Mouse rant blog vent mouse.

Saturday, April 24, 2004

Monogamy, holding office and Europeans

I'm reading right now about Eleanor Roosevelt and the Roosevelt's highly unusual but productive relationship. Now there is alot of speculation and rumor swirling around their marriage, but there are a few things that are clear. FDR philandered, Eleanor didn't like it but managed to deal with it, FDR thought well of his wife and took her opinion into consideration on many decisions, Eleanor did alot of the legwork for FDR because his disability made it difficult for him to travel or appear in public, FDR died in the arms of his mistress, and Eleanor was an inconsolable wreck when she got the news. Everything else is conjecture. Still, from what we do know for a fact, one thing can be concluded--the Roosevelts defined their marriage outside the narrow definition of what a traditional marriage is. But it was still a real marriage.
Marriage is obviously under alot of scrutiny right now. Gay activists have made their move towards getting same-sex marriage legalized and conservatives are also using this time to make the move to redefining marriage narrowly while pretending that their definition was always the definition of marriage. And their definition of marriage centers around sex, a definition that way too many liberals are willing to accept. According to cultural conservatives, marriage is a sexual relationship between a man and a woman who have sexual fidelity towards each other and produce children out of their sexual union. Lots of sex for the people who are trying to desex everything else in our culture.
Liberals accept the sexual argument, but they just want to expand the definition of what kind of sexual unions are acceptable under the definition of marriage. It's assumed all around that two people who marry will be in a sexually monogamous relationship, be it straight or gay. But sexual monogamy is not what makes a marriage. And this is a critical point. A marriage is a partnership, largely defined by outside rights and a series of private negotiations between the couple. It does not necessarily include fidelity, though it usually does. It doesn't require sexual reproduction. And nowadays there is no legal obligation to participate in marital "duties".
On top of that, there are countless ways that heterosexuals can create non-marital sexual relationships that are tolerated or even outright recognized by the law. Reliable birth control means that heterosexual sex isn't a guarantee of sexual reproduction. There's no shoving the toothpaste back in the tube. The mechanics of heterosexual sexuality have been divorced from marriage. And this has been going on for a long time, all over the globe. Marriage isn't about dealing with heterosexual sexuality anymore, so there's no reason not to extend it to homosexuals. My guess is that in the future, people will look at our refusal to extend marriage rights to homosexuals in puzzlement, the same way that we find the hysterical desire for virginal brides in the past to be overwrought.
The other thing that occured to me in reading this was how like the reaction to the Clintons was to the reaction of the Roosevelts, except that the anger against the Clintons was more organized. Most people felt like it was none of their business, a few people clutched their pearls and pretended they thought it was inconcievable that a couple might have an unusual marriage and still enter politics, and a few paranoid men who disliked independent women spread rumors that it was an orgy-fest all the time at the White House.
Lesson learned. There will always be paranoid misogynists and pearl-clutchers. It's a waste of time trying to make them grow up and understand what most people understand, that there are as many definitions of marriage as there are marriages. Gay rights activists should probably appeal to people's common sense on this issue. Since no two marriages are exactly alike, why should their marriages be held to a higher standard to be considered "legitimate" than straight people's marriages? I don't want the government coming in and making sure that my marriage adheres to this person or that's definition of what makes it right before the Lord, so why should gay people have to suffer under that scrutiny? They are adults, they want to form a family, the rest is their business and not yours.
If they stick to that message and don't dither from it, I think more people will jump on the gay marriage bandwagon.


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