On Marriage

I have two almost inflexible rules about my Facebook persona: I remain in the broomcloset and I do not discuss politics. (It’s true; my Facebook life is limited to less than 60 friends/family members. I’m such a failure. I like it that way.) (I’ve been saying for years that Facebook has real dangers for anyone who may ever be in the market for a new job, a new client, a refinanced mortgage, etc. I am not at all surprised by the news that employers are demanding the ability to review the Facebook pages of potential hires.) Yet, I broke my second rule the other day to get involved with the (Catholic priest (of course)) friend of a friend who wanted to shit on the notion of gay marriage without really coming out and, you know, shitting. Because he’s so nice, and all.

Here’s the longer post that I stopped myself from writing on Facebook:

Look, I do not care how many times you repeat your manufactured mantra (and that’s all that it is) that “Marriage is between one man and one woman.” Your mantra is bullshit. That’s right: Your mantra is bullshit. Om mani padme hum is fine. The Goddess is alive and magic is afoot is fine. All kinds of mantras are fine, but your mantra is bullshit. It’s bullshit because it’s recently-created, and because it’s not true, and because it is designed to mislead people.

Civil marriage (marriage that carries the force of the government’s ability to provide benefits and enforce contracts; and that’s what we’re talking about in America today) is whatever the State defines it to be. I’m a lawyer with a lawyer’s respect for and understanding of contracts and of the law. And, in America, the First Amendment prohibits the state from “establishing” (i.e., favoring, or promoting, or establishing as law) the tenants of any religion. (If I ran the zoo, all that the state would provide to any couple or group of people would be a civil union, a particular set of contract rights. That’s where the state protects your right to things such as hospital visitation, inheritance, custody, insurance coverage, etc. Beyond that, if you want a marriage, or handfasting, or whatever, you could go try and get it from your religion. It wouldn’t confer any more civil/contractual rights than a civil union. But it might confer blessings or religious status. And if Religion X doesn’t want to confer upon you the sacrament of marriage or if Religion Y won’t bless your handfasting, well, too bad, that’s Freedom of Religion. Perhaps you’re in the wrong one.)

I would like to put to rest for all time the completely false notion that “biblical marriage” (which should not impact civil marriage, see above, but, still) or even “traditional marriage” is “between one man and one woman.” In “biblical times,” marriage was often between one man, as many wives as he could afford, a bunch of concubines, and various assorted handmaids (see, e.g., Abraham, Sarah, Hagar, Ishmael). (I was raised Catholic. I won the religion award every year in Catholic elementary school. Unlike (apparently) many of today’s Christians, I’ve actually read the bible. Several times. Catholics weren’t known for reading the bible, but I had the advantage of growing up during the Vatican II Interregnum. The bible makes clear that “biblical” marriage was quite different from what most Christians are pleased today to call “marriage.”)

Both before and after after “biblical” times, the Christian church and other organizations/religions/states recognized gay marriages.

We’ve made many changes to the institution of marriage since “biblical times,” and the notion that we can’t make another one to accommodate civil rights for gay men and lesbian women is complete and utter bollox.

For example, marriages used to be arranged. The young people involved often had zero say as to whom they were to be married. See, e.g: Romeo and Juliet, where Juliet’s father threatens to beat her senseless if she will not marry the man that he has chosen for her. That was his right, back then, back, you know, in the days of “traditional marriage.” Today, people arrange their own marriages based, generally, upon love. Today, people tend to marry in their twenties or thirties, not, as in Romeo and Juliet’s time, as teenagers. Today, a father beating up his daughter for refusing to marry the man of his choice could be reported to the authorities and put in jail.

Fathers used to give their daughters to any man who could tender enough livestock or provide enough service to earn that particular piece of property known as a daughter. See, e.g., Jacob working for seven years, being given “weak-eyed” Leah to marry, even though Jacob wanted Rachel, and Jacob then working another seven more years to get Rachel for his second wife. There’s “traditional,” and “biblical” marriage for you: two wives bought by 14 years of labor. In modern America, it’s almost unheard of for a father to give his daughter to someone in exchange for livestock or any other commodity. Or for a man to marry two sisters. Oddly, marriage, as an institution, has evolved since “biblical” times. A lot.

