The Wonders of the Visible World


Spinning in his grave!

Oh, yeah–New England distinguishes itself yet again as the region of the U.S. that is fast on its way to full marriage equality.  Governor John Baldacci of Maine signed the bill just minutes after it passed the Maine Senate by a hefty (although not veto-proof) majority, and New Hamphire is hot on Maine’s heels.  (Paging Rhode Island–the right side of history, line one!)  Since straights can get married in Maine by a notary public immediately after obtaining a license, it’s not like Mainers are all that stuffy about marriage protocol in the first place.  Why not let the same-sexers be just as frivolous and irresponsible? 

As Historiann wrote just one month ago,  “I don’t think even most American historians appreciate how appropriate it is that New England has pioneered marriage equality, when we reflect on colonial New England (which I’m sure you all do quite frequently!)”  Humor me with this re-run–it’s such a sweet, sweet victory lap, after all: 

As Cornelia Hughes Dayton demonstrated so well in her 1995 book Women Before the Bar:  Gender, Law, and Society in Connecticut, 1639-1789, New England led the way in the colonial Americas with its liberal divorce laws (well, liberal in that it permitted divorce at all!) because puritans as reformed Protestants didn’t see marriage as a sacrament.  It was just another contract among mortals, like so many others, so it could be broken if one party didn’t live up to his or her end of the deal.  This stunningly sensible legal insight is one that Historiann thinks has been lost amidst all of the talk of late–by Protestants!–about the “sacred” nature of marriage!  Protestants, please:  if you don’t want the gays to marry, just say you don’t want them to marry because you hate or fear them, because you like making invidious distinctions among people, or because you fear that you’ll fall into a delicious, seductive, forbidden gay marriage yourself.  Don’t turn your back on centuries of Protestant tradition and say that marriage is “sacred!”  Civil marriage is an American tradition.  

To all of you latter-day Mathers out there who want to pick and choose to remember only those aspects of puritan history of which you approve, I say sit on it!  The rest of us are going to dance at some really fun gay weddings this summer and fall.

0 thoughts on “The Wonders of the Visible World

  1. Agreed! I’m still lost as to why anyone cares about who marries who (among consenting adults of course), but whatever.


  2. I say Hurray and Hazzah! When is the rest of the world going to get out of others bedrooms and mind their own? I have a friend whose son and family are moving to Iowa and she was a bit bummed. When she heard they passed a gay marriage act, she felt they really weren’t moving to the ends of the earth. There are civilized, rational people out there. Shall we all unite?


  3. It would be nice if in all of the marriage frenzy, we spent some questioning whether the “institution” is actually serving anybody all that well anymore.

    But one must have a right first before one rejects it.


  4. Hi,

    I don’t support gay marriage. I believe that the institution of marriage is intended for a man/woman relationship.

    I do applaud the pioneering spirit of these small pockets in our country, however I may disagree with what they’re doing.

    Independent of our views people should accept the changing face of this country and move forward.

    Thanks for sharing your insight.



  5. Interesting, historiann. But I’m tempted to read this development as another example of Puritanistic thinking. Every time one of these states passes a law I have the same reaction, “Those poor gay people.” I don’t know whether a belief in equality should extend to believe all should suffer — but I guess all should have the opportunity to do so.

    My opposition to marriage is not based on my own situation — the sixteenth year of my marriage is going very well. (In case you’re reading, this isn’t about you, sweetie.) But I have seen too many women oppressed by this institution both in my family and in society at large. Conservatives like to say this country does not value marriage or that marriage is under attack. Actually, marriage is highly valued. We have the marriage industry, the divorce industry, the second-marriage industry, the marriage counseling industry (Relationship Rescue!!!), and (for those who want to have more fun) the third-marriage industry. The military runs weekend seminars in support of marriage. The Bush admin. pumped millions of dollars into marriage programs. And while I do support equality for all, I also think the gay marriage debates are a substitute for creative thinking about new ways to conceive of relationships and families.


