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The Coastal Packet

The longtime national journal, Progressive Review, has moved its headquarters from Washington DC to Freeport, Maine, where its editor, Sam Smith, has long ties. This is a local edition dealing with Maine news and progressive politics.

8/29/09

GAYS ARE TOO LATE TO DESTROY TRADITIONAL MARRIAGE

Kevin Phinney, Seattle Weekly - Legalizing gay marriage will destroy the institution of matrimony. That's been the battle cry of the religious right since the debate began taking shape more than a dozen years ago. . .

When pressed for details as to precisely how same-sex marriage will destroy straight marriage, opponents reply that matrimony is "traditionally" between two members of opposite sexes-an observation that reframes the issue while dodging the question. Debate about what might be in the future is short-circuited simply by invoking precedent.

After all, "traditionally," black people were once considered property, women had no right to vote, and slaughtering Native Americans was simply one more plank in the platform of Manifest Destiny. Didn't those "traditions" merit destruction, or at least a thorough rethinking?

Conservatives often counter that matrimony is the linchpin of the family unit. . . But we're already falling short of this wistful image in numerous ways, including divorce, single-parent families, and babies born out of wedlock. . .

In Massachusetts, where same-sex marriage has been legal for the past five years, Dr. Charles Foster is the co-founder and director of a family therapy facility called the Chestnut Hill Institute. Foster believes that opponents of same-sex marriage represent a segment of the population who yearn for the America of their youth or an imagined perfect past. "These are people feeling squeezed from every direction," he says. "Their jobs are vanishing overseas, homes are being lost, and now these are the very same folks showing up at town meetings to say they're mad as hell and not going to take it anymore, and they've been exploited by the right. Back when Nixon ran for president in 1968, conservatives realized that the only way to get a majority was to convince these people to vote against their own economic self-interests, and the best way to do that was to threaten them with the loss of a lifestyle they cherish."

Defending marriage as a one man/one woman proposition became their cultural Alamo as other traditions began to topple, says Stephanie Coontz, who teaches history and marriage studies at The Evergreen State College in Olympia. . . Less than a century ago, most states' marriage laws included "head and master" clauses, which not only sanctioned men requiring women to take their surnames, but allowed the husband to determine where the couple would live and to have final say on matters of community property. "And," Coontz points out, "there was no such thing as marital rape."

"In that 19th-century mindset of marriage, the man had a duty to support his family and the woman was responsible for supplying services needed in the home-including sex," she continues. "And it wasn't until 1993 that the last state did away with that. Marriage used to be an institution very much oriented around heterosexuals because it was based in large part upon the inheritance and passing-along of power and property for political and economic convenience, and one was not allowed to marry for love. Over the last 150 years, it's heterosexuals who have chipped away at those notions."

That process accelerated during the sexual revolution of the 1960s. "Over the last 40 years," Coontz says, "it's been heterosexuals who've said you should marry someone you're compatible with. They're the ones who've said you shouldn't be required to have children, or that you should use assisted reproduction if you want kids. Gay couples are simply buying into a model of partnering that now seems much more appealing to them."

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