A definition of “Marriage,” at least how it has been articulated socially in English speaking countries over the past millennia or more, is paramount to furthering our understanding where Gay Marriage fits in the social equation of couple-unions today. And it does fit, more easily than any of us on either side of this pro/con issue is likely to admit. Opinions are opinions, and facts are facts, but intelligent, rational thinking is other than tautological. The protection of everyone’s basic human rights is of supreme importance in the course of all human events, and the civil rights of homosexual couples demands that we articulate just what we mean when we say that Gay Marriage is marriage, or that Gay Marriage is marriage redefined or that Gay Marriage is an abomination of Marriage, the latter I have never been quite certain is as holy or sanctified as many conservative opponents to Gay Marriage suggest. If marriage as a ritual contract can be sanctified, i am also not so sure why it cannot also be sanctified by gay couples? Moreover, a redefinition of marriage that includes gay marriage does not help to undermine the significance of the institution, nor does it shatter the institutional valency marriage has held for millennia. That is, at least in the gross and perhaps erroneous assumptions many have made for the institution.
Traditional marriage, for a long time coming, has needed a re-articulation, for the institution has been stuck in an archaic understanding of men and women, and has suffered the subtractive legacies of patriarchy, and the power plays politically that men have enacted over time to control women, most specifically, their bodies, their sexauality, which extends to the reproductive rights of women as well. The issue of gay Marriage and the issue of a woman’s right to choose are both part of a larger human rights issue which will become apparent as we progress in this essay.
A revision of what marriage was, what the expectations were, and how it fit into the mentality of ages past, was necessary centuries ago, and had even been broached by Mary Wollestencraft in her seminal treatise, A Vindication of the Rights of Woman. It was (is) in the later treatise that Ms. Wollestencraft sought to “effect a revolution in female manners . . . and make them as a part of the human species,” for woman had been considered in her time, and for centuries prior, as a sub-species of man, a thing of modified personhood, someone sent into the world, “half made up,’ if you will. And perhaps we can better understand the associations of woman and her make-up if we pay closer attention to the ways women have been expected to present themselves socially and in the bed room.
Now, the ways marriage has been understood over the centuries has affected how we think of it today; the way we have thought about many things over the last millennium affects how we think about them today. Just what the implications were for women in marriage when framed by the language of the past has left its imprint on how segments of our society define marriage today, and even residually refer to women in that institution. It certainly affects how we argue against gay marriage, and it has even left its mark on how supporters of gay mariage confound their own defense. We actually hear gay men using the term husband and lesbians using the term, wife.
Words never lose their original potency, and the effects of language use are not restricted by contemporary connotations of words. More on the etymologies of the words used in the marriage ceremony, or how people talk of marriage, refer to the persons in a marriage, upcoming. Let me reiterate that the current absence of any astute, rational and intelligent re-imagining of marriage, and how it is still affected by an archaic world view that was useful to reinforce patriarchy and the continued repression of women, has impeded social progress toward how gay marriage could be accepted and thereby permitted; that is, without any attempts through courts or legislation to impede this acceptance or choice. Gay marriage does not make sense to too many people because they still think, by some collective unconscious framing, that marriage is primarily man shackling woman; that is, marriage remains a social contract between men and women whereby women give up certain rights over their bodies for the privilege of “being taken caare of” materially and monetarily, which is why both the Romantics and the Modernists later both equated marriage with a form of prostitution. Regardless of how much this thinking has changed, regardless of how we have modified or qualified our roles in marriage, much of the traditional views and expectations remain residual. Of course we have evidence to the contrary in our contemporaneity for this view, which is just the point I am making. We have already been in the process of revising our thoughts on marriage, tailoring our actions accordingly; however, we still remain confused when asked to define and articulate what we mean by the institution of marriage, and this has left us unprepared to deal with the issue of Gay Marriage. But then most of what we need to say, need to articulate, define, in the matter and manner of our freedom escapes too many of us, and I am talking about the educated who should be able to do so.
The lack of any articulate examination of the history of marriage may run parallel with our continued absence of a healthy historical consciousness concerning everything that happens in our lives, but the way marriage has been maintained over time—that is, culturally, interpersonally, customarily and legally— has forestalled how gay marriage could be included in our definition of marriage today, one apart from contractual agreements on the part of woman to be a breeder. This absent consciousness of our traditions and our language has prevented us from seeing how gay marriage as a variegation of the accepted norm could even liberate marriage as a social institution for everyone, particularly in how the role of women could be altered from the one framed by the narrow parameters of traditional marriage, itself informd by agrarian animal husbandry.