  6. My hope is that queering marraige will open up more possibilities for straights to imagine different ways of being married and different roles in marriage. How many times have I seen straight couples who were very egalitarian in their division of labor inside the home and who both worked outside the home before marriage devolve into much more traditional gender roles and divisions of labor after marriage? Too many times to count. (Having children accelerates this, too, but marriage seems to be the thin edge of the wedge.)

    Marriage isn’t for everyone, gay or straight. Since most of my gay friends are queer historians/queer theory people, they’re certainly not lining up at City Hall in Portland, Boston, Montpelier, or Hartford, etc. But–how dare civil law tell them they can’t?


  7. Sterling is absolutely right. Obama is no hero on gay marriage, and the court can’t be trusted. But they’re stuck with the 2003 Lawrence v. Texas decision, and it should be difficult to rule against marriage equality after that. (Stare decisis and all that jazz.)


  8. Hey, if it’s revisiting posts day (actually, I’m just always behind), Historiann, could we return briefly to your comment a week or so ago about the stunning regularity of the “he kills her” media motif? Motif being a really pale way of describing the pattern of male violence (with guns) that’s so predictable we don’t need to get to the end of a headline to know what’s happened. I’m thinking of this today because of the lockdown at Wesleyan, and the comment from the dead girl’s former Quaker-school teacher that she had been particularly interested in women’s public health issues. And now she’s a victim of a serious threat to women’s public health. I live with 3 wonderful men (2 of them I gave birth to–what sweeties) and I have a hard time believing “men with guns” is predominately the product of either hormones or popular culture (as the adult male in my family reminded me this morning, what moves movies is not sex, or violence, but specifically male violence). But where’s the research? I’d love some smart feminist sociologists (or Historiann’s widely-read readership) to point me to some good data on this. (Oh, and a yeah, too, both for Maine and the Calvinist legal regime of the Puritans though it fell victim to the English law…)


  9. I take a similar view to Historiann about the gay marriage issue in that I recognize that for many gays and lesbians, questioning a system that relies so heavily upon marriage is part of the agenda. But I’m concerned that that becomes a convenient excuse for straight conservatives (and straight liberals too) to say that pushing for marriage rights is unnecessary. I was listening to an interview with Andrew Cherlin the other day who mentioned that, in comparison with many Western European countries, marriage is so much more important in the US as a symbol that one’s life is in order. This was one of the reasons he believed the fight over gay marriage was so much more fierce in the US: because marriage says so much about the quality of a person. I think this is certainly true in certain regions of the country and among some religious circles. I know I struggle when I go home with the fact that I know the fact that I’m working on a PhD is less important to friends and acquaintances than the “sad” fact that I’m not yet married. At some point marriage needs to become less tied to how we judge other people’s success but first and foremost gay marriage rights have to become a reality.


  10. The main reason I got married was for the tax and insurance benefits. Aside from that, it hasn’t made a huge difference in my life; I’d still be with my significant other either way. Why shouldn’t that be available to anybody? (And my marriage has done just fine over the years as states expand marriage options to other people. If you really think Adam and Steve being in a legally committed relationship is going to harm your marriage, you may want to take a good long look at what your relationship is based on.)

    I had a female co-worker once who was shocked, SHOCKED to learn that I’d lived with my boyfriend for about three years before we actually got married. “Well, if you KNEW you were right for each other, why wouldn’t you JUST GET MARRIED!” she said, all prim and proper and disapproving. “Because it took three years to save the $6000 we spent for the wedding,” I replied. And then she proceeded to be shocked, SHOCKED that we’d only spent that much, something about how marriage should be valued more… this was the same woman who got all huffy that I had a “Gefilte” fish on my car instead of a “Jesus” fish, so I was getting pretty good at ignoring her by then.


