Tuesday, March 08, 2005

His and Hers Spousal Duties?

Yesterday I expressed the hope that gender differences would lose their primitive baggage, as have handedness differences. That we are not there yet can be seen in some of the arguments against same-sex marriage. Here (hat tip: Andrew Sullivan) is National Review's David Frum:
Same-sex marriage is a revolution in the definition of marriage for everyone - a revolution not just in law, but in consciousnessness. And one effect of this revolution - and for many proponents, one of the revolution's aims - is to make forever unthinkable the idea that husbands and wives each have special duties to one another, and that a husband's duties to his wife - while equally binding and equally supreme - are not the same as a wife's duties to her husband. Once we lose that knowledge, we lose the basic grammar of marriage. It is one more reminder that in the same-sex marriage debate, we are debating not marriage's change - but marriage's overthrow.
As a matter of civics, I would defend his right to hold such a belief. But as a matter of culture, I do find his notion rather unthinkable, or at best, quaint. I'm very curious to hear him elaborate just what "special duties" a wife may have to a husband that are distinct from the duties of a husband to a wife. Unless he's waxing nostalgic about largely discarded notions, such as a wife's duty to stay home, cook the meals, clean the house, and look after the kids, and a husband's duty to be the breadwinner, own all the property, and be the voter in the household, I really can't guess what he might mean. I'm trying to recall if I've ever attended a wedding where the wife made different vows than the husband, but I don't think I have.

While we can acknowledge that the tradition of marriage historically incorporated strong gender roles, this has steadily transformed over the last century as women gained the right to vote, to own their own property, and to participate equally in the workplace, such that marriage is now a completely egalitarian bargain. Certainly as far as the law goes, there remains no vestige of such gender-role asymmetry, which is exactly as it should be. Mr. Frum and like-minded others are free to negotiate whatever gender roles suit them in their own personal marriages, but in the eyes of the law spouses are full equals. The concept of same-sex marriage is by no means the engine of the train of progress that has brought marriage to this point of legal equality, rather it is one of the cars being pulled along by gender equality. Mr. Frum's hopes to stop that train are futile, for it has already left the station (apparently leaving some passengers behind).

1 comment:

OperaGost said...

In the eyes of the law, spouses are NOT equal. Once in divorce proceedings, the man is nearly always responsible to pay child support. Conversely, he will almost never win primary custody unless the woman refuses it, is incarcerated, or has a history of child abuse.

Feminism has brought with it a great irony-- that mainstream women expect to be treated the same as men, yet have their "womyn-ness" be recognized and revered while relegating bastions of masculinity (men's clubs, the Boy Scouts, fraternities) to the dustbin of history.