Gay marriage oppresses … women? Yeah, that's the ticket.

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As legalized same-sex marriage looks increasingly like the wave of the future, social conservatives scramble for reasons to oppose it, other than "because God says so," or "because marriage a union between a man and a woman" (a rather circular argument), or "because it just isn't right." If the November issue of Commentary is any indication, these attempts are not doing too well.

In a long article titled "Gay Marriage-And Marriage," Sam Schulman examines the secular arguments against gay marriage mounted by Stanley Kurtz (redefine marriage to include same-sex unions and you'll have to legalize polygamy next) and Maggie Gallagher (marriage exists to codify sexual activity that can result in the creation of new life), and finds them strong but ultimately wanting because, in his opinion, they don't go to the heart of the matter. Moreover, "the damage they describe is largely prospective and to that degree hypothetical." That's a situation Schulman intends to remedy.

Forget harm to children, says Schulman; our society's the acceptance of abortion and women in the workforce shows that no one cares about the tykes anyway. No, the real danger, according to him, is that gay marriage will harm women. Yes, women: "it is women … all women, who will be hurt."

Does Schulman believe that the vast majority of seemingly heterosexual men will find the lure of same-sex marriage impossible to resist, thus leaving heterosexual women in the lurch? No, not quite.

The whole point of marriage, according to Schulman, is to protect and empower women—to enable a woman "to feel safe and free in a sexual relationship" and "to regulate who has access to her person." Ahem … not to sound like a radical feminist here, but wasn't it, until recently, the opposite? (Before the end of the marital exemption to rape laws, the wife could not deny the husband access to her person.) But actually, it's Schulman who openly invokes the rhetoric of radical feminism in support of his argument, following in the footsteps of other conservative gender mavens from Carolyn Graglia to Wendy Shalit:

"Radical feminists were right, to an extent, in insisting that men?s and women?s sexuality is so different as to be inimical. Catharine MacKinnon has proclaimed that in a 'patriarchal' society, all sexual intercourse is rape. Repellent as her view is, it is formed around a kernel of truth. There is something inherently violative about sexual intercourse—and there is something dangerous about being a woman in a sexual relationship with a man to whom she is not yet married. Among the now-aging feminists of my generation, no less than among their mothers, such a woman is commonly thought to be a victim."

Say what? And I thought Stanley Kurtz's arguments about gender and marriage were too 1950s in their assumptions about gender roles!!! This is 1950s with a 1990s twist … or 1890s, perhaps? In Schulman's world, it is universally understood that women feel "essentially incomplete" and vulnerable in a non-marital sexual relationship. Women and only women, mind you: "a man desperate to marry is often considered to have something wrong with him—to be unusually controlling or needy."

Let's assume for a moment—a very brief moment—that Schulman actually has a point here and that marriage confers unique benefits and protections on women by granting official sanction to sexual intercourse. The logical conclusion would be to campaign against divorce, which makes this sanction temporary and fragile. Why would allowing two men (or two women) to tie the knot weaken those benefits and protections for heterosexual women? "The reason," according to Schulman, "is that gay marriage takes something that belongs essentially to women, is crucial to their very freedom, and empties it of meaning."

And he thinks Kurtz and Gallagher are too focused on the "hypothetical" alleged harms of gay marriage?

I recall reading a gay writer's account of how, years ago, feminist anti-porn nutcase Andrea Dworkin waged a war on overly erotic posters depicting male couples at the offices of some gay and lesbian organization with which she was affiliated at the time; she would assault these posters with a black marker and scrawl across them, "This oppresses women." Interesting to see this kind of mindset triumph at Commentary.

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  1. That guy is fricking brilliant…agree or disagree with his point, his logic is rather flawless.

  2. “paternity is legally binding despite marriage, right? i.e. like, a single guy can knock someone up and have to pay child support in most states?”

    Probably true for most places, but I’d say still not as effective as actually being married to the guy; I mean, there’s more than money to raising a kid. Like I said, it’s a pretty cynical view. And of course, it’s only possible at all since paternity testing was developed.

  3. It is good to see Cathy Young is continuing to keep honest a lot of social conservatives who continue to spout logically flawed and silly arguments on gender. Although I disagree with much of what Cathy says, this is something that she is really good at.

