Marriage Equality

I’ve been really troubled by Proposition 8’s passage in California. It’s a strange kind of melancholy, because I’m already married, and I live in the DC area, so there’s no practical impact on me at all. Trying to explain this weirdly vicarious disappointment, I realize that it was arguments about marriage equality that first convinced me of the value of marriage itself.

Some supporters of marriage inequality talk about how gay marriage would weaken or damage heterosexual marriages, but for me it’s the opposite: my marriage feels a little less joyful because my wife and I are enjoying a privilege that is denied to other loving couples. I only really became comfortable with marriage as an institution when Massachusetts and California began to grant marriages to gay couples. I thought I saw a steady movement toward full marriage equality in those decisions, and I jumped on the bandwagon. Now I have this feeling of mild disgust and guilt. It’s like realizing I’ve just been admitted to a racist country club: the amenities are swell, but watching the members nod approvingly as some fat slob talks about ‘sanctity’ and ‘purity’ makes me throw a up a little in my mouth.

Self-uniting marriage

Antoinette and I have decided to pursue a self-uniting marriage license. Basically, it allows a couple to get married without an officiant. I guess instead of ‘getting married’ it allows the couple to ‘marry themselves.’ It’s only available in Pennsylvania  and Colorado, and at least in Pennsylvania it often goes by the title ‘Quaker marriage,’ because Quakers don’t have a clergy. The whole thing really appeals to me. Association with Quakers is always good, as is jettisoning the authority of an officiant. There will be no authoritative speech acts, no “I now pronounce you…,” just an egalitarian exchange of vows before a community of friends and family who we hope will hold us to it.

Of course, even this has been marred by the recent controversy over marriage in this country. The state remains the coercive authority here, and the bureaucratic irritant associated with Quaker marriages is that many counties have enforced an informal religious test. If you’re not a Quaker, or at least a member of some other religous group like the Baha’i, the argument goes, you ought not to be able to engage in this special legal exception made for Quakers. Secularists like us don’t count; after all, if you’re really rejecting the divine unification of partners in the religious ceremony, the state’s Justices of the Peace can do the job for you. The state stands in loco dios.

In September of 2007, a Pennsylvania couple sued in Allegheny for the right to a self-uniting marriage licence. They were represented by the ACLU (summary and briefs here,) and a Federal judge found that religious tests are unconstitutional and granted a temporary restraining order that allowed the couple to marry. Antoinette’s legal training makes her unduly suspicious of legal controversy; she’s worried somebody will challenge our marriage in twenty years to deny health care coverage or somethinng. She’s not wrong to worry, either. In another case, a marriage solemnized by a friend of the couple, ordained on the internet by the Universal Life Church, was annulled. That’s scary stuff.

Thankfully, the law supporting Quaker marriages goes back to 1681, so there’s no legal terminological wiggle-room like in the phrase  “priests or rabbis of any regularly established church or congregation.” But this niggling uncertainty makes me feel all the more outraged on behalf of the gays and lesbians living in the forty-nine states where they have no right to marry at all.

Wedding Vows

I’m currently in the process of writing wedding vows with my fiancé, Antoinette. I’ve been casting about everywhere for inspiration and influences, to the extent that Antoinette has accused me of treating the vows like an academic paper. She’s right, of course:erotic love is one of the original philosophical themes, and the prospect of making claims about it in front of an assemblage of family, friends, and colleagues is daunting. I can’t stand up there and make vague references to Aristophanes’ absurd myth of gendered division and reunification, despite its familiarity to wedding-goers and Hedwig and the Angry Inch lovers everywhere. So I’ve been doing my research. Continue reading Wedding Vows

Advice for Romantics: Stay in School, Get a Job

The Boston Globe has a long story about the shift in marriage rates for educated women.

It looks like:

