How LGTB Marriage Can Improve “Traditional” Marriage

Not assuming what each person must be in any relationship using “straight” marriage models should become a paradigm for healthy marriage, but it’s a real threat to “straight” marriage.

The ultimate anti-marriage equality argument we’ve seen used against the inclusion of lesbians, gay men, and bisexual and transgender people up through the final Supreme Court decision on June 25, 2015, was that the marriage of two people of the same gender would destroy what is regularly been mislabeled “traditional marriage.”

In spite of the historically uninformed response of the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court — who said things like: “the Court orders the transformation of a social institution that has formed the basis of human society for millennia, for the Kalahari Bushmen and the Han Chinese, the Carthaginians and the Aztecs. Just who do we think we are?” — history tells us that the marriage of one man and one woman is no more “traditional” than any form of marriage from polygamy to arranged marriages where couples seldom shared sex.

Most marriages historically were clearly that of a patriarch acquiring a wife along with other property such as slaves and livestock. One only need to page through both testaments of the Christian Bible to see that biblical marriages involved numerous arrangements other than one man and woman in love, in spite of what some still pontificate about today.

Even the Mormon Church objected that “traditional marriage” was between one man and one woman. They never mentioned the US troops in Utah that helped convince them of that fact.

Very few – I’ve seen none – mainstream reporters will contradict the ahistorical claims repeated ad nauseum by anti-gay leaders that “traditional marriage has forever been between one man and one woman.”

No doubt, traditional marriages in most societies were clear about the roles of the man and the woman. Marriages were about property, not love or companionship.

In fact, marriage and family historian Stephanie Coontz , who took on both “family” and “marriage” to explode the myths involved in our culture’s backward nostalgia, subtitled her 2005 book Marriage, A History with “From Obedience to Intimacy, or How Love Conquered Marriage.” She begins by quoting George Bernard Shaw’s quip about modern marriage as an institution that brings together two people “under the influence of the most violent, most insane, most delusive, and most transient of passions. They are required to swear that they will remain in that excited, abnormal, and exhausting condition continuously until death do them part.”

Historically, it is very clear: the woman was the property of the man transferred from her father. She was to have no financial status and little value beyond her roles as wife and mother. This ideal was especially kept by a culture’s elite upper classes while lower class women worked alongside their husbands in the fields, factories, or shops.

It was post-World War II society that produced what many want us to believe is “traditional marriage,” which was coupled with another non-biblical ideal: “the nuclear family.” In that recent definition we see an ideal of “straight marriage” in which gender roles are clearly established and one is assured thereby who “the man” and “the woman” is.

Now, “straight marriage” is not natural to heterosexual people and their relationships either. It’s not how heterosexual people would necessarily live if they hadn’t been conditioned by the institutions around us to expect what marriage is supposed to really mean and what roles of “husband’ and “wife” straight marriage clearly defines for each gender.

“Straight marriage” as enforced since World War II is clear about who is supposed to do what. And if particularly the man deviates from these expected roles, the nature of the relationship is questionable.

Everyone knew which gender should mow the lawn, do the outside barbequing, wield the hammer for fix-it projects, be the primary bread-winner, drive the car when the family rides together, and be sexually dominant. Whether heterosexual people actually live the straight marriage role, we can all recall who’s supposed to do the laundry, host the parties, cook most meals, change the diapers, and change her name with the wedding ceremony.

If the image of a traditional marriage is this historically recent, not very traditional “straight” one, then it’s no wonder that those who keep pushing it look back nostalgically to the fifties as the good old days of “Ozzie and Harriet” and “Leave it to Beaver.” And if the only accepted definition of “traditional” marriage is this straight-acting one, then, yes, same-gender marriage will upset it.

Feminists have called for the destruction of “straight” (not heterosexual) marriage long ago, and they’ve been accused by straight marriage’s idolizers of doing just that. So, if two people of the same gender marry, there’s no way to ensure that either will live by “straight” marriage’s gender roles.

LGBT people as couples will actually have to sit down, talk with each other, maybe regularly, about who is going to take out the garbage and who is going to stay home with the sick child. And that on-going human interaction of checking in with each other is actually healthy for any marriage and affirming of the importance of the priority one gives to the relationship.

Not assuming thereby what each person must be in a relationship should become a model for healthy marriage, but it’s a real threat to “straight” marriage.

Contributed by

Bob Minor

University of Kansas
Emeritus Professor of Religious Studies
A national resource for information on gender issues and gay/straight relationships for organizations, businesses, educational institutions, and media outlets such as NBC and USA Today, Bob Minor, Ph.D. …

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