a bird and a bottle

A Whole New Can o’ Worms.
January 24, 2007, 12:08 pm
Filed under: feminism/s & gender, law, news & views, politics

So. This is a Big-Tent Feminist Blog (not sure why I put that all in caps), but there are some issues that I believe fall under that tent that have gone for the most part unaddressed here. One of them is same sex marriage. I think it’s a feminist issue for more reasons than I have space fo here, including just basic ideas about respecting individuality and the humanity of all people regardless of sex, gender, race sexual orientation. &tc. If you have any doubt that gay rights are a feminist issue, we can discuss in comments.

So here I go, wading into that quagmire. To me, it’ not even a question that if a person wants to marry another person, they should be able to. Period. (Calm down all you Scalias out there – bigamy and polygamy aside. The question of whether or not marriage is a goal to which we should aspire and if we are being too normative is for another day). I’ve wondered over the past few years what it is that makes Americans so averse to same sex marriage. Sure, there’s religious fervor and rightwing fearmongering. But that wasn’t quite it. And looking at the protection of same sex marriages in other countries, I couldn’t figure out exactly where we went wrong. Other democracies ahve political parties that fight for votes and don’t necessarily shy away from hate-filled rhetoric to get the votes they need (just like the U.S.). Other countries are religious (though perhaps we should separate Evangelism from traditional Christianity). Why is it that Catholic countries (Spain) have been able to peacebly (and, I think, correctly) resolve this issue and thus diffuse it while the U.S. keeps the debate alive? The easy answer is, as usual, for political purposes. But I don’t think that’s it.

And now Chris Rovzar, a friend and journalist who just spent three months in Spain has put his finger right on it. In the January 30 issue of The Advocate, he writes:

It took me a while to really grasp this, but it is precisely because family is so important to the Spanish that they do accept gays getting married. “If your mom is conservative and you are gay, you are her son,” says Emilio de Benito, a writer for El País, the country’s left-leaning newspaper. “That’s the most important thing.”

Uh-huh. Makes sense to me. Rovzar gives us other examples of the centrality of family in Spanish life (17% divorce rate, later marriages, kids living at home longer) to show us that family is indeed the trump card in Spanish life. Over even religion.

It doesn’t hurt that the Spanish, though part of a Catholic country, are on the whole wary of religion as a political tool.

“The church is the principal homophobic force in Spain, and they allied with [Franco]. They offended everyone,” says Jordi Petit, a grizzled gay rights activist in Barcelona who began fighting for equality in the Catalonia region over 30 years ago. “They are held to account by the public.”

Accordingly, Spaniards are extremely hesitant to vote along religious lines. Poll results frequently show that more people are in favor of same-sex marriage, for example, than think that being gay is natural—meaning that just because they may hear antigay views in church (if they even go), it doesn’t mean they are going to act on them to deny a fellow citizen rights. In fact, if the church takes a strong stance against something, people are actually more likely to question that position.

In contrast, the situation in the United States, with evangelical voters holding so much power, is laughable to Spaniards. So too is the way George Bush often says, “God bless you, and God bless America.” “What is he, a priest?” my Spanish roommate said to me with a laugh one day. I would have laughed with him if I didn’t know it was that exact blur between church and state that causes so many gay people to suffer in the States.

The situation in Spain is not without its hiccups, as Rovzar notes. But ultimately, it works.

[I]n the end it wasn’t the activists that made the law possible in Spain—it was the straight people who listened, who allowed themselves to be educated, and who ignored religious and social prejudices. With a large voting majority, passing the law was easy.

I have always been an advocate for marriage equality, which in the United States often means I am caught in complicated logical and theoretical debates. But in Spain it’s so simple. Spaniards care immensely about the tradition of family, so anyone who wants to be a part of it can be. The separation of church and state is written into their constitution, so they keep them separate. Equal rights are a founding principle of their democracy, so they give them out to everybody. Seeing it all laid out so plainly makes me feel like a crazy person. U.S. society has the same basis, yet look how dismal our prospects for marriage equality are at the moment.

*Sigh.* I’m just going to leave it at that. Except to say this: I think that people like me – straight feminist women – need to make marriage equality, or at least the equality of rights*, a priority. That doesn’t mean sidelining the other issues we care about, but rather augmenting them or tying them together. If the NAPW conference showed me anything, it was that a broad understanding of an issue can reap rewards for all involved.

*I qualify that statement because I am not so sure that civil marriage is the goal to which we should aspire (how about civil unions for all couples, gay or straight, with marriages provided by religions only. That would take this religiously based fight back where it belongs — out of politics).


