Feminism enabled gay marriage, and that’s a good thing.
Last week we heard the Catholic bishops parroting the tired old line about marriage being “between a man and a woman”, and that the secular government was somehow redefining the concept for the rest of us. This argument sounds more and more pathetic every time I hear it.
Marriage has often been redefined! In the Old Testament we had polygamy, a practice that continues in many parts of the world to this day. When that fell out of favour, the bond of marriage was still very much a transaction in which the girl had no input. This practice, of a father arranging a marriage on his daughter’s behalf, is still very popular in many parts of the world and many British citizens still submit to it. The idea of romantic love leading to marriage is also a new innovation (at least, new when compared to the idea of marriage itself). Literature, from Tristan & Isolde, to Romeo & Juliet, to the Jane Austen œvre, is full of stories of romantic love colliding with the more traditional view of marriage as a financial arrangement.
I might also mention that the divorce laws were only liberalised in the 20th Century, allowing women as much access to the dissolution of marriage at their husbands.
And even with love in place, and the divorce laws fit for purpose, the idea of marriage as a partnership of two equals is surely a modern innovation. It was only in the post-war period that we challenged the idea that the husband should be the Breadwinner and Man of the House, and that he should be served by a wife that he ‘kept’. This is something that today’s young adults are still trying to reconcile with the more traditional færy tales they heard as kids.
Crucially, each step away from the primordial ‘alpha-male-many-females’ model was a feminist step, giving more weight to the thoughts, feelings and worth of the woman. Each feminist step has brought us closer to today’s concept of marriage – a loving, equal partnership.
It is only when this final development occurred – equality between partners – that the idea of homosexual marriage could be countenanced. When marriage was still assumed to be between dominant partner and and a subservient partner, between the breadwinner and the homebound, a marriage between two of the same ‘type’ would have seemed wrong. (Yes, I know there were outliers and a progressive vanguard, but I am just talking about society’s norms and stereotypes).
So, because of feminist developments in marriage, people now recognise that it is the love and the partnership that is of value to society, not the pairing-off with someone of the opposite gender. The negative reaction to same-sex partnership no longer occurs. If you presented the phrase “a loving, equal partnership” as a definition to the populous today, most would unhesitatingly describe it as “marriage”. Our politicians have recognised this, and the fact that they are planning to legislate on it now is an act of following an established consensus, not radical social-engineering.
If one considers the introduction of gay marriage as a triumph of feminism, one gains an insight into why the all-male Catholic Church Heirarchy might take issue with it. They are hostile to women’s bodies and their right to choose, and even to the very idea that women could become spiritual leaders. No wonder they cannot admit the “equal partnership” definition of marriage. Their recent manœverings over the weekend risk alienating their congregation and bring their slide into irrelevance all the closer.