The acceptance of gay marriage will change how the traditional role of woman in marriage has been and continues to be defined against her personhood. Nothing as archaically constituted as traditional marriage should have endured for as long as it has without addressing the way marriage has been understood by our culture and in our language; or how it has been presented through one or another channel in our media. How the rhetoric of marriage had been articulated over the centuries has not much changed throughout those centuries—and I am focussing specifically on the English language, particularly how the etymology of the diction used in contemporary ceremonies (as well as in common parlance irrespective of social or economic class or one’s politics) has informed the rhetoric used to defend the status quo of marriage. This diction has been woven into the laws used to support the customs of marriage, and has shaped the opinions that the successive mainstreams of our society have held and have used to express their concerns about marriage that inform what we say currently.
There are only two main points herein to understand: the one, marriage is a contractual and/or ritual union in love between two adult humans; or the other, that is the traditional one, and this is that marriage is a cover by law for the rights of animal husbandry. The former is a move toward greater civilization, the latter, a move toward darkness and an archaic way of conceiving human rights. And we must not miss the point that this is a human rights issue; just as we must not miss the diction of marriage, whereby a husband, as in husband and wife, is exactly the husband as in animal husbandry, the science of animal breeding. The husband is the manager of the breeder’s brood.
I am approaching the idea of Gay Marriage from more than the position of civil rights, which is how it wound up in the Supreme Court, which is a very good thing to have had happen. We must understand, though, that it is not the Court that gives Gay Couples the right to marry. It is not even the law that can do that. Human Rights precede the law, and gay marriage is a human right, the human right to choose. Yes, again, we are talking here about human rights when talking about gay marriage, and I take this to be self-evident and not a point for debate. Where human rights are concerned, the law can uphold a right, the law can protect rights from abuse, the law can even get behind them and ensure that they are maintained in a manner that impedes future violation—and this is where the Court comes in—; but a basic human right is an unalienable right, and the denial of legitamacy by standing laws does not eliminate the right. The human rights of a slave exist and persist irrespective of the slavery. Slavery certainly disrespects and, more so, violates the human rights of the slave; but the slave has human rights in spite of the violation. The law in such a society legally enforces the perpetuation of the slavery; but the slave’s human rights are absolute and universal, most especially at moment of their violation. Gay couples have unalienable human rights irrespective of the laws that support or impede social progress toward accepting Gay Marriage as a variegation of marriage.
Addressing Gay Marriage as a civil rights issue is a necessary adjunct to addressing Gay Marriage as a feminist issue (—and it is a feminist issue in as much as Gay Marriage will forever change how partners in the marriage contract are looked at, talked about, referred to; all of these apart from and forever distinct from how tradition has engaged these); addressing the civil rights of homosexual couples is correlative to addressing Gay Marriage as a human right’s issue. I cannot stress this enough; let all repetition become motif.
The interesting thing about the Supreme Court decision, though, is that it declared that any State’s attempt to block civil marriage of gay couples is unConstitutional. This makes Gay Marriage a legal matter, one where civil rights are addressed, not necessarily in conjunction with a discussion of human rights. To say I agree with any legal decision that ends with the Constitutionality of Gay Marriage sounds silly to rational and intelligent ears, but it might not seem superfluous in the debate when we understand that sometimes in a democracy, power is numerical. I add my voice to the sum of voice, an extension of adding light to the sum of light.
Now, if marriage is a bond between two people who love each other, then how is it that gay marriage offends anyone; unless we are saying that gay men and lesbians cannot love each other. I do not know if anyone, even many opponents, would want to, or need to, argue this nearly un-winnable position. Why would anyone say that gay couples are not in-love, if homosexuality is no longer considered a mental illness, mental illness still a criterium that prevents marriage today? Okay. if gay men and lesbians are not mental defectives, then their sexuality should not be raised as a point in asserting they cannot love. I am sure there are people who consider homosexuality a mental illness, but I am addressing sane, intelligent and rational people. I am also sure that there are those who consider homosexuality a moral illness, and I am not talking about fanatics or zealots in the cause of a fundamentalist Conservative hegemony, as scary as that sounds to me. I have known many heterosexual couples, though, who were fruitful when they attempted to multiply, but did not love each other, and should not have gotten married, and were even ill-suited as parents. Heterosexuality does not have a monopoly on love, caring, compasion, adequacy in parenting, and so on in the manner in which we do parent in this society. Fifty per cent of heterosexual marriages end in divorce; what does that say about heterosexual unions? I do not know anyone who would argue that a heterosexual couple is ill suited to be maried since heterosexual couples have a 50% chance of winding up divorced.
