced” societies, where women had some rights, bitterly fought for and not necessarily secured, as we see with abortion and family-planning rights for women in the United States.
And as the producer of the Women Rising Radio project, I have rediscovered the fundamental global inequality of women in the context of marriage. Law and custom condemn women to live as third-class citizens, with fewer rights than even their children in many circumstances.
Over 700 million girls under the age of eighteen are married off worldwide, in a traditional handover from the girl’s father to her husband. Dominance of the male over the female in marriage is deeply embedded in the institution of marriage in most societies and cultures today, as is violence against women and girls.
Historically violence against women, and the taking of lands belonging to women, has been widespread. The rights of women even to own the land they farm are precarious to nonexistent on much of Mother Earth.
Aside from the glaring facts on the ground around the world, there are the blatant religious admonitions such as that from the New Testament: “Wives be subject to your husbands.” We can find these perspectives in just about any religious texts for any religious tradition.
The global reality of marriage for most girls and women still reflects the model Emma Goldman described in the mid-twentieth century:
Marriage is primarily an economic arrangement, an insurance pact. It differs from the ordinary life insurance agreement only in that it is more binding, more exacting. Its returns are insignificantly small compared with the investments. In taking out an insurance policy one pays for it in dollars and cents, always at liberty to discontinue payments. If, how ever, woman’s premium is a husband, she pays for it with her name, her privacy, her self-respect, her very life, “until death doth part.” Moreover, the marriage insurance condemns her to life-long dependency, to parasitism, to complete uselessness, individual as well as social. Man, too, pays his toll, but as his sphere is wider, marriage does not limit him as much as woman….
…That marriage is a failure none but the very stupid will deny. One has but to glance over the statistics of divorce to realize how bitter a failure marriage really is…. first, every twelfth marriage ends in divorce; second, that since 1870 divorces have increased from 28 to 73 for every hundred thousand population; third, that adultery, since 1867, as ground for divorce, has increased 270.8 per cent.; fourth, that desertion increased 369.8 per cent.
Likely Emma wouldn’t be surprised at the ballooning percentages of marriages that ended in divorce by the end of the twentieth century. These days an average of one in every three marriages ends in divorce. If, as Emma suggests, the myth of marriage and its allurements simply doesn’t conform to the reality of modern life, should we conclude, as she did, that it is merely a social and economic convenience?
So it occurred to me that in saying that gay people, two individuals of the same sex, wanted to marry, the LGBT movement was striking at the very heart of what marriage has really been all about for millennia: dominance and control. “The Master of the House”, as it were. And mostly still is.
Wow! How revolutionary is that! Maybe that is why there was such fierce resistance to “gay marriage” – precisely because it challenges the core of “marriage” from the point of view of dominance.
Suffice it to say that I offer a blessing that this leap forward in vision and tolerance, will profoundly change, globally, the idea of marriage to that of two equal people, with strong and equal lives, rejoicing in making their marital arrangements work for both partners, and for the community in which they reside.
Lynn Feinerman is a San Francisco Bay Area independent media professional, whose company, Crown Sephira Productions, has emphasized ecology, peace, and social justice. Her recent writings have appeared online at Common Dreams and UFPJ.