a bird and a bottle

Going back to that can of worms…
February 2, 2007, 3:16 pm
Filed under: feminism/s & gender, law, politics

The other week, I posted about same sex marriage in Spain and my thoughts on marriage in the good ol’ U.S. of A.

Pam Spaulding’s post today over at Pandagon got me thinking about the issue again. And I want to make some things clear, just in case there was any confusion in my earlier post.

1) I support equal rights for all, not separate but supposedly equal. That means that whatever straight couples have, same sex couples should have. It should have the same name and the same rights. It should be the same thing.

2) In my last post I suggested that whatever it is that civil governments confer — to everybody — need not necessarily be called marriage. Why not give every couple, gay or straight, a civil union that would bear all the rights and privileges of today’s civil marriage, just not the word “marriage” itself.

3) It is point (2) above that both leaves me conflicted and generated some confusion in reactions to my initial post. A commenter over at Pandagon today points out that marriage was never a religious institution until religions elbowed into the action for economic reasons and to gain ground in the ongoing power struggle among various religions and between religions and the State, and that it should stay a civil institution, but be broadened to allow access for all.

That makes a lot of sense to me.

But the radical feminist theoretical part of me wonders about this attachment to the word marriage. Marriage has pretty much always been an oppressive institution. Marriage has been an economic arrangement between men in which the woman is exchanged for a piece of gold (or cows or something). What is it that is so glorious about the word marriage? Wouldn’t it be powerful if we built a great coalition working to ensure equal rights for all but leaving the shackles of the word “marriage” behind?

I know that’s an unlikely scenario. And requires a reversal of many years of history. Which is why in my actions and in my votes, I support equal marriage rights for all, under the same banner (that banner being civil marriage). I don’t support civil unions as currently imagined — as alternatives to marriage for couples from whom the state withholds the word “marriage.” As Pam so eloquently points out, these civil unions will never be equal to civil marriage in practice.

All I’m saying is, what’s so wrong with evaluting whether, in the long run, we’re all collectively willing to leave a backwards institution behind, and about whether it’s the word “marriage” we want to secure for all, or the ideas and ideals that we think “marriage” represents.


5 Comments so far
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Kudos. I agree with everything until the last line. I think we should leave behind many of the “ideas and ideals” of marriage, too. Like the idea that woman takes care of the kids. And the ideal that the man is the breadwinner, etc. etc. Let’s drop marriage and all its baggage. But as civil unions sound second rate, what else could be a better term?

Comment by professorplum

Personally, I think the idea of leaving the word — and the practice of — marriage behind is a wonderful idea. However, I agree that it’s not likely to happen and certainly not in any relevant time period. Therefore, I take the approach of advocating for equal rights in everything, including the use of the word. In many cases (e.g. Vermont) we will fail to achieve “marriage” and will instead wind up with “civil unions”. That’s fine, for now. In the end, the disparity between the two civil-based institutions will be shown for what it is and will have to be addressed. The end of this system of oppression will come; it may just take a lot longer than the rest of my life.

Comment by Denise

the radical feminist in me wants to dump the institution wholesale as well. b/c it doesn’t work for a large majority of americans. and i think that the great coalition working to ensure equal rights for all and leaving behind marriage, that you refer to has actually started to form. it’s in it’s infancy, but some of the smartest people i know are behind it. check out the http://www.beyondmarriage.org.

Comment by maxwell

[…] A Bird and a Bottle: But the radical feminist theoretical part of me wonders about this attachment to the word […]

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