Lefties love marriage. They just do. Of course, righties do, too, but that’s no surprise. In some ways, lefties’ love affair with marriage is part of a quest for civil rights, as when they got behind marriage equality (same-sex marriage rights). That’s understandable. But somehow, all that emotion and action that got mustered in support of that cause rarely got translated into an appreciation of the ways in which single people of all sexual orientations are left out of the marriage boondoggle. It is of no use whatsoever to have greater access to the benefits and privileges of official legal marriage if you don’t want to marry or you never do marry. In fact, single people are left holding the tab. We’re subsidizing all those perks that married people get and we don’t, and we’re stuck with our second class citizenship. (For examples of some of the benefits that only officially married people get, click here.)
Below, I’ll describe a few specific instances of matrimania from the left. The more compelling evidence, though, comes from the silence. I often watch MSNBC, where I should be most likely to find progressive anchors and guests. But when it comes to singles rights, what I hear is crickets. Once in the past year, Chris Hayes did a segment on the political significance of single voters, but that’s still a long stretch from recognizing the ways in which single people are left out of basic benefits and protections.
Rachel Maddow once acknowledged in a print interview that she was ambivalent about the cultural implications of the emphasis on same-sex marriage, but on her show, it has been all matrimania, all the time. Single people are not derogated, they’re just ignored.
Up and down the MSNBC lineup (and of course, on all of the other cable and network shows), the 103 million single Americans and their quest for justice are nowhere to be found. There are people who believe that marriage should not be a ticket to privilege. In fact, Rachel Buddeburg and I collected statements from them a few years ago. There are plenty of articulate and distinguished people in the bunch, but their voices are not being heard on the airwaves.
As long as lefties are silent partners in the perpetuation of conjugal-partner-privilege, we single people and our wish to have the same rights and privileges as everyone else are toast.
Here are some specific examples of lefties going ga-ga over marriage:
A popular post here at Living Single from a while back was, “Two scholars ask: What if marriage is bad for us?” (One of those scholars, Laurie Essig, is now a Psych Today blogger.) The article I was discussing had been published in the Chronicle of Higher Education and it mentioned the great work of Naomi Gerstel on how married people are actually less connected to friends and family than are single people.
I was just reading another article of Gerstel’s and found this section on the Chronicle of Higher Education article:
“[The article was about] the problems with marriage and the nuclear family. It included, among much else, a discussion of our work on marriage as a greedy institution. The article generated a mini-controversy. The highly educated, well-intentioned, generally left-leaning good people who read the Chronicle made it the most e-mailed –about article of the week. How did people respond? They hated it. There were many comments attacking the authors for criticizing marriage and very few supporting them.”
There was a moment when the topic of singlism started to break through. It was back in the early days of President Obama’s first term, when he was considering appointing the always-single Janet Napolitano to be the Secretary of Homeland Security. Former Governor Ed Rendell of Pennsylvania was asked what he thought, and he replied, "Janet's perfect for the job. Because for that job, you have to have no life. Janet has no family. Perfect. She can devote, literally, 19, 20 hours a day to it." Gail Collins wrote about it on the op-ed page of the New York Times, and we were off and running. For a few days, singlism really was in the news. But not everywhere. For example, on Morning Joe, Mika Brzezinski, supposedly the leftie counterpoint to Joe Scarborough’s rightie-ness, pooh-poohed the whole thing and that was the end of that.
Matthew Yglesias, in a half-baked discussion of the links between marriage and poverty, ended with a nod to “what’s magical about marriage.” He had already proclaimed at the top of the article that “marriage is great.” (For a more extensive discussion of the basic facts that should constrain any writings about the “get married and get out of poverty” argument, click here.)
For a discussion of a treacly, blinkered ode to marriage that sounds like a Hallmark card written by a smitten teenager, check this out. The cliché-drenched essay was written by Toure, the same person who writes so compellingly about white privilege. When it comes to the privileges of married people, he’s clueless.