During the whole debate and the progress of the various legal cases, conservatives argued incessantly that gay marriage would damage if not destroy straight marriage. Obviously this is not true, but unless we assume that they are all drooling morons, why would they keep saying that?
In an awesome essay for TPM
, Amanda Marcotte explains that “traditional marriage”, to these conservatives, means more than the correct combination of genders. It means that a woman is not independent, but under the control of a man:
It’s true that women in modern society no longer feel like they have to be married to be granted entrance into adult society. Single women living by and supporting themselves is no longer considered scandalous. Marriage is, bit by bit, becoming more about a partnership between equals who choose each other for the purpose of love and happiness. Which means it’s becoming less about giving men control over women’s lives.
A disturbing theme runs through a lot of causes championed by the Right, and it is this: Men are supposed to be in control of women, especially their sexuality and their reproductive capacity. Since men cannot themselves make the next generation, they feel they must own the means of production. So “traditional marriage” doesn’t just mean with respect to the sexual binary. It also means that the female becomes subservient to the “leadership” of the male — “leadership” is a common euphemism among the religious right-wing for absolute male hegemony.
The Biblical view of women as property that occasionally talks back is no accident; extreme religious men today view their wives’ opinions with some bemusement. They know that they need to make sure their peaceful homes don’t fall prey to constant nagging, so they try to learn the tricks to keeping her quiet. Where I come from, this is called shalom bayit
– “the peace of the house.” That sounds nice, but remember: that same culture calls the husband ba’al
– “owner.” The more you know.
Conservatives’ desire to control women explains their attitudes toward sexuality, birth control, sex education, equal pay, workplace diversity, and even rape. It’s kind of scary how little is NOT explained by this framework. Are we becoming conspiracy theorists? It’s hard to be sure when everything fits the overall rubric so effortlessly.
The good news is that marriage is quickly losing this “control freak” quality. For more and more couples, marriage is entry into a joyful partnership of equals and not the subservience of one to the other. That’s why same-sex marriage had to become reality. In Justice Kennedy’s description of what marriage is and why any couple should be allowed its benefits, he gave no comfort to the controllers and all to the partners. “No union is more profound than marriage, for it embodies the highest ideals of love, fidelity, devotion, sacrifice, and family. In forming a marital union, two people become something greater than once they were.” Search in vain for any mention of who’s in charge.
“Who wears the pants in your family?” was the taunt hurled at men deemed insufficiently in control of their women. Not all that long ago — in my lifetime! — this had a sting. It was what they called “fighting words.” That today it generates more confused looks than embarrassment and rage is a huge accomplishment for our society.