The Washington Post has been advocating gay marriage for some time now. To the Post’s editors and writers the subject is not debatable– actually never has been (unless I’ve somehow missed the debate on their pages).
A Jan. 7th op-ed by one Stephanie Coontz was in line with this. As she sees it, same-sex marriage “is not only inevitable, as Vice-President Biden described it in an interview late last year, but also quite logical.” So I will try to follow her logic in just a few excerpts:
“We are near the end of a two-stage revolution in the social understanding and legal definition of marriage. This revolution has overturned the most traditional functions of the institution: to reinforce differences in wealth and power and to establish distinct and unequal roles for men and women under the law.”
So, marriage (before her revolution) had two functions: to keep men in power (over women), and to keep the rich in power (over the poor). I have three comments on this:
1. The old system did keep women in an inferior position– it’s certainly good that has changed.
2. Of course marriage has always been concerned with property– for some reason. Could that reason be that marriage between a man and a woman normally generates children? Children who are their heirs? Children who will continue the family into the next generation?
3. So I must point out that marriage had, and still has, a third “traditional function” which Stephanie Coontz does not address– namely, having children. Oh, she does touch on it in her quasi-Marxist way: “For millennia, marriage was about property and power rather than love. Parents arranged their children’s unions to expand the family labor force, gain well-connected in-laws and seal business deals.” (Well, yes– though maybe they wanted the kids they raised to keep some of the parents’ ill-gotten gains? As even some of us moderns still do?)
From all that we should see that in addition to the sentimental argument (let’s redefine marriage so these poor gay people can marry), there is still operating the logic which led Marx in his Communist Manifesto to call for the abolition of marriage– as bourgeois oppression. The old revolutionary program continues, on a new front!
Why the complete omission of marriage as an institution concerned with conceiving and raising children? Most pro-gay marriage people seem to do this– for after all, having children does require a “Parent 1” and a “Parent 2” (to use the Passport Office’s new terminology) who make a long-time commitment to doing that. But more and more it doesn’t work out that way. Perhaps that’s why same-sex marriage does seem (almost) inevitable.
Is gay marriage “an idea whose time has come”? But ideas go as well as come.
A link to Stephanie Coontz’s op-ed article is here.