If love is a pan-human condition, then it is a condition that lesbians and gay men can enjoy or falter within. Unless we are saying that homosexuality is an inhuman condition? I am not certain that any opponent wants to venture into this position, although it would be interesting to hear, allowing the contemptibility of the opinion to air and not fester sub-socially. But the objections to gay marriage, I have suspected, are other than this. The objections many raise against gay marriage as not being legitimate marriage are founded on one unspoken premise, and that is that gay men and lesbians, within their sexual practices, cannot be breeders; and we must come face to face with how traditional marriage has coalesced and initially accreted around the gravitational center of husbandry, that is breeding rights, contractual and codified as such. What this points to for us is that what we call conventional marriage has been held captive by the traditions and contractual agreements surrounding human breeding for too long. Heterosexual marriage needs liberating as much as gay marriage does.
Homosexual unions in and of themselves do not produce children, and as such, do not qualify as rightful marriage in the mind of many objectors. Again, neither does a heterosexual union produce in this way when one or both of the spouses are sterile. Furthering the assumption on my part that trditional mrriage is firstly and latly about breeding is the fact that being unable to produce children is grounds for the other spouse to petition for divorce. Society recognizes as grounds for divorce the inability to produce a child. It is then safe to assume that most objections to gay marriage are a reaction, mostly unconsciously, perhaps even collectively-unconsciously, to a non-productive union. For our society to remain consistent in this way, we would have to have enforced divorce for couples who cannot have children, and for couples who decide not to have children too, perhaps; that is, if we are going to continue to say that gay marriage is not marriage in the traditional sense.
We are not herein discussing adoption, which is always the religious answer for a heterosexual couple that cannot have children. Adoption, though, is not breeding; and still, if one examines adoption practices we see that to breed is still a big part of marriage. But then this is just what gay unions address. Marriage is no longer ruled by the processes involved in insemination; marriage is now and forever only about love or choice to join in a ritual contract binding two sane adults–let’s not forget that homosexuality is no longer a mental illness (do I have to tell you that tongue is in cheek?).
What Gay Marrige does, as I have iterated above, is free marriage from the shackles of breeding and breeding rights and the legitimizing of the brood. Remember that a brood mare is a female horse that is set aside for breeding. Traditional marriage sets aside women for breeding. Gay men and lesbians cannot be set aside for breeding–unless there is some form of surrogacy, which we still seem to have problems with, irrespective of there being surrogacy in the Old Testament. I suspect that this is an aspect of the Old Testament that even some fundamentalist Christians cannot abide? Or they are then horribly inconsistent. Perhaps their ethics belong in a cafeteria and not their churches.
In traditional marriage, throughout all the English speaking world, a woman becomes a wife; a man, a husband. In English, these titles, if you will, reveal something intrinsic in the traditional mentality concerning marriage. ‘Wife’ comes from the Anglo-saxon word for female, not woman or spouse. In this context, female is equal to breeder, as the female of any mammalian species is the breeder of her brood. The distinction of female in any species is a sexual one, and that’s without any of the neutral connotations we assert in our identifications with gender. Gender is a grammatical term and one of sociological reference when talking about women and men. Male and female are the two sexes of any species, distinct for their roles in breeding, primarily. A man becomes a husband in marriage, and in effect becomes the master of the union’s breeding; he is the one that manages the brood of the breeder, the female, or the wife in this instance, the Anglo Saxon wif. The latter is also part of the compound wif man, or, ‘woman.’ Before marriage a woman is a female person (what we mean by ‘person’ is contained in the use of the Old English word ‘man;’ what we mean by ‘man’ was contained by the Old English were as in were-wolf, man-wolf or wolfman; the Old English were having nothing to do with the contemporary English past tense form of the verb ‘be’ ‘were,’ nor is it restricted to use in the former connotation). After marriage, she is only a female. Note the deletion of her personhood. Moreover, as mentioned above, the word ‘husband’ is contained in the origin of the word ‘husbandry,’ the science of animal breeding.
You do also know that bride and bridal are related, and bridal is the adjectival form of the noun ‘bride,’ and ‘bridal’ is exactly the word that had been used in puns based on ‘bridle bit,’ what a horseman puts in the mouth of his horse. The husband muzzles the wife in traditional marriage. Now we know that jokes permeate the psyche; common parlance affects mentality, mentality shapes common parlance. For centuries in English speaking societies where horses were used, ridden and bred, bridle bits have been used; and in as much as homophones are often the root of puns, bridle bit gives rise to the puns about marriage, how the bridal bed is a symbolic bridling of the woman, her bridal bed is her bridle bit.
