Melissa Harris-Lacewell reflects on marriage.
I really respect MHL, and this article made me respect her even more. I was strongly on the side of marriage equality before I was ever in a committed relationship. I canvassed for Referendum i in Colorado, and was incredibly upset when it failed and the gay marriage ban amendment passed.
This issue's taken on a new light for me since I've gotten engaged, though. For the most part, I'm happy, and I feel like one of the commenters on the article as well - after more than four years of cohabitation, I honestly feel like we're married already. A party and a fancy cake are more just a celebration of that commitment, at least in my opinion. But since I've been engaged, there are two aspects that are still bothering me about the process.
The first is the last name change issue. That's a discussion for another time.
But the other is the issue of marriage equality. My fiance and I have the right to make of this marriage what we will, and we've got the legal support for it because we're heterosexual. I have some very dear, close friends who are not in the same boat as us, and have been in a committed relationship far longer without the ability to get the same legal support. It bothers me that I get a privilege they don't, and all because I like sleeping with boys instead of girls. A lot of the arguments "defending" marriage have made me even more uncomfortable about it, because of all the religious and sexist baggage that comes with the institution. (And let me tell you, as an atheist, I am utterly charmed by people who hammer marriage as a religious institution - guess I shouldn't be getting married at all.)
This was why MHL's point at the end really hit me. People seem to want marriage to not change. Frankly, I hope it does. It's already different from how it was in the 50s. It's still not common, but most people don't have to do a double take any more if a woman hyphenates her last name or decides not to change it at all. While many people bemoan the divorce rate, I take it as a good sign that people have the ability to end relationships that go bad. So I hope that as we fight for marriage equality, it will change the institution as it is. I want to see marriage become a place where no one looks sideways at guys that want to be stay at home dads, or (perish the thought) men who decide to take their wife's last name rather than the other way around. I want people to finally get the difference between civil marriage and church marriage and stop asking horribly insulting questions like "Why do atheists get married?" (Answers: love, family, and health insurance. Oh, and you're an asshole.)
Sometimes, I feel like I should refuse to participate in this institution as long as my friends are denied it. Because it does feel horrible being able to get married and knowing that I have friends who can't because the country's apparently still run by a bunch of neanderthals that can't understand reasons more complicated than "making babies." But in a way, reading MHL's article has made me feel a little differently. No, my one little wedding isn't going to change marriage the way so many national changes have. But maybe I can be on more little snowflake to help get the avalanche rumbling.