  11. kw, there isn’t much out there on the gendered aspects of gun violence and/or domestic violence. In a post I wrote last year, “Heartbreaking. Now where is our outrage?”, I passed along the title of an article by Michael Kimmel, who analyzed gender and school shootings. In the end, I think men-as-killers, women-as-victims is so naturalized that most people don’t question it at all. It’s “natural” for men to hunt women down and kill them for not submitting to their will–not giving them their time and attention, not paying them the right kind of attention, not screwing them, screwing them but then breaking up with them/not staying married to them, etc. And with the murder of Johanna Justin-Jinich, it looks like the anti-semitic ravings of the killer are getting greater play (and greater concern by the police) than the notion that she was killed for being female.

    I can’t imagine what her parents and family are going through right now. What a tragic waste.

    (By the way–Tenured Radical has all of the news on this story.)

    But, to the broader frame of your question: I think it’s probably a centuries-old hangover from coverture, in which married women were economically disenfranchised and if not turned into actual property, were infantilized and subject to their husbands’ (and before that, their fathers’) will. We see a similar hangover from slavery in the ways in which African American bodies are treated–held in suspicion and scrutinized in ways that white bodies aren’t if they’re in the “wrong” place, if they’re Driving While Black, if they have children and apply for AFDC assistance, if they use drugs, etc. I think this is related to the fact that for 400 years black bodies were legally owned by whites and subject to their will in every conceiveable way.

    I want to go back and read Catherine Mackinnon now and her analysis of the liberal state and how it looks neutral but it really only works to protect some people’s property rights and rights to bodily sovereignty.


  12. thefrogprincess–I think you’re right that Americans make a bigger deal of marriage as the *only* bona fide rite of passage to adulthood than Europeans. And, I understand your frustration that your academic achievements don’t get you the same cred with your family members! This is perhaps Erica’s coworker didn’t get her low-key wedding (and why the wedding wasn’t that important in the first place–the relationship is more important than whether or not Erica & Buzz filed a piece of paper with the local courthouse.) Maybe Erica and Buzz are crypto-Europeans!

    But, to explain why some people make a big deal over weddings and expect them to be big and expensive–my parents once said something to me that I have remembered for its perceptive wisdom. I was ranting on and on about big, expensive weddings and what a waste they seemed to me, and my parents gently reprimanded me by pointing out that “not everyone has a lot of ceremonies in their lives like you have had, with 3 different graduations and a professional life in which you make your own decisions about your work–weddings are in some cases the *only* day that some people have to feel special,” so lay off and give them a break. I think this is true, and I was a little embarassed not to have thought about what a privileged life I’ve had.


  13. Actually I have no issue with big, expensive weddings. Even with my various graduations, if I get married, that will likely be the biggest ceremony/party of my life up until that point. My graduations have had little fanfare and both of them have been quite bittersweet, more emphasis on bitter. I do have an issue with expectations that one must be married or else life is amiss regardless of whatever’s going on in their personal and professional life, especially in their mid-20s.


  14. Crypto-European indeed… Actually, everyone at my daughter’s daycare thinks we’re European. When I was signing up, the manager asked if our last name was German, I said it was, and she therefore concluded *we* were German. By the time I realized it, she was chatting about how her father had served in the military in Berlin for a while and I had no idea how to correct the confusion at that point. And now it’s spread and all the staff think we’re European too (apparently my daughter picking mismatched clothes to wear is “European”, not “standard behavior that I see every other girl in her class doing too”). It’s really, really bizarre.


  15. Speaking of polyandry, why can’t we push for the right for multiple-person marriages as well?

    I am all for abolishing marriage as a civil institution altogether, but short of that unlikely accomplishment I don’t see why moralism need play any role in defining who should/should not get married. I know that in practice polygamy too often means the oppression of women, but speaking abstractly I don’t see anything worthy of regulation. I am sure that it’s just this sort of sexual libertarianism that feeds into right-wing hysteria, but I can’t help myself.


  16. Can I put in a plug for a good, new book on the meaning of the modern wedding? Katherine Jellison’s “It’s Our Day: America’s Love Affair with the White Wedding, 1945-2005″(University Press of Kansas, 2008), grapples effectively with the apparent contradictions of feminist princesses and “traditional” gay weddings. And it’s way fun, with lots of pictures.

    Full disclosure: I am not Kathy Jellison, but she did attend MY wedding.


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