Saturday, June 25, 2011

Congratulations, New York State. And Thoughts About the Traditional Marriage

Same-sex marriage is now legal in New York state:
After a long debate, the state Senate approved the marriage bill 33-29 and Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D) signed it late Friday.

"New York has finally torn down the barrier that has prevented same-sex couples from exercising the freedom to marry and from receiving the fundamental protections that so many couples and families take for granted," Cuomo said in a statement. "With the world watching, the Legislature, by a bipartisan vote, has said that all New Yorkers are equal under the law. With this vote, marriage equality will become a reality in our state, delivering long overdue fairness and legal security to thousands of New Yorkers."

New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg, who had been part of a high-powered lobbying effort in favor of allowing same-sex marriages, called it an "historic triumph for equality and freedom."
And indeed it is a triumph of equality and freedom in important practical ways. It allows gays and lesbians the same legal rights as heterosexual married couples have.

I don't want to spit into the punch bowl of these celebrations. But the concepts of "equality and freedom" and "traditional marriage" started waltzing in my head and I cannot resist pointing out that marriage has a bad history when it comes to equality. Women used to lose almost all legal rights when they married, even their own existence as legal persons (except in criminal law, naturally). The wealthy traded their daughters (and their sons, too) in the marriage markets. Marital rape is still not illegal everywhere in the world and so on. And even today most women change their last names when they marry.

This is because the traditional marriage has never been equal. It has included some protections for the women, true, but they look like protections only because of the contrast to how women with children were treated if they were not married. It was better to marry than to burn, though for different reasons than Paul in the Bible meant.

And much of this history is not history but the present in other countries. Thus, it is certainly true that giving lesbians and gays the right to marry is an important advance and good news. But marriage as an institution has a history very different from a contract between equal and fully informed parties. Indeed, it has been the only generally available way for women to make a living. Perhaps it should have been called an industry?

I cannot help thinking that those who are opposed to same-sex marriage might be opposed to the idea of a marriage where they cannot tell, right off the bat, who should be the high priest and who the congregation in the family. In other words, they treasure the patriarchal form of marriage more than the idea that the partners should be of different genders.

After all that grumbling, my congratulations to New York state.