Gay men by their sexual practices cannot produce children, which I presume underlies, as I have said, many objections to Gay Marriage. A man’s colon or rectum or anus has none of the functions of the female uterus, cervix or vagina. But then anal intercourse between heterosexual couples does not produce offspring. I don’t doubt that many who object to Gay Marriage might also object to heterosexual anal or oral copulation either because it violates the Biblical proscription against sodomy or because any sexual act that might not result in a child is perhaps demonic or simply degenerate (itself a term used to denote prurience but has its origins in actions that do not generate, and even when used to reference a metaphorical generation, as in art, for instance, that is not degenerate [something the Nazis had an affinity for identifying], the origin of its use is for something that is progenerating-like, as in producing children who are our progeny). I am not going to discuss masturbation as it is understood in these minds; masturbation being the greatest metaphor in parallel for the kind of thinking that takes place in these minds . . . I am not going to venture any psycho-analytic diagnosis. Sexuality in itself, let us say, as well as the practices therein, whether hetero- or homo-, is freed by the acceptance of gay marriage.
All of these points notwithstanding, we still see attacks on abortion clinics and a savage opposition to the availability and distribution of birth control, both of which run parallel to the sometimes savage and even violent reactions to the idea of Gay Marriage or homosexualty. One conclusion from this could be that sex is not for pleasure in our culture. If we examine our popular culture and its entertainment, we would see clearly that when sex is for pleasure, it must be framed as grotesquely as possible. The proliferation of pornography can tell you just what the collective unconscious of America thinks about sex. And I am not herein trying to proscribe or prescribe for anyone’s bedroom, but what we do in our bedrooms and what we see on the stage of our social interactions, the platforms we perform on as we know this world is a stage, exist in different categories, whether associatively or dissociatively.
As aforementioned, if we are opposed to Gay Marriage because it stands outside of traditional marriage’s link with breeding and breeding rights, then we are on shaky ground. Moreover, anyone who is infertile must also be excluded from the right to marry, if we are taking the position that gay marriage is not traditional in the sense drawn herein above. If we allow infertile couples to marry and stay married then perhaps we are moving in the direction toward marriage as a bond of love and not the breeding contract it has been traditionally. This, of course, is not the fist time we have heard that marrige is a bond between two people who love one another. At least idealistically, marriage is this.
Until we change the diction of marriage, the rhetoric cannot change, the mentality will not change, individual psychologies will be shaped accordingly. If this is true, though, that marriage is about love and not about breeding, then why is infertility still grounds for divorce? Perhaps as adjunct to the issues raised by gay marriage, the notion that the inability to have a child should be grounds for divorce needs to be revised.
If marriage is exclusively adjunct to homo-sapiens animal husbandry, then gay marriage makes no sense; if marriage is a union between two humans who love one another, then gay marriage reinforces this notion by taking out of the equation of marriage once and for all the conditions of breeding. Heterosexual marriages that do not produce children for whatever reason, by choice or by biology, are as fruitful as those that are fruitful and multiplicative.
Gay marriage is marriage liberation. It is not only an issue of gay rights but of women’s right, in as much as it removes women from the yoke of traditional marriage or the contractural obligations in husbandry. The issue of gay marriage is a human rigts issue in as much as it is an issue of the right to choose. Gay marriage liberates heterosexual marriage, and once and for all, as I have said above and will repeat again here, removes the definition of marriage from the legacy of breeding, although certainly not parenting, which it will thus redefine, as it has been redefining it for us in our society for the last quarter century.
I used to think that it was naiev of us to expect the mainstream of our society to accept homosexuality coming our of the closet, when heterosexuality had only been out of the closet in our culture for about fifty to sixty years, and poorly received at that by the turns in how popular culture deals with or represents sexuality; sexuality, in our media and popular culture is always in need of being marginalized or of marginalizing itself. This is changing, but there is still far too many examples of sex and sexuality that point to a collective unconscioous fear of sex and sexuality. This fear in America is repressing our attitudes about isues concerning gay marriage, as well as abortion rights. Our notions of personhood are also stunted by this notion of how sex and sexuality is first, fore-mostly and lastly about breeding. Issuses concerning the nature of personhood and transgender persons and how they are persons first and last is confused and confounded by this inability to deal with sex and sexaulity in a healthy way.