Tuesday, January 24, 2006
She's Just Jealous

Over the course of the last couple of weeks, I've had three different conversations on the subject of gay marriage. Two of them were mutually pro-equal rights, and the third was with someone who is ostensibly liberal/progressive but subjectively uncomfortable with the idea -- they threw out the same "marriage is for procreation" bullshit I hear from anti-rights people. Which is reasonable proof that leftiness is no miracle cure for bigotry.

But it's interesting, isn't it, how often the conversation really comes down to a question of what marriage is. And that question invariably leads me to brush up against my own ingrained attitudes. Here's my big admission (which a couple of you have already heard): there's a significant part of me that really wants civil unions.

And my instant follow-up qualifier: ...which is not to say that I don't also want completely equal marriage rights for my gay and lesbian sistren and brethren. I want both. My attitude has always been that GLBT folks should be as free to fuck up their lives as straight people. It's just that I also really want civil unions for myself. (What, you thought that if civil union legislation was enacted, it would only be for gay people? But that would be discriminatory!)

As should be obvious to anyone who knows me, I really, really don't trust the concept of marriage. We could sit around and analyze the roots of my attitude -- growing up in a multiply-broken home might have something to do with it, but I know plenty of other people who grew up similarly and embraced marriage (maybe even over-embraced it.) Or maybe it has to do with my own history: I've had brushes with marriage -- have even been right on the cusp of doing it -- and I backed away from the edge of the abyss at the last moment. Furthermore, in retrospect it's undeniably clear to me that it would have been a lamentable mistake to go through with it in any of those cases. (And the one time when I desperately wanted to marry would've been the worst mistake of all -- I can guarantee that at this point, had I done it, I'd be either divorced and full of regret, or still married and miserable.) Or maybe it's just the age. I'm at that point in life where lots of my friends have married, and almost as many are now or have recently been in the process of divorcing. I watch people I love get turned into emotional hamburger by their marriages, and it starts to look like a no-win situation.

In the end, though, I suspect I'm just not the marrying type. As a little girl, I think I spent all of ten minutes fantasizing about a fairy-princess wedding... and then I got back to the important business of doing things to Barbie that would give any concerned parent pause (and thanks, Mom, for bringing that up.) I can't even relate to the fetishization of weddings, or the idealization of something that is, at the end of the day, essentially a business contract. Which isn't to say that I never, ever would get married myself -- but there would have to be some damn compelling practical reason to do it. Most of those practical reasons, of course, could also be met (without the attendant baggage of the M-word) through civil union. And at least then the concept of a legally-binding contract is explicit in the experience, and not a source of disillusionment a few years down the road.

But hey, maybe I've just developed a jaundiced view. It's kinda silly, I know, to feel okay with a concept by one name and not by another (which is essentially what I'm saying here -- that a marriage by a different name might feel less oppressive.) But I don't know... there's an old feminist adage that claims marriage was only ever designed for one and a half people, and that feels at least mostly true to me. And while marriage is (or should be) something that can develop in response to the needs of a society and culture, does it ever completely lose its previous connotations? For example, my biggest problem with marriage is the underlying attitude of ownership; one party owns the other (or in the case of modern marriage, both people own each other equally.) For myself, I feel no desire to own anyone, and I sure as fuck don't want to be owned, even on a strictly 1:1 basis. I know this will sound horribly new-agey, but why can't people just be together for as long as they want to be together, and then, when they're done being together, leave? (Because sometimes, no matter how good a thing once was, you're just done.) What's the point of codifying it in the form of a legal arrangement? "Darling, our love is so pure and so eternal, let's make it contractually binding." How romantic! At least a real legal contract, without a mass of unspoken assumptions and social expectations hanging off of it, could be tailored to a given couple, altered when necessary, and broken cleanly when it was no longer serving the interests of those involved. Just the word "wedlock" makes me take a few metaphorical steps back -- how much more like a prison sentence could they make it sound?

So, no, I don't get it. I'm not against it as such -- people can do whatever people want, and just because old-school marriage is something that fills me with anxiety and makes me want to flee doesn't mean it isn't ideal for someone else. I'm not looking to stop anyone from having their fairy-princess wedding if that's what they want. I'm just looking for some other options, y'know? I'm all for committment, I'm all for devotion, and I'm all for responsibility --especially to children; a parent's relationship to their child is, as far as I'm concerned, the one truly inviolable human bond. But -- and I say this from a great deal of first-hand experience -- the parent-child relationship really doesn't have all that much to do with the relationship between parents. Either can flourish or wither independent of the other, which is why I tend to discount that issue in this kind of conversation. The average proponent of so-called "traditional marriage" would obviously disagree, but then, the average proponent of so-called "traditional marriage" would rather be "right" (read: self-righteous) than happy.

Still, if any of you married suckers want to enlighten me, I am actually quite open to having my irrational prejudices challenged. Why'd you do it? What do you get out of it? What does marriage get you that would be impossible otherwise? (And I mean wholly and exclusively inherent to marriage, ie, not stuff that would be equally well-served by some decent civil union legislation.) There are obviously a lot of important issues I haven't even touched on here, but which matter to most married people (if not so much to me personally at this point in my life.) I'm not the right person to bring them up, but maybe you are. (That's what comments are for, you lazy bastards.)
2:50 PM ::
Amy :: permalink