Changing marriage...for the better

Recent research indicates that same-sex unions are happier than heterosexual marriages. So what might gay and lesbian couples teach straight ones about living in harmony?"

Liza Mundy writes in The Atlantic:

Against this backdrop, gay-marriage opponents have argued that allowing same-sex couples to wed will pretty much finish matrimony off. This point was advanced in briefs and oral arguments before the Supreme Court in March, in two major same-sex-marriage cases. One of these is a constitutional challenge to a key section of the Defense of Marriage Act, the 1996 law that defines marriage as a union between a man and a woman, and bars the federal government from recognizing same-sex marriages. The other involves California’s Proposition 8, a same-sex-marriage ban passed by voters in 2008 but overturned by a federal judge in 2010. Appearing before the high court in March, Charles J. Cooper, the lawyer defending the California ban, predicted that same-sex marriage would undermine traditional marriage by eroding “marital norms.”

But what if the critics are correct, just not in the way they suppose? What if same-sex marriage does change marriage, but primarily for the better? For one thing, there is reason to think that, rather than making marriage more fragile, the boom of publicity around same-sex weddings could awaken among heterosexuals a new interest in the institution, at least for a time. But the larger change might be this: by providing a new model of how two people can live together equitably, same-sex marriage could help haul matrimony more fully into the 21st century. Although marriage is in many ways fairer and more pleasurable for both men and women than it once was, it hasn’t entirely thrown off old notions and habits. As a result, many men and women enter into it burdened with assumptions and stereotypes that create stress and resentment. Others, confronted with these increasingly anachronistic expectations—expectations at odds with the economic and practical realities of their own lives—don’t enter into it at all.

Same-sex spouses, who cannot divide their labor based on preexisting gender norms, must approach marriage differently than their heterosexual peers. From sex to fighting, from child-rearing to chores, they must hammer out every last detail of domestic life without falling back on assumptions about who will do what. In this regard, they provide an example that can be enlightening to all couples. Critics warn of an institution rendered “genderless.” But if a genderless marriage is a marriage in which the wife is not automatically expected to be responsible for school forms and child care and dinner preparation and birthday parties and midnight feedings and holiday shopping, I think it’s fair to say that many heterosexual women would cry “Bring it on!”

Beyond that, gay marriage can function as a controlled experiment, helping us see which aspects of marital difficulty are truly rooted in gender and which are not. A growing body of social science has begun to compare straight and same-sex couples in an attempt to get at the question of what is female, what is male. Some of the findings are surprising. For instance: we know that heterosexual wives are more likely than husbands to initiate divorce. Social scientists have struggled to explain the discrepancy, variously attributing it to the sexual revolution; to women’s financial independence; to men’s failure to keep modern wives happy. Intriguingly, in Norway and Sweden, where registered partnerships for same-sex couples have been in place for about two decades (full-fledged marriage was introduced several years ago), research has found that lesbians are twice as likely as gay men to split up. If women become dissatisfied even when married to other women, maybe the problem with marriage isn’t men. Maybe women are too particular. Maybe even women don’t know what women want. These are the kinds of things that we will be able to tease out.

Comments (7)

"If women become dissatisfied even when married to other women, maybe the problem with marriage isn’t men. Maybe women are too particular. Maybe even women don’t know what women want."

Perhaps we should pass a constitutional amendment limiting marriage to men only.

And yes, I AM kidding.

-Cullin R. Schooley

WNC Dean Gary Hall gets a pretty lengthy excerpt later in the article about how providing premarital counseling for same-sex couples has informed his counseling for straight couples. The whole article is fascinating, but I guess I'm biased to find that passage particularly interesting.

Noah

It seems like the author thinks a little to highly of same-sex marriage and too little of heterosexual marriage. First of all, all human beings are fallible and no group of people lives in a utopia. However, the part the really bothers me is her broad-brushing of all heterosexuals, especially men:

"Same-sex spouses, who cannot divide their labor based on preexisting gender norms, must approach marriage differently than their heterosexual peers. From sex to fighting, from child-rearing to chores, they must hammer out every last detail of domestic life without falling back on assumptions about who will do what."

Why does she assume every heterosexual couple approaches household responsibilities according to gender roles? Most actually do not, anymore. Conversely, it's not like gay relationships are entirely equal. Same-sex marriages usually have submissive partners, too.

In all, this is a horrible argument on either side of the equation because it hardly represents reality. I'm tired of liberals demonizing me because I'm male and I choose to be married to a woman. There exists now a reverse prejudice by proponents of gay marriage that frowns upon heterosexual marriage. I'm glad we're all so tolerant...


James Mikolajczyk

James, did you actually *read* the article, or did you just come in pre-programmed to hate it?

Why does she assume every heterosexual couple approaches household responsibilities according to gender roles?

She didn't make such an assumption. She came at it w/ *empirical evidence*.

Conversely, it's not like gay relationships are entirely equal.

She addressed that, too, saying that stay-at-home gay dads felt themselves at a power-disadvantage.

I'm tired of liberals demonizing me because I'm male and I choose to be married to a woman. There exists now a reverse prejudice by proponents of gay marriage that frowns upon heterosexual marriage.

Oh brother. I'm sorry, but that's just a LOAD. Blunt language, but accurate. NO ONE frowns upon heterosexual marriage (well, perhaps a few heterosexuals do ;-/). What's "frowned upon" is homophobia (discriminatory prejudice against LGBTs). Period, end of story.

JC Fisher

JC Fisher,

You're dead wrong about the discrimination many liberals have toward heterosexual marriage. Oftentimes, the Left associates heterosexual marriage with patriarchy and sexism. They can't seem to get it through their heads that not every man controls and dominates his wife. Just because SOME heterosexuals do that doesn't make me or many other men I know guilty of it. I hate these simplistic guilt-by-association arguments that people use to promote an agenda.

If you want people to tolerate your choices, JC, stop cursing at people and degrading them like you have done to me. You're so blind in your hatred that you once condemned me to hell for criticizing the pro-choice movement. When you actually tolerate everyone, I will believe your message.

"If you want people to tolerate your choices, JC"

Well, there's your mistaken assumption right there, James. Pertaining to my legal rights, my choices really aren't subject to anyone's "toleration" or not.

Peace of Christ to you---

JC Fisher

JC Fisher,

If you were just talking about legal rights, you would have a point. However, I notice you didn't care to address you degrading me and condemning me to hell, something you rail against conservatives about. Why do you behave in the same way the people you hate the most do? You simply don't want to tolerate anyone that disagrees with you; you just want people to tolerate you no matter what. That's called hypocrisy. As I said, tolerance is only an acceptable stance from people who are actually tolerant.

James Mikolajczyk

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