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Archive for 25. June 2009

Are Republicans a Threat To The Institution of Marriage?

Okay, enough already.  I make it a point to avoid commenting on the personal lives of politicians.  I’ve always contended that what is going on in the personal lives of our politicians is none of my business, so long as they are representing the needs of the American people.  Of course, if that personal life overlaps with their public responsibilities, that’s different. If a Senator is sleeping with…oh, I don’t know, Raul Castro, then I would suggest that that is a matter of public concern.

But it’s also a matter of public concern when political moralizers put the “traditional” family on their campaign bus and formulate convoluted rationales as to why such things as Same Sex Marriage are a threat to this sacred institution…then run off and have affairs!

Perhaps it could be said that Republicans are a threat to the Institution of Marriage.  Maybe we should write into the Defense of Marriage Act that Republicans should not be allowed to say anything about marriage–same sex or not–unless they openly disavow themselves of the hypocrisy of their peers.  They should also take an oath that, when their own extra-marital affairs are discovered, they will hold a press conference in which they say the following words, verbatim, “I’ve called this press conference today to announce that I am a hypocrite and do no deserve to hold office as a representative of the people of the United States.  I therefore resign, effective immediately.”  And yes, this should hold for Republicans as well as conservative Democrats who support the “Defense of Marriage.”

That’s what I’m thinking.  I also, have a responsibility to offer a more sociological perspective on this issue, as I have billed myself as the Mad Sociologist.  So here goes…

…Traditional Marriage isn’t worth saving!

There.  I’ve said it.  The reality is that only a minority of families today are “traditional” in the sense of Mother/Father/Children/Firstandonly Marriage sense.  The majority of families are some mixture of traditional and innovative combinations ranging from single parent households to mixed and blended family structures to same sex households. Individuals are deciding for themselves how to build a family and what that family will look like and what family means.  They are dividing up the labor in such a way that Talcott Parson’s would have to scribble out whole sections of his research into the structure of family.

This is not necessarily such a bad thing…unless you are a male centric egoist who wants to have a little woman at home to do your laundry while you run off to Argentina to be with your lover. If it’s that kind of traditional marriage that you want, then all you have to do is find a partner (of the opposite sex, of course) who shares your values.

When people under the public eye act with such flagrant disregard to marriage, regardless of their political rhetoric, it demonstrates the absurdity of trying to resuscitate traditional family patterns.  Institutions change according to the sociological, cultural and technological innovations of the times.  There was a time when it was understood that a man was going to cheat on his wife.  In fact, there were journals that suggested that male infidelity was actually a good thing for marriage because if a man, with his animal lusts, were to focus all of his sexual desires on one woman, why that would be unhealthy for the woman.  So he could carry out his lusts with a mistress or paramour then come home and fulfill his reproductive responsibility with his wife.

Marriage was largely a technology for controlling the sexual expression of the wife, not the husband.  Male infidelity was understood, female infidelity was unconscionable.  This was the traditional pattern of marriage.  So it could be said that Spitzer, Ensign and now Sanford really do support traditional family values.

But they don’t represent the values of a majority of Americans.  Research shows that the majority of men and women do not cheat on their spouses. I think the numbers are around 65% of men and 85% of women remain faithful to those they marry–at least until the divorce.

The bottom line is that people are less likely to divide up the labor of family according to the same gendered lines.  This is a good thing.  We are no longer willing to accept that one member of the family has a low, even proprietary status  whereas the other is “head of the family.” This is a good thing.  Women are able to make reproductive decisions on their own.  This is a good thing.  Male primacy  and the de facto rights and priveleges of that primacy, such as keeping a mistress, is no longer condoned. This is a good thing. There’s a lot to be said for fall of the traditional family.  There’s a lot to be said for the screwy, innovative nature of the post-modern family.  And, of course, there’s a lot to be said for legitimizing the desire for all people, regardless of sexual identity, to participate in this changing institution.

Conservatives are behind the times on this issue in every respect mentioned in the paragraph above. No one would listen to a mainstream politician who suggested that we need to get women out of the marketplace, out of their careers, force them to do our domestic labor and bear our children.  No one would vote for a politician who suggested that women should take their traditional position as second class citizens while their husbands enjoy their primary status as head of household, and exercise their carnal lusts with mistresses and prostitutes.  Yet this is the argument being made with regard to “traditional family values.”

If no one should listen to conservatives about “traditional family values,” then why should we listen to them about defending marriage from gays?