Tag Archives: marriage

Good News for Same-Sex Nuptials and Unions

February 23, 2011 by Stephanie Hallett at Ms. Magazine

In a move eagerly anticipated by gay rights advocates since his election in 2008, President Obama has ordered the Justice Department to cease its defense of the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA)–bringing federal marriage equality one step closer to reality.

The 1996 act defines marriage as a legal union between a man and woman and allows the federal government to deny recognition to same-sex marriages performed in states where the unions are legal. That means legally married same-sex couples are denied the federal benefits afforded to heterosexual married couples, such as Social Security death benefits and veteran benefits. In directing the Justice Department to stop defending DOMA, constitutional challenges to the law can be brought to court with a hope of succeeding.

University of Pennsylvania law professor Tobias Wolff told The New York Times:

The Justice Department and the president have taken the position on behalf of the United States government that discrimination against gay and lesbian people in all cases is presumptively unconstitutional.

It’s the first time the United States government has ever embraced that position, and if the courts agree it will help to eradicate all of the various forms of discrimination that gay and lesbian people suffer around the country.

In another victory for queer couples, same-sex civil unions will soon be allowed in Hawaii. The civil union bill was successful in the state senate today and the governor has vowed to sign it.

The state’s relationship with gay civil unions has been tumultuous; in July, a similar bill nearly passed but was vetoed by then-Gov. Linda Lingle. Today, Gov. Neil Abercrombie said, “For me, this bill represents equal rights for all the people of Hawaii.”

Though gay rights groups applaud Hawaii’s decision, they will continue to push for full marriage equality in that state.

Says Evan Wolfson, founder and president of Freedom to Marry:

Loving and committed same-sex couples have the freedom to marry in 12 countries on four continents–as well as in five states and the District of Columbia here at home–and the sky has not fallen and the sun continues to rise every morning.

While a welcome step, civil union is no substitute for the full measure of respect, clarity, security, responsibilities and protection of marriage itself. States that have created civil union as a means of both giving and withholding–providing legal protections while withholding the freedom to marry and all its meaning–have found that civil union falls far short of marriage with all its tangible and intangible significance in our lives.

Clearly gay rights are taking precedence at the federal level. Last year, a repeal of DADT. This year, an end to DOMA. Upwards, toward an end to discrimination!

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Mengagement Rings

Yes, I know this is not newsworthy, but this New York Times story was popular enough to show up in my Google News feed.

So here’s the scoop: more men are wearing engagement rings.  Why is this interesting?  Because I love gender history.  See, men obviously haven’t always worn engagement rings.  In fact, it wasn’t until about 50, 60 years ago that men even started wearing wedding rings.  Women wore rings.  Why, you ask?  To mark that they were taken or “bought” when marriage used to equate more of a purchase than a union (which actually wasn’t that long ago).

Now, more men are wearing engagement rings, partly because their female fiancees require them to, and also because they are increasingly choosing to do so.

The article also interviewed two incredibly important sociologists of gender, Stephanie Coontz and Barbara Risman, yet their significance is barely mentioned.  Here’s what they say about this move towards gender equality:

While the arrival of men’s engagement rings may not be the next step in gender equality, it is another sign that male infidelity is becoming less and less acceptable, said Stephanie Coontz, a history professor at Evergreen State College in Olympia, Wash., and the author of “Marriage, a History: How Love Conquered Marriage.”

[I’d like to add that Coontz has written several other fascinating sociological texts, one of which is “The Way We Never Were” about how the happy, white, nuclear family never really existed – we just idealized it on Leave it to Beaver.]

“It’s a logical extension of our increasing rejection of the double standard of sexuality,” she said. “We talk a lot about infidelity, but actually infidelity was much more highly approved of among men in the past than it is today. The double standard was so extreme that in the late 18th century we have letters from men bragging to their wife’s brother about activities outside the marriage.”

Leading up to her first marriage, in 1974, Barbara Risman didn’t wear an engagement ring.

