Culture in Mind

Mental health, culture, and ethnicity

In Defense of (Straight) Marriage

The Supreme Court decides DOMA and Prop 8.

First, let me be clear...I think that marriage (same-sex or different-sex) in the modern era is an anachronistic remnant of ancient patriarchal rituals meant to protect empires and exchange wealth. Its traditions of 'giving away', the wearing of white, the one-directional exchange of names and bilateral trading of rings harken back to an era of women and offspring as property.

Getting into the legal agreement that is marriage is relatively easy (love conquers all and such mythology) but getting out of it tends to leave a path of destruction for all involved after the married couple jumps through the appropriate hoops to unhitch themselves. Furthermore, as a commitment, the lifetime expectation, monogamous or otherwise, provides quite a challenge as we live longer. 

I should also make it clear that the kind of marriage on which this piece is focused is the 'two different-sex partners for life' model, which is the model seemingly in need of 'protection' by Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) or the implications of Prop 8. The Supreme Court of the United States will decide this week whether this model needs protection and how much protection it needs.

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That all said, I respect the right of all and sundry to pursue the official recognition of their union/partnership, regardless of its driving force (sex, money, love, a baby, etc etc). The Universal Declaration of Human Rights guarantees the right to marry, and as a universal document it has no exceptions. Not to say that Eleanor Roosevelt and her colleagues were considering marriage of same-sex partners, but nonetheless the document stands as it is.

What I do not understand, and oh how I have tried, is the need for exclusivity as if its so wonderful and so good for society. Section 101 of the Personal Responsibility and Work Reauthorization Act of 1996 (the welfare act) states that:

"The Congress makes the following findings:

(1) Marriage is the foundation of a succesful society

(2) Marriage is an essential institution of a succesful society which promotes the interest of children."

If this is true then should we not want as many people to be married as possible? At the same time it is fascinating that gay people want to be part of an institution that straight people increasingly discard. As we say in Jamaica, "wanty wanty can't get it and getty getty don't want it". 

The 'defense' of marriage is an interesting notion. We have chosen to defend an institution that is losing popularity (among different-sex couples) in most OECD countries because of what I described in the first paragraph of this post.

I acknowledge all the rights and privileges that come with marriage and spent a lot of time considering them when making the lifetime choice not to get married. These are rights and privileges that can be disengaged from marriage so that marriage is a right in itself and not a path to other rights. That marriage is incentivized and the default choice should be enough to 'defend' it.

Of course, it is not just marriage that is being defended but 'straight' marriage. States rights against the recognition of same-sex marriage are protected by DOMA even though historically straight marriage was recognized by other states of the union. Marriage is marriage; there is no such thing as 'gay marriage' once they have been given full access to the institution. 

Liza Mundy's cover story in the June 2013 The Atlantic, titled The Gay Guide to Wedded Bliss has presented interesting data and ideas that challenge the notion that gay marriage threatens straight marriage. From the early data it seems that gay marriage may present straight marriage with a challenge to be a better model of itself, instead of destroying its essential nature. 

Regardless of the outcomes of the Supreme Court decisions in the coming week, the battles will not be over. Roe v Wade is still being argued decades later so expecting that any decision on marriage will be 'the end' with a 'happily ever after' is wishing on a star.

 

 

Ruth C. White, Ph.D., M.S.W., and M.P.H., is the author of Bipolar 101 and is an associate clinical professor at the School of Social Work at the University of Southern California. 

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