1. “The median age for a first marriage nationally is now 25.5 for women and 27 for men. It is even higher for those with graduate degrees. In Massachusetts, the median age at first marriage is 27.2 for women and 29.2 for men.”
2. “In a historic reversal of past trends – one that is good news for young girls who like to use big words – college graduates and high-earning women are now more likely to marry than women with less education and lower earnings, although they are older when they do so. Even women with PhDs no longer face a “success penalty” in their nuptial prospects.”
3. “[T]here is now a “success premium” for highly educated black women, who are more likely to get married and also more likely to stay married than other black women. Fewer than 50 percent of African-American women with a high school education are married, compared with more than 55 percent of African-American women with 19 years of school.”
4. “The 2001 Journal of Marriage and Family paper found that in mate-preference surveys taken in 1985 and 1996, intelligence and education had moved up to number 5 on men’s list of desirable qualities in a mate in both surveys, ahead of good looks. Meanwhile, the desire for a good cook and housekeeper had dropped to 14th place in both surveys, near the bottom of the 18-point scale. And in choosing a spouse, males with a college degree rate good looks much lower in importance than do high school graduates.”
5. “[C]ollege-educated couples have lower divorce rates than any other educational group. And in the last 30 years, while the marriages of less-educated women became less stable, the marriages of college-educated women became more stable. College graduates are more likely to have egalitarian ideas about sharing housework and breadwinning, and recent research shows that egalitarian ideas and behaviors improve marital satisfaction for both men and women.”
6. “They have better sex lives, too. According to sociologist Virginia Rutter of Framingham State College, surveys show that educated couples engage in more variety in their sex lives…. Educated husbands are also more likely to help with housework, which turns out to be a potent aphrodisiac.”
7. “In fact, Barnett’s new study of dual-earner couples, based on data from the 1990s, found that as the wife worked more, the husband’s view of the quality of his marriage actually improved. Surveys also show that the longer a woman holds a job, the more child care and housework her husband is likely to do, and that well-educated men have increased their housework more than less-educated ones.”
8. “[O]ne of the biggest predictors that a marriage will be stable and happy, according to Gottman, the psychologist, is if a husband responds positively when his wife expresses a desire for change. It helps if she asks nicely. But it doesn’t help if she avoids the issue and lets her discontent simmer.”

Lakoff 1, Pinker 0

George Lakoff responds to Steven Pinker’s review of Whose Freedom?: The Battle over America’s Most Important Idea. Highlights include shocking charges of deception or incompetence on both sides. This is the only paragraph of vitriol-free prose I could find in the review, and since it’s mostly summary I’ll include it here:

Lakoff’s theory is aimed at explaining a genuine puzzle: why the various positions clustering in left-wing and right-wing ideologies are found together. If someone is in favor of laissez-faire economics, it’s a good bet the person will also favor judicial restraint, tough criminal punishment, and a strong military, and be opposed to expansive welfare programs, sexual permissiveness, and shocking art. Conversely, if someone is an environmental activist, it is likely that he or she will favor abortion rights, homosexual marriage, and soak-the-rich taxes. At first glance these positions would seem to have nothing in common. Lakoff argues that the two clusters fall out of the competing metaphors for the family, with the strict father demanding personal responsibility of his wayward children and punishing them when they misbehave, and the nurturant parent showing empathy and emphasizing interdependence.

Of course, Pinker goes on to claim that Lakoff’s model of these clusters is prejudiced and simplistic… which is of course the point. I find the ‘nurturant parent’ a little absurd, myself, but as a metaphorical frame it does explain quite a lot. But Pinker goes on to supply warmed-over arguments fromm Political Philosophy 101, which contrast corruption with perfectibility and limited sight with utopian vision. These are increasingly irrelevant to the neoconservative movement, where utopian vision is decried domestically, but celebrated as good foreign policy, and humans are fallible and greedy unless they happen to claim to be born-again Christians. Take the tragic example of Iraq, for instance, which suffers under the same social engineering and lack of regulation and policing that conservatives claim cannot work here at home.

More interesting are the various academic arguments about cognitive linguistics. From these two articles, you’d think there was no disagreement between the two at all, except that Pinker subscribes to some market-driven version of social Darwinism. In his reply, Lakoff asserts that each of Pinker’s critiques are fully considered by his theory, and that often they are nearly direct quotes. He goes on to ask:

What is one to make of Pinker’s essay? Why would he repeatedly attribute to me the opposite of what I say? I can think of two explanations. One is that he is threatened and is being nasty and underhanded — trying to survive by gaining competitive advantage any way he can. The other is that he is thinking in terms of old frames that do not permit him to understand new ideas and facts that do not fit his frames. Since he can only understand what I am saying in terms of his old frames, he can only make sense of what I am saying as being nonsense — the opposite of what I actually say. That is, since the facts I cite don’t fit his frames, his frames stay and the facts are adjusted to fit them. I don’t know Pinker well enough to know which is true, or whether there is some third explanation.

It’s a rousing example of public intellectuals debating in the public sphere. And it’s fun. Check it out.