Published on Wednesday, May 26, 2004 by CommonDreams.org
Who Do You Love? How Do You Love?
by Joyce Marcel
Here's a rock-solid truth that our culture tries to deny: we don't choose the people we love.
Despite what we're shown on television shows like HBO's "Sex and the City," UPN's "Girlfriends" and NBC's "Friends" - an endless series of overly picky dating rituals designed to help us find "the right one," - much less the angry posters carried by homophobes in the streets, the truth is that few of us can explain how we ended up loving the one we're with.
We may pine for the tall, dark and good-looking investment banker (of either sex) who drives the splashy car, we may chase after free love until we discover how expensive it really is, but who we end up loving is usually a big surprise.
The truth is, we have no power over love. As Bob Dylan recognized, "It falls on strangers, travels free." Love chooses us. And woe to those who mess with it - they learn love's real power.
Families know this truth. We don't pick our parents, as any disgruntled teenager knows. And reasonably good parents can be horrified by their children's actions - Columbine comes to mind. We love our families for the same reason that they drive us crazy - because they're our families, and that's all there is to it.
Adoptive families know this truth. A couple fills out forms, writes checks, answers endless questions, often travels to a foreign country and - lo and behold - unto them a child is given. And they love this child instantly, completely, protectively and forever.
Friends know this truth. We don't really choose them. They're usually people who were kind to us when we needed a hand, or who sat next to us in class and shared their notes, or who lived down the road and offered us a lift when our car broke down.
Same-sex couples know this truth. How many are born masochistic enough to "choose" homosexuality - to be preached against, humiliated, ostracized, beaten up, occasionally murdered and, on the up side, get a job making straight people attractive - these are life goals? Sometimes men fall in love with men. Sometimes, after that, they fall in love with women. Sometimes women fall in love with women. Sometimes women fall in love with women but eventually marry - and love - men. It's all one great big love stew.
Given this basic truth, why are so many people outraged by gay marriage? How could it "change marriage as we know it?" What are these fools thinking?
Myra Marx Ferree, a professor of sociology at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, has a chilling answer. Writing in Sunday's Newsday, Ferree argues that right-wing Christian opposition to gay marriage is an attack on all marriages, and that a constitutional amendment to define marriage as a union strictly between a man and a woman could have the power to destroy heterosexual marriage as we know them today.
The amendment, she points out, is based on a simple and false premise: that marriage has always been the same - Biblical, if you will. But marriage has taken many forms over the centuries, and Ferree describes three American models.
The first is pre-Industrial Age patriarchy. "It assumes men are heads of households and women are property the husband owns, lacking any rights to earn an income, own property or even have custody of children," she said.
Then comes industrialization, taking such things as food, clothing, medicine and soap production out of the home and putting them in offices and factories. Along with this comes the struggle for women's emancipation.
Social conservatives of the time argued that if women had the right to vote, inherit property, earn money and have opinions different from their husbands, they would leave their husbands and it would be the end of marriage. (They had either low self-images or high levels of guilt about the way they enslaved their wives, sisters and daughters.)
Marriage didn't end, however. It changed. In general, men took up the role of "provider," leaving home every day to earn a paycheck. Women became "homemakers," - "specialists in raising children and providing domestic comforts."
This was better, but not the best. Wives legally owed domestic support to their husbands and could not be paid for their work at home. Husbands owed their wives financial support; they had to pay alimony if the marriage broke up. The husband had the right to his wife's sexual favors, so there could be no such thing as marital rape, while the woman had the right of custody of the children, so there could be no joint custody.
In the modern world, marriages are partnerships. Women and men both work - and are paid equally (under law, if not always in the real world). They both vote, have bank accounts and credit, and share in child-raising and child custody.
Contemporary marriage, like a Cantonese restaurant menu, allows couples to chose their own style: backward to the patriarchal, staying with the provider/homemaker model, or entering into a working partnership.
"Employers or states no longer can enforce such assumptions on all couples," Ferree said. "Since there are no legally specified differences in what men and women must contribute to a marriage or what they can hope to get out of it, there is no legal need for a partner marriage to be between a man and a woman. The assertion that a legal marriage needs one of each opens a door to laws that would again give different rights to husbands than wives."
If religious conservatives win their fight to define marriage as between a man and a woman, Ferree warns, they might not stop there.
We find ourselves now in a strange period of what might be called attempted Christian Fascism. Our president believes God has called him to the White House (it certainly wasn't the popular vote). Empowered by Bush, evangelical Christians are pushing for a rollback of Darwin, the end of scientific experimentation, and the coming of Armageddon. The hallowed American separation of church and state has never been more under attack. The goal is the creation of a Christian nation - and later a Christian world - under Biblical law.
So after a constitutional amendment, the next logical step would be defining the roles of men and women in heterosexual marriages according to Biblical standards. Can you hear the patriarchy calling?
We don't choose who we love, and that's the truth. But most of us do love, and we can choose how we love.
If we don't want to see women forced to walk two steps behind their husbands, if we don't want to see them lose the right to vote, to work, to have credit and to own property, if we don't want to live in an anti-democratic and insanely fundamentalist country, then we must all fight for the right of homosexuals to marry.
Joyce Marcel (email@example.com) is a free-lance journalist who lives in southern Vermont and writes about culture, politics, economics and travel.