12 Comments so far
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Right ON! 100 percent. Thanks for this — it means a lot considering the ugly history between straight and lesbian feminists – we’re so lucky to be at a point where young feminists can work together. Marriage rights is a huge huge goal — and a practical way to make equality fundamentally shared. It’s totally not JUST marriage – it’s healthcare, it’s media, it’s sexual abuse and harrassment, it’s a lot — but normalizing gay relationships is a huge piece to adressing everything else.. LB

Ps – I was inspired! http://www.milbydaniel.wordpress.com

Comment by milbydaniel

Today I was watching televangilists John Hagee and Pat Robertson do their deal on the boob tube.

It really freaked me out. Hagee did this whole thing on terrorists, making a big deal of the Hamass Charter, where it says they should attack Lions club members and Free Masons. He went on this big rant about how the terrorists live all around us, here in the U.S., in our neighborhoods, and how they are plotting to kill us when we go to lodge meetings to do “fundraising for poor orphans.”

Then this woman comes on and does a half hour on “the enemy” and “the pit” I have no idea what her point was, other than to make women afraid.

Then they go into this whole show about supporting our friends in Israel. They want us to show Christian love by sending money to feed the poor in Israel, to aid orphans in Israel, and to send more Jewish people to live in Israel.

This is REALLY FREAKY because I have read enough of Haggee and Robertsons stuff to know, the whole reason they are aligning with Israel, is because they want to speed up the comming of the “end times” of Armageddon. They want the Jews to rebuild the temple and start the great holy war.

Anyway, it relates, cause these are the same people you are talking about. The ones against gay maggiage and Choice, and all that progressive jazz.

Comment by Kelley Bell

I am in total agreement with you. Here in Finland (where I live) there is the possibility for civil marriage for same-sex couples (since 2002 I think) and we’re now in the middle of a political debate on rights for reproductive assistance and adoption-rights for single women, which means that the debate spreads out to include same-sex couples etc. bringing out all sorts of intolerant opinions (not so sure tolerance is good either, but that’s another question).

Comment by mjau

For decades now, lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender people have stood outside of abortion clinics–because whether we choose to be reproductive or not, we know what’s at stake when we act to defend women’s rights to self-determination and bodily integrity.

It’s long past time for straight feminists to understand that same point when it comes to same-sex marriage–and to get our backs.

Marriage equality now!

Comment by Nancy in NYC

Nancy – all I can say is Amen. You’re 100% right.

Comment by bean

When I asked a prominent gay activist his thoughts on gay marriage, he responded: I always thought being gay meant seeking alternative to heterosexual relationships. He and his partner have been together over 25 years and – I imagine, though I do not know – would support the push for equality before the law: everything from adoption to taxes to all the benefits married couples receive. With the legislature in New Jersey granting just that (and with all too many other states passing laws that outlaw the recognition of gay marriages performed anywhere), it seems to me that this is not only the more practical, but also the ideologically more sound option. As bean wrote, leave religious marriage to religion. Let’s push the State to grant equality before the law.

Comment by professorplum

There is civil marriage and religious marriage. LGBT people shold have unequivocal and unquestioned access to the former–and it should be up to individual denominations and/or churches whether to grant the latter.

Civil unions are just the same old “separate but equal” bullshit all over again. I don’t want a civil union: I want what you got.

Comment by Nancy in NYC (a prominent gay activist)

Nancy, I think by promoting civil marriage professor plum is saying civil unions for ALL (straight, gay, in between). That way in the eyes of the state, everyone would have the same thing and individual religions/denominations can fight about the word “marriage.”

Does that clear anything up?

Comment by bean

Addendum: the difference being that then the whole sacredness of marriage bullshit argument is deflated because what the state does is not officially “marriage” anymore (everytime I type that, I think of the movie “The Princess Bride”). So what the state would give to EVERYONE would be “civil unions.” Leave the whole word “marriage” to religions. What do you think?

Comment by bean

This is the last comment out of me, I promise (I am currently in ultra procrastination mode). Ultimately, though, I think the only difference between what you want, Nancy, and what professor plum advocates is semantics. You both – I think – want equality of rights under the same name. I think maybe you just differ on what that name should be (for all couples).

ok, bean, work!

Comment by bean

To clarify: I agree 100% with Nancy. The only difference appears to be that she writes more clearly and succinctly. (And that I would call ALL marriages – gay or straight – “civil unions” and Nancy prefers the term “civil marriage”; thanks, bean, for the clarification.)

Question: has the NJ legislature met that goal, at least within the boarders of NJ? (I realize that – shamefully – NJ unions will not necessarily be recognized outside of NJ; but this appears to be the case for Massachusetts marriages, too.)

Comment by professorplum

[…] February 02nd 2007, 3:16 pm Filed under: politics, feminism & gender, law The other week, I posted about same sex marriage in Spain and my thoughts on marriage in the good ol’ U.S. of […]

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