Married women traditionally had to assume their husbands’ names, were not allowed to own property, were not allowed to sue in their own names (one of the first tort cases that I ever read in law school was for injuries to a woman, but the case was styled, for example, Robert Robertson v. John Johnson. When I asked why it was captioned that way, my torts prof explained that, “back then” (it was well into the 20th Century) married women couldn’t sue in their own name. Now, they can.), and could not obtain custody of their children in a divorce. Now, they can.

At one time in America, interracial couples could not marry. Today, they can. I live in Virginia, home of Loving v. Virginia. I am the great-aunt of an interracial nephew and am knitting furiously for the coming day when (this summer!) I will be the great aunt of an interracial niece. The parents of my great nephew and my (coming! can you tell that I’m excited?!?) great niece are happily, legally, civilly married. As they could not have been, even a generation ago.

We’ve made changes to civil marriage as the arc of the moral universe has continued to bend towards justice.

Anyone want to debate with me about the legitimacy of the great-nephew for whom I knit sweaters or the (pending) great niece for whom I’m knitting a newborn cap and newborn mittens?

I didn’t think so.

“A family” is no longer defined as “mother, father, and 2.5 children.” I was (I know: horrors!) a single, teen-age mom. Son and I were “a family.” We did all of the things that “a family” is supposed to do for society. We lived together and celebrated major holidays. Son got fed, nurtured, educated, acculturated. Even without the presence of “a father,” Son played sports, went to Princeton, got a law degree, married a wonderful woman, bought a home, had his own child, etc., etc. Tomorrow, on Mother’s Day, I’ll be going to brunch with my non-biblical family. The absence of a biblical/traditional patriarch doesn’t seem to have cost us too much.

So “biblical” or “traditional” marriage wasn’t “between one man and one woman,” and was vastly different from what even the fundies are thinking of today when they say “marriage.” We’ve changed the institution of marriage many, many times over the course of history and, guess what? “The family” hasn’t dissolved. Society has survived. Options have increased. Life goes on. The sky hasn’t fallen. I’m still a Mother, a Mother-in-Law, a Nonna. Mother’s Day will go off tomorrow without a hitch.

I’m sorry if your notion of human love and human families is too constricted to encompass today’s real families. But I’m willing to honor your right to define, in your religion, what “marriage” means or what a “family” is. Maybe your religion wouldn’t have baptized or recognized my Son because he was born to a teen-age mom. Fine. Maybe your religion wants to go on pretending that we live in a world where men rule the family. Fine. Maybe your religion doesn’t want to recognize loving relationships between same-sex couples. Fine. I’m sorry for you, but fine. That’s what freedom of religion means. It means that you get to practice a religion that I think is just flat-out wrong. And it means that I get to practice one that offends your every sensibility.

It means that I get to practice a religion in which all acts of love and pleasure are rituals of the Goddess.

My religion is sex-positive. It doesn’t discriminate based upon who loves whom or upon how many people love each other. My religion honors mothers, both mothers of physical children and mothers of ideas, art, mathematical theories. My religion honors fathers — all men who act as fathers, who act as Greenmen, who act as Cernunnos, who act as Lugh, who act as Lord of the Hunt, who acts as Hephaestus. My religion honors men, such as Son, who nurture their own children every day of every week of every year.

You can go off and define religious families however you like. In my religion, as Byron Ballard recently said, we base what we do on hospitality and social justice. Those concepts infuse my notions of family, but they needn’t infuse yours.

Just stop trying to impose your notions of family upon me.

And, yeah, if you’d quit throwing up strawpersons on Facebook and dodging simple questions, that’d be nice, too. It’ll be months and months before I get drawn into another political war on Facebook.

I hope.

Picture found here.

Who’s in your family?

How will you spend Mother’s Day?

10 responses to “On Marriage

  1. Dear Lady, I do love you and all that you’ve said here. As for Mother’s Day, I will be spending it with my husband, one of my daughters (the other one is still away at school) and my mother in law. Alas, I’d rather not spend it with my MIL (not everyone is as lucky as your DIL), but if I don’t, she will be all alone, and that I cannot countenance.

  2. Right on! My four children have two loving Dads who are devoted to them, and I know they wouldn’t be too happy if anyone said otherwise. Blessed Mother’s Day, Hecate! Son and DIL are lucky to have you!

