Taking a break from the madness that is the end of National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo), I thought I would post another nostalgia piece from my first blog, Peaceful Ponderings. This post came at the end of November 2007 and remains one of my favorite from that year:
Ah the wonderful phenomena that is marriage. Millions participate in getting married every year, to see those unions flourish or disintegrate with the years thereafter. The majority of us were brought up in such a way that we were expected to grow up and wed a member of the opposite sex, bear children and rear them so the cycle can continue – that would be the compulsory, Western lifestyle/path I’ve written about before.
Relatively recently this way of life has been questioned as couples are choosing to co-habitate without making their relationship “legit”, as more GLBT people are coming out of the closet and seek the right to wed, and as more and more marriages break apart than ever before.
Unbeknownst to most, however, is that the way marriage is dealt with in America presently is not how it has always been. In fact, apart from the aspects like Social Security, inheritance, and hospital visitation that complicate the situation, we can look back in time and find an era when there were far fewer restrictions. Op-Ed contributor to The New York Times, Stephanie Coontz, discusses such matters in her column today entitled “Taking Marriage Private.”
Writing from Olympia, Washington, Coontz questions why people need the states’permission to marry at all. “For most of Western history, they didn’t, because marriage was a private contract between two families.” If you were to argue that marriage is a matter for the religious arena, even this is contestable. Coontz writes, “For 16 centuries, Christianity also defined the validity of a marriage on the basis of a couple’s wishes. If two people claimed they had exchanged marital vows — even out alone by the haystack — the Catholic Church accepted that they were validly married.”
Does that mean that when I was small and said I was going to marry my best friend, Michael, that walking around the kitchen table hand-in-hand made us husband and wife? Just kidding, but it does bring up some valid points and questions. If the Catholic Church accepted marriages between two people who verbally promised their commitment to one another, what about the homosexual couples who have done the same, spending decades co-habitating and staying faithful to their significant other? Perhaps history can teach us something about tolerance after all.
Indeed, according to Coontz’s well-researched article, “In 1215, the church decreed that a “licit” marriage must take place in church. But people who married illictly had the same rights and obligations as a couple married in church: their children were legitimate; the wife had the same inheritance rights; the couple was subject to the same prohibitions against divorce.” Well I don’t know about you, but this sounds simplyideal, especially in a modern world like our own, let alone 1215 Europe! Sure, you may say, ‘But that’s Europe!’ Even colonial America, however, saw a more lenient marital system in place: “The American colonies officially required marriages to be registered, but until the mid-19th century, state supreme courts routinely ruled that public cohabitation was sufficient evidence of a valid marriage.”
Unfortunately, in the ensuing years, rights were taken away in this arena, rather than granted. The majority of states outlawed marriages between Caucasians and any minority persons, including Blacks, mixed races, Japanese, Chinese, Mongolians, and Filipinos, or wayward citizens, including addicts, drunks and even the mentally handicapped.
Obviously such laws have since been overturned, but their mere presence in American history begs more questioning. If these citizens who were once thought of as inferior were banned from marrying one another, what about those who are currently barred from exchanging vows – i.e. homosexuals. Maybe the time for granting marriage rights to GLBT persons is not as far away as thought. If the past century has seen marked progress in tolerating those who do not fit the so-called ‘norm,’ one wonders who will be granted more rights next.
If you are one of those people who argues against gay marriage because it might lead to rights being extended to polygamists, incestuous couples and people who want to marry animals, I cannot help but shake my head. Those are absurd arguments to make considering that polygamy has only been practiced by a select minority; incestuous couples may harm their offspring through the mixing of similar DNA; and because an animal cannot give consent to marrying a person. As for the GLBT community however, homosexuals have been alive and thriving since recorded history began, spanning religions, ethnicities and continents. Need I even say, ‘We’re here! We’re queer! And we ain’t going anywhere!’ Isn’t it time to recognize this group, accept them and grant them the rights they deserve?
Remember a few years ago when headline-making Britney Spears wed in Las Vegas, only to end the marriage mere hours later? For justifiable reason gay marriage proponents jumped at the chance to use Spears as a scapegoat, pointing at her to make the argument that marriage should not be only for heterosexual couples, many whom should not get married (see above), while long-term, homosexual companions are left behind. Coontz speaks to this in regards to an even more important sub-issue: monetary benefits. “A woman married to a man for just nine months gets Social Security survivor’s benefits when he dies. But a woman living for 19 years with a man to whom she isn’t married is left without government support, even if her presence helped him hold down a full-time job and pay Social Security taxes,” Coontz reports.
