Friday, February 4, 2011

Gay Marriage, and Feminism, and Bears*, Oh My!

Here is why gay marriage is important for the feminist cause:

Marriage is, historically, a business transaction between a man and a woman’s father.  The woman’s father trades his daughter and a dowry, in exchange for protection for said daughter and, hopefully, a higher class status.  Multiple wives have historically been important for bolstering population within the community.  Marrying for love was essentially unheard of until the mid-20th century in places like the United States and Europe, and more recently elsewhere in the world.  Judeo-Christian tradition called for a woman to be married off as soon as possible, with or without her consent, in order to prevent extra-marital sin (her fault) and extra-marital children (also her fault) from occurring.   And so the institution of marriage everywhere continues to essentially be an antiquated property exchange: for a caretaker for the man, for a provider for the woman, for children borne within the rules of society, and for a transaction of goods provided by both families.

That is, if the definition of marriage is between a man and a woman only.  Because if the definition of marriage relates strictly to a heterosexual pairing, there is also the weighty societal assumption that women cannot provide, men cannot caretake, and that the couple will do their duty to God and procreate.  Love has nothing to do with it; it is strictly business.  But.  If the definition changes as our society has changed and brings love into the mix, all bets are off.  A woman can marry the man she loves, rather than the man her family loves or the man who loves/wants her.  A woman can marry the woman she loves, rather than her best male friend who may or may not also be closeted.  A woman can marry the man or woman she loves, regardless of class, social distinctions, career, or want for children.  It’s a beautiful thing.

Freedom for one minority group of people spells freedom for the majority (52%) of humankind to love, to cherish, to spend her life in sickness and in health with the person she chose.  The tradition of marriage is important; the ceremony binds a couple, their families, and their friends together in a way that simply moving in together can’t do.  The legality of marriage is antiquated but very, very present in a couple’s everyday life.  If a couple has that legal document in their possession, they hold rights and benefits reserved only for family, particularly in the health sector:  for health benefits received from a job, for hospital visitation rights, for the right to decide whether a plug should be pulled, and for property and possession distribution after one of them has died. 

So yes, feminists, marriage is extremely important, and it should absolutely not be done away with.  But our society has changed; there is no population crisis and women are generally taught to marry for love, so the law should reflect this.  Who a woman chooses to marry should reflect on love and shared values, not ability to procreate or heteronormative tradition.

*Sorry j/k there are no bears. Please still like me even though I sometimes lie to you about bears.

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