Let’s get on the right side of history
Same-sex marriage does not pose a threat to traditional marriage for one simple reason: traditional marriage has been long dead. Its death came after a protracted assault by those one assumes would’ve been its most ardent defenders: heterosexual men.
Lament not its passing.
Professor Stephanie Coontz of Evergreen State College in Olympia, WA, Director of Research and Public Education for the Council on Contemporary Families and author of Marriage, A History: From Obedience to Intimacy, or How Love Conquered Marriage, traces its demise.
The reality, writes Coontz, is that traditional marriage was not based on “love, sexual compatibility, or equality between husband and wife,” but on “sealing political alliances and business deals, gaining well-placed in-laws, making the family workplace more productive through the labor of one’s children, and making sure that only legitimate children, born to a parentally sanctioned match, had any claim on the family’s property.”
If that wasn’t bad enough, traditional heterosexual marriage, continues Coontz, “denied the primacy of love and free choice in mate selection, sanctioned marital rape, prohibited contraception and assisted reproduction, and assigned husbands and wives distinct, unequal roles in marriage.”
Early church leaders not only allowed for a mere profession of marriage by two people, which allowed young people to marry despite parental objections, they also decreed the inability to procreate—infertility, aging—were not an obstacle to marriage. The Church merely said that if procreation were a possibility, it should not be suppressed.
Societal advances of the 19th and early 20th centuries, from birth control to the eradication of chattel, further contributed to the erosion of the traditional norm.
Fast-forwarding to the late 20th and early 21st centuries shows a vastly different marriage landscape both in terms of the relentless pursuit for same-sex marriage and in the state of opposite-sex unions.
Frederick Hertz, an attorney and author of Making It Legal: A Guide to Same-Sex Marriage, Domestic Partnerships & Civil Unions, writes on the Huffington Post about a report issued by the UCLA School of Law Williams Institute. Among its findings:
• Same-sex couples are more likely to legally formalize their relationship in states where marriage is an option, as opposed to when only a domestic partnership or civil union registration is allowed.
• Nearly two-thirds of the registered or married same-sex couples are lesbians.
• About 1 percent of the total number of same-sex couples gets divorced each year compared to about 2 percent of straight couples. Among opposite-sex couples, the divorce rate is 50 percent over time.
Hertz concludes that “same-sex couples are more interested in the social symbolism and community acceptance that is bestowed by marriage, as opposed to the ‘dry’ technical benefits of a domestic partnership or civil union.”
The proclivity of lesbians being more willing to commit to marriage than their gay brothers, he suggests, is due to women more likely to raise children and to have one partner that is unemployed (thus, needing health benefits) and lower incomes than male couples.
He adds that lesbian women are no different than their straight sisters in that “women tend to be more marriage-focused.”
Third, Hertz argues that the lower divorce rate among gay and lesbian couples is likely due to “the partners getting married tend to be those who have already been together for some time who have already weathered the stormy middle years of coupledom.”
In other words, other than their innate sexual attractions, when it comes to the “pursuit of happiness” same-sex couples are every bit as human as opposite-sex ones.
In another piece on HuffPost, Thomas Roberts writes about how governors are leading the way on same-sex marriage, citing both Washington governor Chris Gregoire and Maryland governor Martin O’Malley, both Catholic. He doesn’t mention our governor John Hickenlooper likely because he’s not leading the way on the issue.
To be fair, Gov. Hick has called for civil unions as has, as I wrote last week, a group of Republicans called the Coloradans for Freedom. However, while it would be awesome to board the legal-partnership bus, it would be so much the better to be allowed a seat in front of the likes of serial marriage killers such as, well, Newt Gingrich.
Nationwide, a majority supports same-sex marriage at 53 percent. Among college freshmen, it garners over 70 percent. And by the time you read this, same-sex marriage will likely be legal in Washington.
History shows marriage is an evolving institution, and as Roberts notes, “Politicians are realizing they want to be remembered for standing on the right side of history.”
Political courage, though, requires more than standing on the sidelines; it demands action by leading and not equivocating with pious baloney.