Tuesday, August 10, 2010

Ross Douthat on "The Marriage Ideal"

Thomas Riggins

The ultra-conservative Ross Douthat, an op ed columnist for The New York Times, has a piece in Monday's paper (8-9-2010 "The Marriage Ideal") which, as is usual with this ideological trend, distorts the issues involved in question of gay marriage.

His article appears sparked by Federal Judge Vaughn Walker's ruling last week "that laws defining marriage as a heterosexual union are unconstitutional, irrational and unjust. That they are irrational and unjust is obvious to any thinking person, their constitutionality will ultimately be decided by the Supreme Court.

Douthat agrees that the usual arguments in defense of heterosexual marriage as the only form that should be legally recognized are wrong (I think he means invalid and unsound). These are those based on claims of naturalness, tradition, universality, etc. But Douthat points out that other cultures have different conceptions of the nature and purpose of marriage and none of the arguments heard by Judge Walker were convincing.

Since those opposed to gay marriage are NOT really defending "some universal, biologically inevitable institution" just what are they defending, Douthat asks? Luckily for the defenders of traditional marriage only, who obviously don't know what they are talking about and can only give wrong headed arguments to federal judges, Douthat DOES know and is going to enlighten all of us.

The heterosexual marriage ideal "holds up the commitment to lifelong fidelity and support by two sexually different human beings-- a commitment that involves mutual surrender, arguably, of their reproductive self-interest-- as a unique admirable kind of relationship."

Well this is a find and admirable ideal for some, but should it be the only legal marriage relationship under US and international law? Has an anti-divorce clause also been slipped in? And what about a person who is both physically and in gender consciousness a male and a person who is transsexual and a physical male but whose gender consciousness is female: are these two sexually different human beings allowed to marry under the heterosexual only rules? They are heterosexual afterall.

Douthat maintains that this heterosexual ideal, including the nuclear family, isn't claiming to be the only possible way for a marriage to be arranged but that it is "worthy of distinctive recognition and support." And who would not agree? As long as its recognition and support does not come at the expense of other people's marriage ideals and does not involve special rights and laws that discriminate against those alternatives.

Many cultures don't have this marriage ideal that Douthat puts forward: "It's a particularly Western understanding, derived from Jewish ["Thank G-d I was not born a woman"] and Christian beliefs ["Women is destined to live under the authority of man" St. Thomas] about the order of creation ["Neither was man created for the woman; but the woman for the man"--St. Paul], and supplemented by later ideals about romantic love [the passive woman on the pedestal], the rights of children [let's deny them citizenship under the 14th Amendment if their parents lack papers], and the equality of the sexes [this last bit is laughable considering the majority of the heterosexual marriage only crowd are chauvinists in extremo.]"

Well at least we see where the heterosexual marriage only crowd is coming from in Douthat's construction. It's basically an attempt to force a particular religious interpretation of marriage on everybody else. Extremely un-American to say the least.

Douthat fears that this noble ideal of the meaning of marriage, which only exists in the fantasy world of ultra-conservatives, may be lost to newer "post-modern" ways of thinking. If this happens we will be "giving up one of the great ideas of Western civilization"-- patriarchal, repressive bourgeois marriage as one of the "great ideas" of the West! Barf. If you want to know the real meaning of this great ideal read about marriage in Simone de Beauvoir's still great book THE SECOND SEX.

Douthat thinks there must be a distinction made between gay marriage and his ideal form: "But based on Judge Walker's logic-- which suggests that any such distinction is bigoted and un-American-- I don't think a society that declares gay marriage to be a fundamental right will be capable of even entertaining this idea." Speed the Day.


pinkjohn said...

While Douthat is a cultural conservative, I don't think he has everything totally wrong. Don't misunderstand me, I am a gay man and an LGBT activist who supports marriage equality. But Douthat and his compadre, Rod Dreher, have articulated the fact that the real threat to the family is late capitalism and the damage that is does to families, communities and the institutions that support them. Of course, their solution is a return to religious tradition and patriarchy, which they claim is best "for the children." (Obviously they did not grow up in MY traditional family.) They are mistaken about that and the role of the "sexual revolution" of the '60's and '70's. It was never a revolution, just a commodification of sexuality, the commercialization of the human impulse. Nonetheless, at least they get the problem right, (especially Dreher) that it is capitalism that undermines families with it's imperative to find new markets at all costs. They are not Marxists, too be sure. But they make this point that even some on the left don't seem to totally grasp.

Anonymous said...

Tom makes valuable points, as does Pinkjohn, but I see other issues involved here. First marriage is a state sanctioned relationship with major social economic consequences for the "partners." As we Marxists know, such relationships are not fixed, immutable, but change with larger changes within the system/mode of production and the balance of political/class forces. Arranged marriages, extended family structures, and of course very limited rights of any kind for females were the "norm" in most of the world, including the European world, until the rise of industrial capitalism over the last two centuries. In the U.S., which was among the most advanced capitalist countries in terms of women's rights in marriage, it was only after WWII and the rise of the women's liberation/rights movement, that divorce and property laws were reformed to expand greatly women's social-economic rights in marriage.
Late capitalism is very much crippling the nuclear family ideal which earlier capitalism largely created, but this concretely has little to do with the civil rights and liberties of gay people, who are an oppressed minority group and in the U.S., where there isn't what is called in other advanced capitalist countries a welfare state where health care and other social benefits exist as a matter of right for all citizens, gay people in relationships not sanctioned by the state are denied access to benefits that accrue to heterosexual married couples under law, a major form of discrimination.
Also, as Marxists, we understand that the oppression of minorities, which we reject on all grounds as antithetical ot the society that we seek to develop, both divides and adds directly to the exploitation of the working class. The organized right, who campaign against legally sanctioned gay marriage in order to heighten those divisions, understands that.
Norman Markowitz
P.S. As a final and perhaps irreverant point, Harry Hay, the former CPUSA activist, founder of the Mattachine Society(actually the most important pioneer leader of the Gay liberation movement) had little sympathy for gay marriage, as he saw marriage as it existed as a conservative bourgeois institution and looked more to extended family and friends networks(from my readings) for both gay people and people generally.