It is frustrating to think of these circumstances, especially considering that millions of couples are dealing with these hardships and dilemmas every day. Coontz ends her own article with this advice: “But let couples — gay or straight — decide if they want the legal protections and obligations of a committed relationship.” Why not? Would such a change really harm anyone? For the religious zealots, we won’t call it marriage; as long as the legal rights are there for all couples, you can call it Sasquatch for all it matters.
What it boils down to, in my opinion, is a large case of intolerance and bigotry on behalf of the entire nation (and, to be sure, the world at-large). For those who are intolerant and bigoted against homosexuals, I have always had a difficult time explaining myself and my views. This may be because when I care and get worked up about something, I tend to shut-up instead of spouting my mouth off, coming up with the right response hours later, after the encounter has passed. Maybe if I put it into a personal context I can explain myself better.
My family is wonderful, loving and compassionate – for the most part. They would all most likely consider me to be the most liberal of us all, standing on my soap box whenever I get a chance to preach love and peace for all. I have been called naive on multiple occasions, as well as unrealistic, idealistic, and obsessive. I take this in and stew on them. What they twist into negative qualities, I see as positive. Naive? Surely you mean sincere and unfaded. Unrealistic and idealistic? I think positive and optimistic fit me best. What they see as obsession is passion. All told, I am an open-minded activist with a big heart who seeks to do her part to better the world. One such way is to educate people against bigotry. Since we are using synonyms here, I will replace bigoted with misunderstood. Those who claim to hate a certain group of people are simply ignorant about said group. Yes, there will always be those who, despite all of the education in the world, will always harbor hatred for reasons I, myself, cannot really fathom. However, the more you talk about them, the more you open your mouth and the louder you voice your own tolerance and understanding, the more people will see things from your point-of-view.
Writing this blog and including issues related to sex, sexuality and gender has not gone over swimmingly with everyone I know – namely my family members. I see this as happening because 1) my family is not yet comfortable with my own sexuality; 2) my family is certainly not yet comfortable with me talking about it; 3) my family, sad to say, still hold uneducated, bigoted opinions of their own; and 4) my family believes that representing myself as who I am via the Internet might make future employers wary of hiring me. These have been topics that I am barraged with on a bi-weekly basis and, despite my constant, unchanging answers, they continue their attempt to make me change.
NEWSFLASH: I AM WHO I AM AND I AM PROUD OF THIS!
In response to their worries, all I have to say is…
1) I understand you need time to adjust to my bisexuality, but adjust you must. Sexuality is not a choice, it is innate, and if I end up falling in love with a woman, that is the way my life will be led.
2) Despite your qualms, I will continue to be outspoken about GLBT rights, including my own. To not would be to admit shame, and I am not ashamed whatsoever.
3) There is absolutely no reason to believe homosexuality is wrong. Since we are not a religious group of people, I don’t need to defend myself against the Bible; but, regardless, homosexuals are no different from you. We live in a world hell-bent on binaries and dichotomies even when nobody can be labeled and put in a box. We are all unique and individual and, reflecting such, we all lie somewhere on the sexual spectrum. If you are concerned about my well-being, don’t be. Yes, GLBT persons have been and remain to be targets for victimization, but that is not something you or I can control. The best we can all do is live our lives as we see fit and hope that someone’s own insecurities won’t be directed back at us.
4) Finally, as I continue to tell my family time and time again, if a prospective employer does peruse my blog and is put off by my honesty and my self-proclaimed sexuality to the point that he/she does not hire me, to them I say, “Your loss!” I reiterate and pass the question back, “Why would I want to work for someone who will judge me wrongfully based on my sexual orientation anyway?”
I refuse to abandon my own ethics and morals to look perfect on paper, and I warn everyone else of the same. Life is much too short to compromise your beliefs and yourself to meet the demands of society, especially when society itself is in the midst of evolution. The majority of us may not be uber-tolerant presently, but we’re moving in that direction. As more people stand up and speak out and identify themselves in a positive way, more peoples’ opinions will change and the more likely laws will be to follow suit.