Beyond The Patriarchal Structuring of Marriage

I want to marry my partner.  It’s funny in a way we regularly propose to each other, asking each other, “Will you marry me…”

We are secular humanists to the core, atheist most of the time with perhaps a twinge of agnosticism.  My closest relationship with anything that anyone might remotely consider spiritual is my using Gaia the way others use “Mother Nature”.

The only times we have ever been in a church together was for Tina’s mother’s funeral…  Oh and we saw Kate Clinton perform at the Dallas Unitarian Church on Preston…

As churches go the Unitarians are perhaps the least obnoxious, their secular humanism refreshing.

Since we haven’t any relationship with religion that means we aren’t likely to ever say vows before a minister and ask some imaginary sky fairy to bless our union.

Tina put her foot down to my idea of getting married by an Elvis impersonator in “The Chapel of Love”

California or perhaps Massachusetts.  I know people in both places who I could ask to act as a witness and take pictures. Civil ceremony and perhaps dinner with friends afterward, perhaps even strung out over the year with any “honeymoon” being in the process of getting there and back.

We’re two old women so those hoping to cash in on the Bridezilla straight super hyped phenomena lose out.  So do the “Wedding Planners” and the “Wedding Industry”.

No overpriced gowns… Perhaps something nice that we might wear to dinner in a fancy establishment or to a special event such as a museum show opening.

I’ve never understood the parodying of straights with one woman in gown and the other in a tux.

One of the subtexts of the anti-same sex marriage messages is that gender i.e. husband and wife roles are vital to maintaining “traditional marriage”.  It is helpful to unpack the subtext to understand this one. In traditional marriage the role of the husband is as head of the house and the role of the wife is as subordinate to the husband. He gets to make the decisions; she gets to obey the husband in what is a very hierarchical structure.

Back in the progressive 1970s, before the rise of the Christo-fascist ultra right wing, when feminism was actually taken seriously, women started to challenge these patriarchal religious mandated roles.  Ms. became the title for many of us and Miss/Mrs. started looking rather dated to say the least.

With both men and women working, housework and child rearing  were subject to negotiations, rather than the automatic presumption that both were the task of  women.

One of the reasons the religious fanatics object to same sex marriage is that it is also seen as “same-gender” and offers an example of how egalitarian relationships can function rather than gender mandated hierarchical  relationships.

The John Lennon/Yoko Ono song “Woman is the Nigger of the World” made the point that no matter how lowly the status of the man he can still look down on and order his wife around.

What lesbians and gay people bring to the table is the history of relationship between equals.  This is affirmed in our using the term, “life partner”. I for one would hate to see us buy into the heterosexual model of husband and wife. Particularly as I want a partner who is both and neither.        With Tina I have a life partner who loves me as an equal.

I have noticed how the supporters of inequality seem hesitant to talk about love in a relationship.  Instead they prefer to babble on about tradition and the importance of different sex partners as parents.

Perhaps the fact that so many conservative religious folks are such utter failures at marriage as reflected in the far higher rates of divorce in the red states of the Bible Belt than in the supposedly licentious blue states of the liberal north east and west coast.  Maybe those liberals are on to something with their talk about love and equality rather than tradition, rigid roles and duty.

Rather than love and relationships among equals the traditional marriage seems almost an anachronism, a throwback to the days when marriages were based on economic inequality and were used as a means to unite family alliances and property.

One custom I find particularly anachronistic is the idea that women should take their husband’s last name.  This idea hearkens to a past when marriage united two people into one and that one was the husband, therefore the wife became part of him and carried his name.

In a marriage of equals there should be no need for either to take on the name of the other. The granting of all the legally recognized privileges that assist people in maintaining a long term relationship should be validation enough.

Beneath all its ritualized and ceremonial trappings marriage only a  legal contract. People should be free to enter that legally binding contract in a manner that is austere or elaborate. The license is “civil marriage”, nothing more, nothing less.

The rituals and ceremonies are just that, meaningless as far as legal standing without the civil marriage part.  Ask all those gay and lesbian people who found they were legal strangers in spite of their commitment ceremonies.

On the other hand if a “Story Book” “Princess Bride” fantasy floats your boat… Go for it.

6 Responses to “Beyond The Patriarchal Structuring of Marriage”

  1. Caroline Says:

    Just reached half a lifetime of legally married in the sort of relationship you have described, well except for the fact that I am legally seen as male despite the obvious absurdity!

    Only if I wish to change my birth certificate which recent law allows will it all fall apart. Then we could get divorced loose all marriage privileges of inheritance and pension etc, change birth certificate and then undergo a civil partnership ceremony giving similar but inferior rights to our current marriage!!

    For this we can thank a recent previous prime minister and his close religiously fanatical friends!

    Absurdity continues.

