Boy-oh-boy, marriage sure is popular these days, particularly on the Left. A week can’t go by without hearing about how great Progressives think it is and how they believe that everybody should try it at least once, so I thought it would be interesting to take a look back at the Left’s love affair with marriage.
I suppose I could start with Alfred Kinsey (a scientist whose research seems to have served chiefly as an overly elaborate means of justifying the various places he liked to stick his weiner). His research interest wasn’t marriage per se, but he helped to set the stage for coming decades of opinion and established “truth” about intimate relationships, introducing relativity into the subject and proving his theory with science and numbers. Besides which, his books were really, really popular, therefore they must not only be true but the way you should live your life.
Then along came the ’60s with its free love and turning on, tuning in, and dropping out. For marriage, the dropping out part gained currency and really started to pick up steam in the ’70s, opening with Sexual Politics:
[Women's] chattel status continues in their loss of name, their obligation to adopt the husband’s domicile, and the general legal assumption that marriage involves an exchange of the female’s domestic service and (sexual) consortium in return for financial support.
Or as the Declaration of Feminism put it more bluntly:
The end of the institution of marriage is a necessary condition for the liberation of women.
Granted, there were some rogue churches performing gay marriages (or “blessings”), but there really wasn’t what you would call general enthusiasm for the practice:
Although some gay liberationists cheered the Louisville and Minneapolis couples on, others criticized them for “imitating meaningless, bad habits of our oppressors.” “This isn’t the freedom we want,” wrote one critic in the New York newspaper Gay Power. “This isn’t our liberation.” His editorial captured the dominant spirit among gay male liberationists (and many young heterosexuals as well), for whom “our liberation” centered instead on sexual liberation.
And, of course, there were those fishes on bicycles, but these attitudes were not confined to the man haters and “liberationists”, it notably trickled into popular culture. Rock and roll had declared marriage (or at least monogamy) passé while on television the most socially relevant sitcom, running nearly the entire decade, was Norman Lear’s All In The Family. True, each episode of the show ended with the obligatory sitcom happy resolution but the journey to that resolution was always a tumultuous one with Archie Bunker the primary cause of the turmoil and Edith his primary victim. Archie, this domestic despot, this petty tyrant sitting on his cloth-upholstered throne, attempted to crush his wife’s soul by “stifling” her. We all cheered when suffering Edith would go into an insane rage and scream at Archie and then we would all wonder why she didn’t just divorce that son-of-a-bitch.
Then there was that other socially-relevant ’70s sitcom icon Mary Richards. Poor Mary could never seem to find a man good enough or worthwhile enough for her to give up her autonomy as a single woman. When she finally did get married, after the show ended, her husband up and died on her leaving her broke due to his incompetence. What did marriage give her besides a broken heart and financial ruin?
By the ’80s, the Left was ready to reinvest the gained interest on its anti-marriage capital. Marriage counselling, often followed by divorce, became popular. People were “getting real” and every crackpot pseudo-scientific psychological method you could think of was making its way into therapy sessions generating more conflict than it resolved. At the same time, the stigma attached to non-married couples cohabitating was losing ground. Not only was there a positive opinion about non-married cohabitation among these couples, there was a distinctly negative attitude toward marriage. I can recall almost every single Progressive non-married cohabitating couple I knew (and there were many) informing me that they didn’t need “some piece of paper” (a marriage license) to validate their relationship.
In 1989, as the idea of domestic partnership was gaining popularity, something strange happened. This British guy at The New Republic came right out and made a positive case for legalizing gay marriage.
Legalizing gay marriage would offer homosexuals the same deal society now offers heterosexuals: general social approval and specific legal advantages in exchange for a deeper and harder-to-extract-yourself-from commitment to another human being. Like straight marriage, it would foster social cohesion, emotional security, and economic prudence…A law institutionalizing gay marriage would merely reinforce a healthy social trend.
But there was a problem with this piece and its writer. The author, Andrew Sullivan, was a conservative making a conservative argument for gay marriage based upon its traditional virtues. At the same time, he was trying to deflate the tires on the domestic partnership bandwagon. All of these things served to get him kicked out of the cool gay kids club. The vitriol of (what I will call) the Gay Establishment’s response was not that strange when you consider that 1989 also produced this gem:
Marriage as an institution developed from rape as a practice.
Jaba the HuttAndrea Dworkin
Over-the-top and shocking? Sure, but there were many liberals who nodded their heads in agreement. It was a sign of the times and only two years later, Anita Hill would be sitting in front of a Senate committee and national television cameras telling us about pubic hairs and pr0n fetishes. Face it, the entire decade of the ’90s was one long sexual harassment seminar with the penetrative phallocentric patriarchy as the chief villain and the Institution of Marriage its most basic weapon of domestic oppression. Even the president’s marriage was a sham existing mainly as a business arrangement forced upon two super-geniuses by the strictures of a reactionary unenlightened culture.
At some point, though, the idea that some gay couples might like to marry in the traditional sense started to become more popular. Domestic partnership/civil union was still the more popular option, but marriage would be a “nice-to-have” for those gay couples who were into that sort of thing. As everyone is well aware, the threat of gays pushing for legal marriage prompted social conservatives to push back with (unfortunately, IMO) DOMA, a law which the aforementioned President Clinton signed (along with DADT in 1993). That same year, gays were angry at Clinton for signing DOMA and DADT and they did punish him a little bit at the polls, but fully 2/3 of them still voted for him. They were mad but they were still willing to play ball because they knew they wouldn’t get what they wanted if they pushed too hard.
That approach prevailed right up until (coincidentally, I’m sure!) George W. Bush came to office, when suddenly gay marriage became the most important civil rights issue in the history of mankind and anyone who said differently was a homophobic Nazi. This is where gay marriage proponents lose me. My opinion is that if Adam and Steve want to get married or domestic partnered or “other” then…whatever. Whatever sort of domestic Heaven or Hell they choose to create together is not really my business as long as they are two consenting adults. What I don’t want to hear is a blatant lie in the form of screaming, hysterical Progressives who tell me that if I don’t take up the (oh-so-fashionable) position that gay marriage is the greatest thing ever I’m going against some sort of eternally sanctified, universal truth.
My response is: you guys didn’t even believe that up until ten years ago. Up until then, marriage–not just “straight” marriage, but the Institution of Marriage–was an oppressive trap, legalized prostitution and rape, and the weapon of the patriarchy used to subdue the populous at a domestic level. That has been the Left’s position on marriage–a position which I will gladly concede can change–but if you want me to say that “we have always been at war with Eastasia” I’m afraid that no amount of self-righteous, outraged screaming will force me to admit that it is so.