It’s hardly a surprise that during an election year that marriage equality is a hot button issue. We have seen the president shift his position to move beyond his support of civil unions to approval of same gender marriage. Barack Obama is the first sitting president to make this announcement and it is absolutely historic. The republicans however continue to be on the wrong side of history and civil rights on this issue.
Focus on the Family works actively to oppose marriage equality and its founder James Dobson, co-author of the Left Behind series, has an extremely long history of promoting ex-gay therapy. His approach specifically stigmatizes homosexuality and has had negative consequences to those members of the GLBT community who have participated. He bases all of his beliefs, in a fundamentalist anti-woman Christian theology.
Paul Ryan who is Romney’s running mate has a solidly anti-gay voting record in Congress. Jim Daly, the current president of Focus on the Family recently had the following conversation with Paul Ryan.
Daly: "Focus on the Family has been behind the scenes working for years to defend marriage and to speak out for marriage and the importance of marriage. I think thirty-two out of thirty-two states where we have helped put a ballot initiative or some other mechanism in front of the people, we have won that thirty-two out of thirty-two times. It seems like when it’s in front of the people they vote for it, if it’s the state-level judges they will try to do it by fiat or if it is simply some other mechanism, the State House passes it without the vote of the people. For the Romney-Ryan ticket, when you look at marriage, what do we need to do in the culture to lift up and strengthen the very core building block of society and that’s family."
Ryan: "It’s the foundation for society and for family for thousands of years. First of all, Mitt Romney and I — I’ll just say it, it’s worth repeating — we believe marriage is between one man and one woman, that’s number one. Number two, you know where I come from we had one of those amendments in Wisconsin, I was a big supporter of it and we passed it like you say, where it’s put on the ballot it passes. The second point is, President Obama gave up defending the Defense of Marriage Act in the courts, I mean, not only is this decision to abandon this law the wrong decision, it passed in a bipartisan manner, it is very troubling because it undermines not only traditional marriage but it contradicts our system of government. It’s not the president’s job to pick and choose which laws he likes. A Romney administration will protect traditional marriage and the rule of law and we will provide the Defense of Marriage Act the proper defense in the courts that it deserves."
Marriage as we understand it today is relatively new historically speaking and certainly should never be referred to as the foundation of our society. For centuries, when people married, it was to align property, or to create some kind of political alliance. It had nothing to do with romantic love or starting a family. Marriage was a way of sealing a contract between two families. For instance, when Julia Caesaris, daughter of Gaius Julius Caesar, married Pompey in 59 BC, it was because Gaius sought a political alliance between the two strong families. Marriage didn’t even necessarily mean cohabitation between husband and wife or any children produced from that union. Most would agree that many of the principles we hold dear today come from the Roman Empire and it is clear that they certainly didn’t see marriage as anything but a business transaction. Even more to the point, they didn’t stigmatize homosexuality.
In more recent times, marriage was restricted to those of the propertied class until 1868 when a law was passed by the German league. Prior to that time, freedom for the working class to form a family was something which actively had to be fought for. One of the platforms for the German delegation of the 1863 Congress of Workingman’s Association was the right for non propertied class to marry. This was seen as a progressive right and this freed the working class from forced celibacy. From this point on, the subjugation of women intensified and though women fought valiantly against it, laws prohibiting abortion quickly followed. Our concept of family was created by coercive laws and religious shame to create workers and soldiers for the state, but more importantly, to create the housewife, who became an agent of consumption, even as she provided the free labour which would support the public sphere. A family in the bourgeoisie understanding is nothing but a built in market for products.
The concept of romantic love, which we now believe to be the foundation of marriage, was created by the English as recompense to women for the loss of sexual and economic freedom. The creation of the traditional patriarchal family was to be the final step in the subjugation of women, which began with the Spanish Inquisition. The new bourgeoisie creation established a gendered division of labour, with the goal of controlling the poor. A man with a wife and children to feed, clothe and house is reluctant to take measures which risk his livelihood. The housewife, though she provided free labour, was used as a weapon against raises simply because it became her job to be thrifty with the man’s wages. Women who were dependent upon husbands for subsistence existed with no economic power and became dependent and docile. Even the few opportunities that did exist for women to earn a living were poorly paid and difficult to negotiate because with the elimination of abortion and contraception, women were tied to the house raising children.
If we are going to talk about the meaning of marriage in a historical context, it needs to be an honest conversation rather than the throw away lines the Republicans employ to justify their homophobia. If anything, our understanding of marriage has constantly been in a state of evolution largely shifted by capitalism and sexism. It is time that our definition of marriage widens to include people of the same sex who wish to marry. Inequality under the law is an injustice and no matter what wiggling conservatives do, this is a fact they cannot escape.