  3. Again, you are one of my favourite people in the world. You speak the truth, or at least, a lot of what I believe is the truth! Tomorrow I celebrate being the Mother by cooking a meal for my tiny family – myself, my husband, darling daughter and her beloved. Have a wonderful day Hecate!

  4. “If I ran the zoo, all that the state would provide to any couple or group of people would be a civil union, a particular set of contract rights. That’s where the state protects your right to things such as hospital visitation, inheritance, custody, insurance coverage, etc. Beyond that, if you want a marriage, or handfasting, or whatever, you could go try and get it from your religion. It wouldn’t confer any more civil/contractual rights than a civil union. But it might confer blessings or religious status.”

    Exactly. Brava. And thank you for the upfront, litany of disclaimers. You can’t be more direct than that.

    ‘Manufactured mantra’ is excellent coinage, btw. Goes right along with “beware the terrible simplifiers”. “1M1W” marries bias and cliche into something sounding irreducibly insightful. The world is a far more complicated place and yet, with increasing complexity arrives a more equitable and just iteration. Simplicity is in the eye of the beholder, then. Contract law, social contracts. Whodathunk?

    The current political climate/upheaval was poignantly themed in a recent Harry’s Law epi, akin to the oft-quoted civil rights mantra that ‘we do not put the rights of minorities up to popular vote’. In the epi, Harry asks, (paraphrased) “What would you rather have, a vote by a jury of your not-peers, or take your chances and hope for a Judge who actually knows the Law?” You just hope after the dust settles, we evolve – to remember – what we were talking about in the first place: unalienable rights that are already codified in the Bill of Rights. Anything less is unconstitutional.

  5. Eloquent, as usual. I’m bookmarking this one.

    You are much more patient than I am. My response to Father Gilhoolihoody would have been something along the line of “Tell you what, Padre–get back to me when you can come up with a single argument that doesn’t involve imposing your religious beliefs on everyone in the world, whether they share those beliefs or not.”

    WRT the state providing only the civil union (with all of the privileges and obligations that that entails) and the religious body supplying whatever rites may be prescribed by their religion, I believe that this is how it works in much of Europe.and Latin America. Of course, this would never work in America, because, you know, George Washington, Valley Forge, and the Alamo. Or something.

    Best regards for Mother’s Day.

  6. Another brillant posting! Thank you for such clear and sparkling wisdom!

    All best and brightest wishes for a wonderful Mum’s Day! And I add my vote to what was said above — your dear son, dearest daughter-in-law and – of course – darling, bright-as-the sun grandson are lucky to have such a wise, canny and magical mother and crone in their lives. May it always be so! 🙂

    Today, my DH and I and two cats (our children purr! LOL!) will be enjoying a lovely day here (bright, sunny and not-too-hot!) in the garden.

  7. As someone in half of a same-sex marriage ordained by the District of Columbia… thank you. The more people who make rationed, reasoned arguments that the institution of marriage as administered by the government has *nothing* to do with the religious institution of marriage, the better.

  8. For Mothers Day my daughter made me a delicious lunch and brought me a lemon merigue concoction from Heidelberg’s 😀
    Great post, btw.

  9. A bit late, but I just came across this item from the Columbia Journal of Gender and Law (H/T Prof. Howard Friedman): Religion by Any Other Name? Prohibitions on Same-Sex Marriage and the Limits of the Establishment Clause

    I haven’t read the entire paper (71 pages), but the abstract looks interesting. From the conclusion of the paper:

    “Ultimately, as I have argued, a thorough Establishment Clause analysis strongly points to the conclusion that prohibitions on same-sex marriage impermissibly endorse religion and coerce conformity to religious tenets. Accordingly, under either an endorsement test or a coercion test, such laws should be struck down. The Supreme Court should so hold, as should
    lower courts before the high court has spoken. Invalidation of prohibitions on same-sex marriage depends on conscientious application of existing Establishment Clause doctrines, not revision of those doctrines.”

    Submitted FWIW.

  10. A while back I read The History of Sex, a book that claerly illustrates that our notions of relationships are not etched in stone, but vary with the social, political and enviornmental circumstances of each era. We are quite short sighted to say the least, in believing that the current paradigm of marriage is some sort of eternal god mandated state. Too bad that we as a species don’t see much beyond our own experience….

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