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Weighing Marriage Equality

I do not believe that those who oppose same sex marriage are necessarily homophobic. I do believe marriage equality is a civil rights issue and that fair-minded people will eventually agree that denial of marriage rights is a form of discrimination. As individual states end discrimination against same sex couples, people will realize that the institution is actually being strengthened.

Those who stand in opposition have argued that we can’t redefine marriage. Marriage they say is an institution almost as old as civilization itself and has always been between a man and a woman. If we start redefining marriage, they charge, who knows where we will end up? This is what we know as the “slippery slope” argument. Here’s how it goes: If we legalize gay marriage, what is to stop us from legalizing polygamy? What about legalizing marriage between adults and children or humans and animals?

In reality, the premise that marriage has never changed or been redefined is false. Marriage has been redefined through history and has changed with the times, and not just by expanding it to include interracial couples. It has changed as the roles of men and women in society have changed. As we have changed from an agrarian to a more industrialized society the role of the family has changed, as well. On the farm, the husband went out every day to work the fields while the wife stayed in the farmhouse and cared for the children. Now, both men and women work outside the home. Many couples choose to not have children. Marriage has changed.

Women were once considered intellectually and physically inferior to men. They were denied equal access to education. They were denied the right to own property or even vote. These barriers to sexual equality have fallen with the rise of the modern feminist movement.

I know this is shocking and offensive to say today, but there was a saying among males I knew as a teenager in the sixties. That saying was “a man can’t rape his wife.” It meant that a woman couldn’t deny her husband sex however and whenever he wanted. It was not said in polite society, but it was said in the locker rooms and bars where men would speak freely between themselves of how they saw a woman’s function in marriage. That I have not heard that thought expressed in decades indicates how much our attitudes have changed.

It was not long ago that women were considered a part of a man’s property in marriage. Some would argue that a wife was no different than a prostitute for her husband. He had paid for her keep and so had earned the right to do as he pleased with her. He brought home the bacon, and she kept him happy with a clean house, dinner on the table, a brood of happy children, and, of course, sex. This relationship was validated with Bible verses in the same way that keeping African-Americans as slaves was justified. A wife was expected to submit to her husband. The husband was the master of the house whom his wife and children were expected to obey. The Bible has been used to justify modern polygamy, but only for the purpose of allowing the male to possess multiple females.

What has changed is the relationship of power in the marriage relationship, or at least civil marriage. Woman is now equal to the man with equal rights within marriage. Husbands can no longer force their wives to have sex with them because rape is rape, period.

The jobs of housework and child raising are still not as equally divided as they should be, but that continues to change. It is not uncommon now for men to chose to stay home to raise children. Even if men are not doing an equal share of housework, they are doing more than their fathers and grandfathers did.

When I hear the word equality I think of a balanced scale. On this scale, there are two objects. They may be the similar or they may be different. Yet each has the same weight. Each is at the same level. Neither one is higher or lower in relation to the other.

If we define marriage as a relationship between two equal partners, we can refute the “slippery slope” argument. We recognize that sexual relations between adults and children are unhealthy because the relationship in power is unequal. The adult always has power over the child. Therefore marriage between adults and children is not healthy for society. The relationship between humans and animals is unequal, as well.

Polygamy should be rejected for the same reason. Where one man has multiple wives an unequal relationship of power exists. That unbalance would exist if a woman were allowed to take multiple husbands. While some advocate polyamory to advance gender equality, this arrangement does not have basic human nature in its favor. It is difficult, if not impossible, to maintain relationships of multiple partners without jealousy and favoritism coming into play.

That is the appeal I make to reasonable people. They understand what science continues to affirm. Sexual orientation is not a choice, but is biologically determined. When I was a closeted gay teenager, homosexuality was considered a psychological defect. Today, the scientific community recognizes that lesbians and gay men can have healthy, loving relationships. They are capable of raising healthy and happy children.

I do not expect these arguments to sway religious conservatives who are hostile to scientific evidence and obsessed in their opposition to gay rights. I wonder if this realignment of relations between men and women in marriage is at the root of their obsession with preventing lesbians and gays from marrying. They would have us go back to the days when the woman submitted herself to her husband and when ministers said, ” I now pronounce you man and wife.” Under that definition of marriage, the ceremony allows a man to stay a man, but the woman must change to become a wife.

Years after marriage rights have been granted to every loving couple in every state of the nation, we will look back and wonder what all the fuss was about. Perhaps we will recognize that these marriages were the result of a society that walked the path toward greater equality and social justice for all.

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September 3, 2009 - Posted by | Uncategorized

5 Comments »

  1. […] answers for their concerns about the definition of marriage. I have some thoughts in a previous blog entry and welcome comments. If we can get Everything But Marriage now, we can build upon that to achieve […]

    Pingback by Everything But Marriage, A Tale of Two States « Tomyamaguchi’s Weblog | November 5, 2009 | Reply

  2. “Weighing Marriage Equality Tomyamaguchis Weblog” was definitely compelling and instructive!
    In the present day society that’s challenging to carry out.
    Regards, Donna

    Comment by http://google.com | February 14, 2013 | Reply

    • Thanks for reading it. I am looking for constructive criticism of my ideas. is this a good argument? If not, why not?

      Comment by tomyamaguchi | February 14, 2013 | Reply


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