One shoe off

November 5, 2007

That’s “traditional” marriage alright …

Filed under: family values,marriage,politics,poverty,rights,theology — Liz @ 10:53 pm

So the state of Oklahoma, faced with one of the highest divorce rates in the country, decided to pour money into a marriage initiative designed to encourage engaged couples to undergo premarital counseling, provide marriage enrichment courses and disseminate educational material about families and relationships. Prevent divorce, encourage marriage, support families. All that jazz.

O.K. Here’s the thing. Take your blinders off for a minute, especially if you’re married. I’m sure that YOUR marriage is absolutely wonderful, spiritually and emotionally and intellectually fulfilling, the best thing you ever did, etc. etc. etc. Of course it is. But the historical fact is, marriage was created NOT as some sort of fuzzy, warm, “companionate” (to borrow a term from my Psych 101 class in college) thing. Nope. Marriage was created as an economic and political instrument to ensure wealth, security and protection for family groups or clans. Family Group A and Family Group B decide to pair their children to offer protection from rival clans, economic stability, merging of assets, assure the birth of heirs, transfer wealth, assure that there would be plenty of offspring to work the fields … pick one of a myriad of economic and political reasons. And at its heart, of course, regardless of the power, protection or property transferred by the families, marriage involved the transfer of female property from one male — her father — to another — her husband. Unless you’re in extreme denial about the history of civilization, or just completely ignorant about it, you need to accept that this is the history of marriage.

Fast forward. I’m reading the Oklahoma Marriage Initiative page and all their “fact sheets” they have. And they have all these stats from research that Oklahoma State University has done. Any why should you get married, according to their research? Take a gander at the “Is marriage for me?” tip sheet. Why get married? So that you don’t have to do all the housework alone, it says. You can share the labor. Someone will be there to take care of you if you get sick or have problems. You’ll have more money because it’s cheaper to live as a couple than it is to live alone. How different is this, really, from the economic marriages of days of yore? (I know, I said “days of yore.”) Why are we so hung up — why are CHURCHES so hung up — on something that still works out to a matter of economics? And does it strike anyone else as kind of selfish? Save money.Don’t work as hard. Be taken care of. Oh, and there’s the better sex thing on their, too. Hmmm…

The fact is, the state of Oklahoma is getting a whole lot of churches in on their campaign. So, let me get this straight? Loving, committed same-gender couples DON’T fit in with the Christian view of marriage. The Christian view of marriage, DOES, however, gibe with the idea that people should get married (or people should be convinced to marry) because of what’s in it for them. Straight people who want to “save more money” or “have better sex” can get married. Lesbians who want to live out the rest of their days loving and giving of themselves to their soul mate, nope. Straight people who want someone to bring them soup when they’re sick can get married. Gay men who want to care for one another in sickness and in health, nope.

Yes I’m oversimplifying. Yes, it’s true that research bears out that people who are married and who stay married tend to be happier, do better economically, and maybe even have better sex. But it’s my contention that you can’t hold on to the so-called “sacredness” card AND the utilitarian card.

Much (possibly too much?) has already been written in the marriage debate. But I can’t help but insert that yes, the church should have something to say about relationships. Christianity requires that relationships be based on selflessness, love, generosity, concern for the other over the self. And lots of time churches spout that kind of rhetoric in premarital counseling sessions or marriage enrichment classes. The fact is, though, is that those are the rules that are to govern ALL of our relationships. For the Christian, marriage, if and when it happens, should really not be all that indistinguishable from any other relationship we have. And if that’s the case, if we approach all our relationships with the same self-sacrifice, generosity, kindness, love and deep sharing of our self, does the gender of the person we’re “married” to matter anyway?

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