Pre-historic marriage

08 May
May 8, 2012

North Carolina, the state where I live, is voting on an amendment to decide whether or not marriage should be defined as solely between a man and a woman.

Now, same-sex marriage is already banned by statute in this state, so this isn’t at all about same-sex marriage. Rather, it’s about codifying discrimination against people who don’t fit the prescribed religious edicts of how people should behave. There’s lots of good discussion here about the many ways it would harm innocents in the state.

There’s two things I want to say about this. Well, three. (Okay, maybe four.)

One: In another discussion about the perceived sexual counter-revolution, someone aptly pointed out that:

In the last 15 years, the conversation has moved away from how we should be treated towards how we should behave.

One of the main areas we control ourselves as a group is sexually. The more society tries to enforce it’s behaviour, the more we’ll see sexual norms being homogenised. What is normal will become a narrower and narrower band. The first things to be demonised will be the things the dominant group has no interest in.

This dovetails nicely with the post I put up yesterday about the war against women, since sexual control has historically been exercised against women, which precedent makes it easier to cry wolf about the pernicious effects of allowing women sexual freedom.

However, the larger point, that all things that the dominant group has no interest in will be demonized, is also important, and I think this principle is nicely demonstrated in Amendment One, which NC is voting on. Unmarried couples are godless heathens living in sin, and thus they do not deserve the same social rights as married people.

It’s interesting that there seems to be a trend of authoritarianism pushing against the modernity of organic solidarity–solidarity based on interests and beliefs rather than geographic distance. The chaotic heterogeneity of urban cities as they are currently organized seems to be triggering a backlash and a frenzied desire to police behaviour even more. I hope that we’re seeing the dying throes of the age of unbridled bigotry, rather than a return to Victorian principles.

(Not that I think bigotry will be erased; humans are exceptionally good at finding fault with one another. But every little step counts.)

Two: The proponents of Amendment One are mainly tossing out fairly simplistic retorts about “why don’t you just get married”. Why don’t I just get married? Isn’t that question a fascinating display of the social background of the asker?

I can think of a lot of reasons not to get married. I don’t want my finances to be tied to another person. I don’t want to be legally responsible for another person and their dependents. I don’t want to make an emotional commitment I may not be ready for solely for the sake of legislative protection. Marriage means something to me, and I want to enter into it with consideration, not as a rush decision forced by politicians.

(Also, the average wedding in America costs upward of $27,000.)

But for the person who asks, flippantly, why I don’t just get married to my long-term partner in order to access the same rights that a married person would receive, obviously doesn’t think in those terms. For that person, a marriage is par for the course with anyone you’ve been dating long enough to have logistical entanglements such as cohabitation. A marriage is a means to an end (reproduction) wherein the free will of either party is a secondary concern. It’s a very outdated notion of marriage, one that can’t conceive of not rushing to get married when you have the option to. The question, as they so often do, says far more about the asker than the answerer.

I’ve still yet to hear a good argument for why a battered woman should marry their abuser in order to receive domestic violence protection, by the way.

Three: In my research on this subject, I’ve been unfortunate enough to come across some comment sections on internet newspaper articles, which is always The Worst. And one theme that I’ve noticed among ideological supporters of Amendment One is that it’s about codifying what God wanted marriage to be.

I’ve always found that to be a hilarious argument, since I’m Chinese, and there are billions of us who’ve never considered what a Christian God might want us to do. I guess all those marriages that took place BCE didn’t count as proper marriages, and all those marriages that took place in non-Christian countries don’t count as marriages. If the religious right in the US is so concerned about having marriages adhere strictly to the doctrines of the bible, why are atheists allowed to get married? Why are followers of the Islam faith? Why are Christians of different denominations allowed to get married to each other?

Well, because marriage has always been a legal instrument of social order–property rights, parentage, exchange of dowry, etc.–not a religious one. Christianity has that particularly narcissistic brand of amnesia in which it assumes that everything that does not pertain directly to it, or that came before its existence, is invalid. But I have too much investment in my heritage to buy into its erasure of non-Christian culture.

My marriage, if and when it happens, will be decided by me. Not by a book cobbled together from apocryphal fables 1700 years ago by a bunch of politically motivated monks.

Four: If you’re in North Carolina, go vote. Even if you disagree with me, go vote and exercise your democratic rights.

4 replies
  1. Yiran says:

    Couple of things:

    1. We’ll never be rid of bigotry so long as we are still mortal. We fear what is different because it challenges our existence. Can’t help it, just the way we are. The goal is to make it so that we can’t act upon the kind of fear that drives this kind of bullshit.

    2. While I agree with you that marriage as an institution is a hopelessly outdated tradition. I’m not quite sure why you put point number 2 in the post. I must have missed something with regard to the debate on Amendment 1.

    3. Christians have this idea that America is a ‘Christian nation’ the same way that Iran is a ‘Islamic Nation’. Fundies don’t want democracy, they want their world-view affirmed and their religious beliefs validated.

    Oh and just a minor note: The level of vocabulary that you use is edging towards the point where being ever more precise doesn’t actually help getting the point across. Might consider dumbing some words down for us stupid folk.

    • Phire says:

      1. Yup. I agree. Exactly what I said.

      2. I didn’t say marriage is an outdated tradition. I happen to believe in it. I don’t think marriage is the solution to everything, as the proponents of Amendment 1 seem to think – want civil union rights? JUST GET MARRIED ZOMG.

      3. Yup. Doesn’t make it any less ridiculous.

      4. Maybe I’ll install a dictionary plugin for the blog.

  2. Julia (Zhu) says:

    I must say that it shocks me that this is even being debated/voted on right now. How do these issues always get to the forefront of people’s attention?

    Also, the amendment reads “Marriage between one man and one woman is the only domestic legal union that shall be valid or recognized in this State”. I haven’t looked into this so I may just be really ignorant, but is this also an indirect attack on common law couples? Or are common law partnerships not recognized in NC in the first place?

    RE: “law of God”: it amazes me how we in North America have criticized the muslim world for so long for mixing religion and law, and then you get this in the US, the beacon of freedom and democracy.

    • Phire says:

      Yeah, definitely. That’s something that I briefly mentioned in the War Against Women post as well, but yeah, civil unions and domestic partnerships are all invalidated, and this will affect their health insurance, housing allocation and benefits, etc.

      What’s worse: 41 States have some sort of statute against same-sex marriage. 30 of those states did it via a constitutional amendment, like NC. You can talk about “dumb southerners” all you want, but when push came to shove, California didn’t step up to the plate for Prop 8, either. It’s a matter of the religious right being rich and being able to fund these campaigns, and a matter of “voting against” something being more galvanizing than “voting for” something. It’s easy for voters to be complacent.

      No one in the US truly thinks it’s a secular state, even if separation of Church and State is a nice doctrine to talk about. The US currency says “In God We Trust” for fuck’s sake. It’s pretty despicable. Theocracies are only bad if it’s a religion you don’t like, apparently.

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