How to be traditionally married

Today, the Supreme Court will hear a challenge to the federal Defense of Marriage Act, a day after it heard Hollingsworth v. Perry, about California’s Proposition 8, which outlawed same-sex marriage in that state. The Hollingsworth audio is worth a listen if you have an hour. There are a lot of things that stand out about the arguments, and I’ll be writing about them in various places around the internet (hopefully) today and tomorrow. But one piece that, unsurprisingly, was hammered by Mr. Cooper, the attorney for the anti-marriage-equality side, was the idea that marriage has always been a certain way, and allowing same-sex couples to marry would change the entire institution in a way that had never been seen before. Which is kinda true, except of course that same-sex marriage is already legal in a bunch of places and Armageddon has not arrived. And also, marriage has been fundamentally changed in ways never seen before dozens (hundreds?) of times over. The vast majority of folks who crow about their support for traditional marriage are in (or seek to be in, or support) decidedly un-traditional marriages. So for all the female proponents of “traditional marriage,” I hope you are following these rules:

1. You were a virgin before marriage. If not, you should probably be put to death.

2. Upon marriage, you meld your entire identity into your husband. That means you have no checking account, no credit cards, no personal property and no right to file a lawsuit. That includes suing for divorce.

3. You cannot say no to having sex with your husband. If you do say no and he rapes you, it’s not really rape.

4. If your husband hits you, that’s his right, and it’s a personal problem, not assault.

5. If you’re raped before you’re married, you’d better have been a virgin — otherwise it’s not really rape. In any event, your rapist will pay your father for property damage, you’ll marry your rapist and all will be well.

6. If your husband dies and you haven’t given birth to a son, there’s an easy fix: You have to marry your brother-in-law. Oh and he has total sexual control over your.

7. You can only marry someone of your same race and religious faith; interracial or interfaith marriages are immoral and unnatural. Which shouldn’t be a problem, since your dad will choose your husband anyway.

There are many more, but the take-away is this: There’s no such thing as traditional marriage; it depends on when you want to stop the clock. Marriage has been evolving and changing for centuries. Allowing same-sex couples to marry will be one of the least disruptive changes marriage has ever seen.

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About Jill

Jill began blogging for Feministe in 2005. She has since written as a weekly columnist for the Guardian newspaper and in April 2014 she was appointed as senior political writer for Cosmopolitan magazine.
This entry was posted in Discrimination, Gender, GLBTQ, Law, Marriage, relationships and tagged , , . Bookmark the permalink.

16 Responses to How to be traditionally married

  1. Anon21 says:

    Allowing same-sex couples to marry will be one of the least disruptive changes marriage has ever seen.

    This is the thread running through a lot of “conservative case for marriage equality” pieces that I’ve seen. Fundamentally, gay people aren’t looking to change the institution at all; they just want it to expand its cultural hegemony to more groups. (I don’t mean that in as negatively as it might sound; I’m personally not a big fan of marriage, but it means a lot to many people, and excluding gay people from the institution is completely unjustifiable, both morally and legally.)

  2. Suddenly, a wild applause appears, galloping majestically into the sunset!

    Seriously, though, this was well done.

  3. roro80 says:

    Absolutely! Every culture since the beginning of culture has had a different definition of the word “marriage” or a word that would translate to English as “marriage”, depending not only the place you stop the clock, but where you are as well. Each of those cultures had different traditions associated with marriage, different ways that the two to be married would be chosen, different taboos, different superstitions.

    Late 20th century white Christian USians don’t own the word “marriage”. You hear them say “They should have all the same rights, but I’m uncomfortable with the word ‘marriage'”, as if it’s their word to begin with. It’s not. They can’t have it. Neither they nor their god has any claim or place of authority in my marriage, and they have no moral or legal standing in anyone else’s. Sure, we could make up this other name for this legal binding of two people who love each other enough to be each other’s closes family, and get a particular set of rights and responsibilities associated with it. But we already have a word for that. That word is “marriage”.

  4. Unree says:

    Which is why Scalia did not win the game of Gotcha he tried to play with Ted Olson at the argument. Scalia said, ‘when exactly did not letting same-sex couples marry become unconstitutional? When the Constitution was ratified? When the Fourteenth Amendment arrived?’ If Jill were doing the argument, she would have had a perfect rejoinder.

    • Emolee says:

      I think when the Equal Protection Clause was added would be an obvious answer (though not the only option). I am a firm believer that denying same-sex couples marriage rights is discrimination on the basis of sex, as well as sexual orientation.

      • Anon21 says:

        Well, for whatever it’s worth, the framers of the Fourteenth Amendment probably didn’t believe that it prohibited gender-based discrimination, and for that reason, it’s not clear that Nino thinks it does, either.

      • Emolee says:

        Right, but it has been held to apply to sex by SCOTUS many times, and I really don’t think this is up for debate at that level. So you could be more conservative and go with the first one of those cases. But I don’t think you need to. And, yeah, Scalia’s way of interpreting the Constitution…. very problematic.

    • TomSims says:

      I thought Scalia was supposed to be brilliant

      “A phrase in the Fourteenth Amendment to the United States Constitution requiring that states guarantee the same rights, privileges, and protections to all citizens. This doctrine reinforces that of due process of law and prevents states from passing or enforcing laws that arbitrarily discriminate against anyone.”

      It is very clear to me the same sex couples are covered under the equal protection clause. But of course I’m no lawyer, so what do I know.

      • Briznecko says:

        You mean “Racial Entitlement” Scalia? He’s brilliant if you consider twisting the Constitution into the most creatively backwards knots in order to justify bigotry.

  5. For several generation, Quakers/Friends were read out (disowned) if they married non-Quakers. It doesn’t happen now, but it is often brought up as an example of restrictive rules and guidelines that were once very much in force.

    I’m not sure anyone ever saw it as immoral or unnatural, but many leaders were extremely eager to keep growing the faith. And, in all fairness, since we rolled back that requirement, our numbers have declined. But that’s far from the only reason why.

    Fortunately, we’ve always been a faith group who valued gender equality (yup, it’s in the Bible), so the Patriarchal aspects of reading out are not nearly as prominent as in many faiths.

  6. Ashleigh says:

    Great post!

  7. Becca says:

    The most radical change to happen to marriage was when it became about love (at the turn of the last century). For the vast majority of the history of marriage, it was about property. You marry who your family works out for you to marry. What’s this rubbish and going out and finding someone that you love and loves you back?!?!? Hogwash!

    • EG says:

      It’s not that simple. The vast majority of people didn’t have property to begin with. And you can see in texts going back to the early 17th century portrayals of parents throwing up their hands and saying the equivalent of “What can I do? She loves the putz!” That’s as early as I can think of off the top of my head, but I wouldn’t be surprised if such things came up earlier as well.

  8. Fat Steve says:

    What I find so ironic about the traditionalist stance, is that the actual legal question at issue regards the licensing of same sex marriages. According to Wikipedia “For most of Western history, marriage was a private contract between two families. Until the 16th-century, Christian churches accepted the validity of a marriage on the basis of a couple’s declarations. If two people claimed that they had exchanged marital vows—even without witnesses—the Catholic Church accepted that they were validly married.”

    So, licensing itself is a relatively recent innovation.

  9. The Last Selina says:

    There is also the fact that a lot of those traditional rules came from the bible and enforcing them would violate the First Amendment.

  10. LeftSidePositive says:

    This calls for Betty Bowers on Traditional Marriage(TM)

    (content note for sex-negative, anti-sex-worker, classist, and racist language used satirically)

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