By Jeff Fecke • 11/5/08 • It is not fair to same-sex couples who must wait their turn for equality, any more than the fifties were fair to interracial couples, or the Victorian era was fair to women.
150 years ago or thereabouts, a group of reformers began to talk about changing marriage. It was wrong, they said, that women were not equal partners in marriage. Men could divorce women, but the opposite was not true; women who were divorced were not guaranteed any support. Men controlled the bank accounts in a marriage by virtue of law. Women could not deny their husbands sex — marital rape did not exist. Women were placed in the same category as children — they were subject to their husbands’ decisions. Indeed, when Miss Jane Smith married Mr. John Doe, she became, not Mrs. Jane Doe, but Mrs. John Doe, an appendage of her husband.
Jeff Fecke is a freelance writer who lives in Eagan, Minnesota.In addition to his own blog, Blog of the Moderate Left, he also contributes to Alas, a Blog, Minnesota Campaign Report, and AlterNet. Fecke has appeared as a guest on the “Today” show, the Alan Colmes radio show, and the Mark Heaney Show. Fecke is divorced, and the father of one really terrific daughter. His debut novel, The Valkyrie’s Tale, will available for sale in September.
Conservative forces fought these reforms. Divorce would increase, they said. Women would forget their place, and begin taking a more active role in the decisions made in their families. Men would no longer be the unquestioned rulers of their personal fiefdoms. The very nature of marriage would change.
Conservatives fought long and hard against the changes; indeed, they are still fighting some to this day. And they fought long and hard because all their predictions came true. Divorce did increase, women’s roles in marriage did change, men’s ability to rule their marriage unquestion ultimately ended, and the very nature of marriage did change.
Conservatives slowed adoption. In the end, though, society wanted that change. And because of that, the conservatives lost.
At the height of the civil rights era, interracial marriage was illegal in half the country, and frowned upon in the other half. A group of reformers worked to change this. It was unfair, they said, that a man and a woman who loved each other would be forbidden from marrying the person they loved. It was unfair that a couple would have to fear being arrested for the sin of living with a person who they had chosen to marry.
Conservatives fought this change. It would change racial relations, they said. It would eliminate the sharp distinctions between black and white, the obvious differences that had necessitated an American apartheid system. It would narrow the racial divide, and over time, it would undermine the very idea that there was a meaningful distinction between the races.
Conservatives fought long and hard against this change; some still fight it to this day. And they fought it because all their predictions came true. Interracial couples managed to marry and raise children just like anyone else, they lived together, loved each other, and through their example showed that there was no reason blacks and whites could not be friends, equals, and partners. The increasing number of biracial and multiracial children have challenged the very notion of what race is, and while we are obviously far from eliminating racism, interracial marriage has helped to get us closer.
Conservatives slowed adoption. In the end, though, justice demanded this change. And because of that, conservatives lost.
Today, the fight on marriage has moved to the field of same-sex marriage. It is unjust, say reformers like me, that two people who love each other are barred from joining their lives together. It is unfair that a couple should be denied the right to legal marriage because they are of the same gender. It is damaging to liberty, and it is wrong.
Conservatives are fighting this, as they have fought marriage reform before. They are fighting, they say, because same-sex marriage will change the definition of marriage. It will mitigate against the very notion that in marriage, men are the breadwinners and women are homemakers. It will increase tolerance for homosexuality, normalizing behavior that had once been illegal. It will make it harder to be openly homophobic, and it will undermine the notion that homosexuality is anything that anyone should be ashamed of.
Conservatives are fighting this, fighting long and hard. They will be fighting this for generations. And they fight because they are right — same-sex marriage will help to make homosexuality acceptable to mainstream America. It will be another blow against the notion that there are prescribed roles for partners in marriage. It will allow homosexuals to live life unafraid of their orientation, allow them to be free to be who they are.
And while conservatives last night won a victory in slowing adoption of this change, in the end, our society will ultimately want to make this change. And because of that, conservatives will lose.
It is not fair, of course, to same-sex couples who must wait their turn for equality, any more than the fifties were fair to interracial couples, or the Victorian era was fair to women. And for that reason, those of us who believe in equality must not waver in our commitment to it. If a committee to repeal Proposition 8 has not yet been formed, it must be, and soon. We must ensure that these changes are made as soon as possible, to benefit society as quickly as can be.
But we must never forget that we have a righteous wind at our back. And while conservatives have won a victory today, the tide of history tells us that liberty and justice will ultimately prevail. It will not prevail in a vacuum, and it will not prevail without hard work. But if we work for justice, justice will come in its time.