Monday, October 01, 2012

"Redefining" marriage

OK, let's deal with this idea, presented by the critics of marriage equality, and defenders of "traditional" marriage that same sex marriage "redefines"  marriage.

Is this true? What is the nature of this "redefinition"?

I think we gain an important insight into this from an interesting story that has just emerged from Australia. The Anglican Diocese of Sydney has added the word "submit" to the vows a wife makes to her husband in the marriage ceremony. In the proposed new wording the minister will ask the woman "Will you honour and submit to him, as the church submits to Christ?'

This is justified by the very conservative bishop by explicitly saying that equality between sexes is wrong. Clearly women need to submit to men, according to this bishop.

This is the argument for "traditional" marriage. It is about one woman (or more) submitting to a man. It's about women becoming, in some sense, the property of men.

In this understanding of marriage obviously same sex marriage makes no sense, because there can be no submission. In same sex marriage there cannot be a power differences between sexes, so there cannot be "traditional" marriage.

So when people talk about the "redefinition" of marriage I say, yes, we are talking about a redefinition, but for most of us, this redefinition has already happened. The redefinition is about understanding marriage as a partnership between equals. The redefinition happens when we consider women equal to men.

So the redefinition happens when we consider marriage a partnership of equals.

If you understand marriage as being a partnership between equals, then same sex marriage makes sense. Two men and two women can be just as much a partnership of equals as a woman and a man.

But if you consider marriage to be about men having authority over women, then same sex marriage will never make sense, because there can be no power differential between the two people based on sex.

This is why I believe same sex marriage as the potential to redeem and renew marriage, by confirming it as a partnership of equals, by purging it of its sexist undertones for everyone.

I once heard someone, I think it was Gene Robinson, say these words, and I believe they really apply here:

"Homophobia is just one small room in the mansion of sexism."


Anonymous Anonymous said...

Greetings brother. Good to hear from you again.It has been about three months since your last entry. Glad you are alright. Enjoyed this entry a lot.

2:28 pm  
Blogger Kenneth Robertson said...

If you view 'same sex marriage as the potential to redeem and renew marriage',then ponder the statistics for dissolution of civil partnerships since their introduction ;-rose by 28% in 2011,48% in 2010, by 96% in 2009,by over 200% (!) in 2008 ; with a mean age of 38 years at dissolution,one can hardly cite immaturity as a cause.

5:06 pm  
Blogger Stephen Lingwood said...

What's your point, Kenneth?

5:38 pm  
Blogger Kenneth Robertson said...

A 'power differential' may exist in any kind of relationship on many other grounds apart from sexual difference - wealth,age, emotional maturity,etc.Mutual submission of partners to one another is,I would contend, an essential feature of successful marriage - selfishness is one ingredient that cannot be contained for long in a marriage and is probably the biggest reason for their failure.Marriage involves mutual sacrifice one to the other ; it is the working out of this mutuality that is both the thrill as well as the challenge of marriage.The 'partnership of equals' you describe could just as easily be applied to ordinary friendships, where the aspect of submission and sacrifice is mostly fairly minor and irregular ; it is the transformation of friendship into the mutuality of concern that characterises real marriage, not the caricature promoted by Archbishop Jensen and other 'backwoodsmen'.
Partnerships in business,as in life,do not necessarily contain the idea of lasting committment; they may be of mutual benefit to those involved for a while but will come to an end, not always with recrimination, when they have served the purpose of one of the participants - the statistics that I quoted for civil partnership dissolutions indicate that many will be short lived . Those who keenly advocate same sex marriage rarely express any deep appreciation of what they consider marriage to be ; until they do I shall continue to regard their proposals as a 'torture of the English language' to quote Archbishop Sentamu.

3:17 pm  
Blogger Stephen Lingwood said...

I agree Kenneth, that an argument for same sex marriage needs to, in some sense, be an argument for marriage. That's why for some people same sex marriage is quite a conservative position.

I don't disagree with the points you make about mutual submission, but the key word here is "mutual" - so there is equality.

Everything you say seems to be an argument for same sex marriage - that it has deeper associations of lasting commitment compared to the dry term "civil partnership." That is exactly why I'm fighting for same sex marriage.

You have offered no argument against same sex marriage.

11:53 am  
Blogger sarah said...

My last post was specifically addressing the aspect of commitment in marriage in response to your remarks about the power differential in marriage.The consummation of marriage has always been taken to be the sexual union of the partners in a physical act that carries the potential for procreation of new life ; absence of this has been accepted as grounds for annulment of the marriage .Whatever genital acts that are performed between same sex couples intrinsically lack this potential ;procreation can only happen with the cooperation of a surrogate third party.In the same way that siblings may live together in a mutually supportive and committed relationship but cannot marry on grounds of consanguinity, I believe that relationships of similar quality between persons of the same sex cannot and should not be described as marriages.Same sex marriage has been described as like vegetarian haggis ; putting together two words whose definitions are mutually exclusive is, in terms of logic, an empty proposition.

12:44 pm  
Blogger Kenneth Robertson said...

The comment about this post should have been made under my name

12:47 pm  
Anonymous Britton Gildersleeve said...

iChat a great analysis of the power agenda present in so many versions of 'traditional' marriage, thank you!

1:01 am  
Blogger Kenneth Robertson said...

The comment from 'sarah' actually came from me, as I had overlooked that 'my other half' was signed in before I dispatched my comment and it is not a result of a sudden gender change on my part !

9:45 pm  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Coming from a Mormon stance where it is clear that the temporal state registered partnership is just a part of a marriage that will be eternal. With the two aspects being done in separate places. I can't help thinking the key is to separate the state regulation of a partnership for the benefit of the partners and their dependent children and the more ambitious "contract "made in religious marriages(love till parted by death for instance). Would it be so awful for the state to offer all civil marriage /partnerships and Faith groups to offer their sacraments as they wish. Mormons manage an understanding of a difference.Maybe the state will offer regulation of polygyny/polygamy if enough folk ask for it. And there seems no shame in people having short lived partnerships if that was all they promised. Civil partnerships appear better suited to human frailties in some ways.

1:45 pm  

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