Talking It Over - Marriage Is Not One Man, One Woman
Whoever proposed the notion that marriage is between one man and one woman is wrong. Marriage may bring two people together to live and act as a single unit, but the reality of marriage is that everyone is involved. Families become united as well as couples; in-laws learn to love and respect one another, or not; they open up smooth passageways to the couple, or rough roads, depending on how the families feel about one another.
A recent marriage of a gay couple broke up, leaving at least one partner heartbroken. Her mother grieves for her daughter’s loss but also for the loss of the friendship of the mother of the other partner. No one knows, at this point, what to do—talk to one another or not?
Marriage also affects outside relationships. Partners leave off single friends more often than not and make new friends among other couples. Their friendships work until a couple breaks up; the married ones are often reluctant to favor either partner, leaving the broken couple isolated when comfort is most wanted. Similarly, if an attempt is made to keep up a relationship with both of the ex-partners, usually someone gets left out of a dinner or movies invitation and the other is hurt.
Children are a whole other story. Children of divorced parents have a hard time knowing where to place their loyalties, especially when their parents have new partners. They are not as willing to share family stories in school, even when the sharing is part of schoolwork. They may feel different or alone. Children whose parents are not married may feel insecure. Children who have parents who are together but who fight or who are alcoholic or drug users have unique problems. Children in so-called normal households may be happy with the relationships of their parents and secure that their parents are married.
There are so many examples of marriage as a family, friends, and community situation that the point makes itself. Marriage is not just between one man and one woman.
The only place where marriage is between one man and one woman is in states that have passed laws and constitutional bans essentially barring marriage of gays and lesbians. Since marriage is a civil contract, sanctioned by the state, limiting marriage to opposite genders hurts couples, families, and society. Same-gender couples do form committed relationships and raise families. Same-gender couples have the same passageways smoothed by loving relatives as opposite-gender couples, though the rough roads provided by some disagreeable in-laws are more of a danger to same-gender couples than to heterosexual couples, for same-gender couples do not have the full power of the law to protect them. There are horror stories of the law siding with the legal “next of kin,” in custody battles, in financial nightmares, and in cases of family interference—we’ve heard them all.
Somehow, in my experience, many same-gender couples who do part seem to be able to still be friends with their ex-partners, a phenomenon that doesn’t happen that often in opposite-gender relationships. Maybe same-gender couples have a lot to teach society about being civil and respectful of other people.
Who wants marriage restricted to opposite-gender couples? Many people do, not just the ultraconservative groups in the country. It is, however, the ultraconservatives who want to abolish all benefits that committed couples now have in registered domestic partnerships. Why? I think it’s a matter of control. These groups want a society that is carved out relative to their expectations of how men and women should be and act. At the head of this society is a man of their own race and religion who cracks the whip on morals for the common people.
It’s an old story. I’ve been reading A World Lit by Fire: The Medieval Mind and the Renaissance: Portrait of An Age by William Manchester. Some 450 years ago, debauchery reigned at the highest levels. Popes held orgies in the great rooms of their quarters in the Vatican. Popes had mistresses. One notable, Alexander VI, the Borgia pope, presided at the weddings of chosen women and then bedded them. With a favorite mistress he had children, one of whom was Lucrezia Borgia, who when she was a nubile teen was also bedded by her father. She gave birth to a son who was recognized by the pope but may have been her own brother’s child—the brother who killed his brother because the two of them had bedded Lucrezia. And history gives Lucrezia the bad reputation!
The common folk were charged for indulgences, a way for the Roman popes to raise money, so that sins could be absolved and a way to heaven bought. It was this practice that led to Martin Luther and the Reformation. Speaking of Luther, he was, in his prime, as intolerant as the Catholic church leaders he criticized. His idea of marriage, however, was that if a woman were childless in her marriage, she should sleep around to get pregnant and raise the child as her husband’s.
Maybe laws can be passed restricting marriage to one man and one woman, but marriage will never be that exclusive. Marriage is the key to legitimacy in relationships, the key that unlocks the door to family and community relationships as well.
©2006 Kay Mehl Miller
Kay is the registered domestic partner of John. Marriage is in her past, not her future. She is also author of Talking It Over: Understanding Sexual Diversity. Email email@example.com.