“I was a very serious second-wave feminist, and at that moment in history any marital tradition that seemed gender-specific seemed prima facie oppressive,” said Ms. Risman, 54, who is the head of the sociology department at the University of Illinois at Chicago. [And also the author of Gender Vertigo in which she examines the normality of non-traditional families.]

That was then.

Ms. Risman, who was divorced in 1998, is set to marry Randall Liss, 56, an options trader, next spring. Not only does she want to wear an engagement ring, she expects her fiancé to wear one, too…

“We both made this commitment, and to be quite frank, it’s just fair,” Mr. Liss said. “And it makes me feel good…”

“The feminist movement and I have matured,” she said. “Now there’s a sense that we should look carefully at what the traditions are and reinvent them so that we keep the good part of it and share it…”

Why wear rings at all,  I’m not sure.  Probably because we love shiny things, but at least it’s a move towards gender equality.

Either way, we need to shake up some of these outdated traditions, like a man proposing to a woman.  Shouldn’t we discuss this, rather than being swept up in the romance?  It’s kind of a big decision.

But, then again, more than half of all marriages end in divorce anyway.  And you know what the leading cause of divorce is, right?  Marriage.

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Women and Divorce – the 1950s and 1960s

The 1950s are heralded as a time of the perfect American family – when men were men and women were women, when mothers stayed home with the children and parents didn’t divorce.  But alas gentle Americans – Leave it to Beaver was not a documentary.  Many unhappy couples simply didn’t get divorced due to societal pressure, and very few women could afford a divorce and often times women were denied or forced to jump through a series of hoops over months.

Here’s a University of Maryland graph on divorce rates between 1950 and 1999.  Since 2000 divorce rates have continued to fall because people are marrying less.

This is a fascinating feature story from NPR on a group of Nevada women in the 1950s and 60s who, when denied for a divorce, stayed at the “divorce ranch” to declare residency.  It’s a little complicated.  Here are the fascinating points about this story:

1) This story reveals a hidden female world of women working together to overturn the patriarchy.

2) It challenges our nostalgia for the myth of the perfect 1950s America: divorce, adultery, and unhappy marriages

Another interesting factoid – in 2008 Zooey Deschanel and Chloe Sevigny were onboard to star in a comedic film about the Nevada divorce ranch.  However, sadly, since then the film as been scratched.

Here are portions of the article “Sisters Tell Tales From the ‘Divorce Ranch'” from NPR.  Listen to the story or read it in its entirety here.

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Courtesy Beth Ward Soon-to-be divorcees visit cocktail hour at Whitney Ranch. Beth Ward is at center, wearing an off-the-shoulder dress.

Beth Ward and her sister, Robbie McBride, grew up on what was known as a “divorce ranch” in Reno. Women who were denied the right to divorce could live in these hotels to establish residency, then file for divorce in a Nevada court.

In the 1950s and ’60s, Ward and McBride lived on their family’s Whitney Ranch, whose customers were mainly women from New York and New Jersey who had headed West for what was known as “the Reno cure.” Nevada had passed a law in 1931 that made it the quickest state in which to get a divorce — just six weeks, the time to establish residency.

“At the end of their six weeks, mother would go to court with them and testify that they’d been a resident at the ranch and she had seen them every day,” says Robbie McBride.

And as Ward remembers, it was a duty that their mother took seriously.

“Many of them said, ‘Well, you can just testify that I was here the last two weeks,'” she says. “But she’d say, ‘Oh no. Oh no.'”

“Mother liked to have things nice and smooth, and no fussing and fuming,” McBride says.

“…most of the people who came there, they wanted a divorce, so it wasn’t an unhappy time for them,” Ward says. “They just thought it was great that there was someplace they could come to get one.”

And as for life after divorce, McBride says, “An awful lot of them had plans for after their six weeks.”

Some of the women even brought along the people they were making those plans with: men who were often referred to as cousins.

“They had somebody in the other room, waiting to walk down the aisle with,” Ward says. “And six weeks later, of course, they were married.”

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