  2. edith Says:

    I lived w/ my spouse in an open relationship, on and off, for a few years. Inevitably the question of commitment became an issue. It is a long story and complicated but we married in a Unitarian Church in a very unconventional ceremony. We had the option of making up what we wanted to say. I wanted to pull some things from the Upanishads and other sources. I couldn’t get it together so we used something put together by someone else that was all about non ownership with nothing traditional at all. The minister said he would do anything at all except make the sign of the cross.

    I had always held out hope we wouldn’t have to get married and that life could be like a Joni Mitchell song – “maybe I’ll go to Amsterdam maybe I’ll go to Rome.” And, as she wrote in My Old Man, “we wouldn’t need no paper from the city hall keeping us tied and true.” Things turned out to be more complicated but we’re still together. It’s been almost forty years now and our thirty-sixth anniversary is Tuesday.

    I ended up having to recall our early days together and the advice her English Professor dropout Lower East Side uncle who was working at a hospital for indigents and who had been married five times gave her back then about just living together with the one you love. It lead me to a Wikipedia article on the Catholic Worker that led me to Utah Phillips, Rosalie Sorrels, Kate Wolf and Ani DiFranco . . .

    Some time you just have to face it. Life can be so darn complicated. I think Ray Davies said that. It’s too bad so many legal issues inevitably crop up when two people are in close relationships. One’s sex shouldn’t matter, however, when determining who should have the same rights in equal situations. I hope marriage equality becomes a reality for everyone, soon.

  3. tinagrrl Says:

    As long as there is no marriage equality, as long as we do not have the same rights as other folks, as long as our currently legal marriages can be called into question, we will remain second class citizens.

    As long as we can be treated as less than human, we are all “down by law”. It does not matter if it’s a heterosexual marriage, of an “HBS” or “CT” woman, or a marriage entered into prior coming out/transition — if some one else (like a child from a previous marriage, or an insurance company, for example) wants what is legally yours, or wants to avoid paying a claim or benefit, you will most likely be “outed”, and lose what is rightfully yours.

    This is an intolerable situation.

    Any person who is, or was, trans — no matter how many years back — must support marriage equality — for their own sake — just in case they are not the first to die (if you are the first to die, you can leave an awful mess — won’t matter to you). Of course, if you have any sort of integrity, ethics — or, if you want to be remembered fondly — get those affairs in order.

  4. Sharon Gaughan Says:

    Today is the anniversary of our eighth year as a committed couple. As it happens, Lisa and I go way back and had become the best of friends before we moved in together.

    We live in Virginia, arguably the most far-reaching and marriage-repressive state in the union (joint legislative resolution, a law, and a state constitutional amendment). Our state says engaging in acts that give the “appearance” of marriage is unconstitutional! This is what the constitution says:

    “Only a union between one man and one woman may be a marriage valid in or recognized by this Commonwealth and its political subdivisions. This Commonwealth and its political subdivisions shall not create or recognize a legal status for relationships of unmarried individuals that intends to approximate the design, qualities, significance, or effects of marriage. Nor shall this Commonwealth or its political subdivisions create or recognize another union, partnership, or other legal status to which is assigned the rights, benefits, obligations, qualities, or effects of marriage.”

    Ugh. Some couples have moved out of the state. We, among others, stand in and work towards getting our full rights.

    On a separate note, Suzan mentioned last names. Apart from patriarchal considerations, there are women who choose their last name based on difficulties posed by a lengthy, complex and/or unsayable “maiden” name.

    • Suzan Says:

      I used a different last name when I was trying to get in to the Screen Extras Guild because there was someone else in the Guild with my same basic last name albeit without the “e”. and I was told to come up with a different one. But my using that name died with my abortive film career.

  5. Jessica Says:

    I haven’t followed in detail the wording of the same-sex marriage campaigns in the United States, though I remain in support of marriage equality.

    In Canada, the term used was never same-sex, or same-gender (there always seem to be many unintended consequences of that), but equal marriage, as in Canadians for Equal Marriage–the advocacy organization I worked for for a short time.

    The most interesting aspect of this has always been, for me, the actual wording of the legislation; in the Civil Marriage Law passed in Canada in 2005, after legal decisions made it the law in most jurisdictions across the country, the usage was marriage is legal between two persons.

    To hear Gay Inc. in Canada speak, the very people I worked with, the law declared marriage is legal between “a man and a woman, a man and a man, a woman and a woman.”

    But the law is really far more radical than that: it simply does not recognize ANY difference on any basis, not sex, sex identity, gender, gender identity, gender expression, sexual orientation.

    But those gay and lesbian people who actually argued it would prepare the ground for the human rights of transsexual and transgender people simply could not bring themselves to recognize the truly radical nature of marriage equality: love is the only condition.

    That, as Suzan has observed, is not what the Christo-Fascists think is important in a MARRIAGE; why is it not the most important thing for Gay Inc, or for that matter Transgender Inc. also?


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