    However, there is truth to the argument that marriage generally benefits women more, at least in terms of directing sexual relations more towards women’s preferences. Yet what a lot of pro-marriage conservatives won’t acknowledge is that it is largely women who have undermined marriage. After all, it is women who initiate most divorces and usually women who get the bulk of marital property, custody of children, and maintenance and child support payments. Relatively few women have been prepared to oppose measures gutting men’s rights. Therefore, if women today find that men have abandoned them they may only have themselves to blame.

    For conservative commentators to suggest that gays are to blame for all the problems in heterosexual relationships is ridiculous. It is precisely this kind of bigotry and scapegoating of minorities that gives all of us on the political Right a bad name.

  4. Cathy’s post is too long, you think? Not. She doesn’t put a lot up on H&R, but when she does, it is worth reading.

    In general, and considering her ouevre at large, she is significanlty wrong only about abortion, where I would be more restrictive than she. (I see an identifiable “other” in a pregnant woman’s uterus well before many other libertarians do.) Otherwise, she is usually spot on, and is here, too. Anti-gay apologetics are usually putrid, and what Young highlights in this instance is no exception.

  5. This simply continues the long, convenient, heterosexual marriage between reactionaries and radical feminists.

    By the way, Classic Liberal, I can tell you actual stories about Andrew Dworkin that are far worse than defacing a few posters.

  6. “”paternity is legally binding despite marriage, right? i.e. like, a single guy can knock someone up and have to pay child support in most states?”

    Probably true for most places, but I’d say still not as effective as actually being married to the guy; I mean, there’s more than money to raising a kid. Like I said, it’s a pretty cynical view. And of course, it’s only possible at all since paternity testing was developed.”

    Unless of course, your wife has 3 children, divorces you for the money and to be with a man 10 years her junior and in the course of the divorce paternity tests reveal that you are indeed NOT the father of the children of your ex-wife.

    But the state, in its wisdom decides that you still owe child support for the children, because afterall its not the childrens fault that thier mother was a whore, they still need to be cared for and since the mother has no idea who the true fathers are, its up to the man who assumed he was the father to take up the yoke and continue to pay.

    Its amazing how the feminists want it both ways….

  7. dhex,

    “non-local magick”? Are you referring to some kind of paradox in theoretical physics? Maybe, in the tradition “Schrodinger’s Cat,” we could call it “Dworkin’s Dick”: If Andrea Dworkin is in a black box with a naked man, the question of whether she castrates him in there remains an undetermined probability wave that will finally collapse only when the box is opened.

  8. I don’t doubt that there are worse, true, stories about Dworkin. Whatever those stories are, her critics should stick to those and not ones of questionable authenticity, lest her defenders be allowed to avoid debate by pointing out such things.

    Also, I forgot to mention in my earlier post that Cathy Young kicks ass.

  9. I think this post only illustrates, how once again, Cathy Young kicks ass. She should consider making this into a column, if not, a full article, for Reason.

  10. kevin: heh. dworkin is such a horrid jackass.

    but actually, i was coyly referencing mr. santorum’s (and many other opponents of sexual/bodily freedom in general) attitude towards deviant sexual behavior, generally known as fun to most of us who can use our thumbs.

    a homosexual act in texas upset some sort of powerful magico-religious boundry which spills into a straight couple’s life in delaware. Mr. santorum and his ilk share this sort of attitude with only one other major figure of the 20th century who comes to mind, the deviant spiritual anarchist and nutter aleister crowley, who also held that deliberate sodomy could affect the balance of the universe in a non-local way.

    not quite sure how the lesbians affect the aether in this case, i’ll have to consult mr. santorum directly or resort to leafing through old copies of the vision and the voice. 🙂

    gay marriage, in effect, is a state endorsement of all sorts of magicio-religious warfare. which actually makes it sound not so bad, assuming that painfully vanilla “sex only for procreation” fucking in georgia somehow hurts the sex lives of promiscuous homosexuals in new york city. just to make sure things stay in balance.

  11. I’m not trying to pick a bone, but you said some ridiculous things:

    “However, there is truth to the argument that marriage generally benefits women more, at least in terms of directing sexual relations more towards women’s preferences.”

    I don’t know that there is any evidence that women inherently tend to prefer monogamous sexual relationships more than men do – and if so that it’s inherent to gender. In the past, women certainly preferred a stable social relationship (husband), as it was socially required and financially necessary. Don’t think they didn’t screw around after they got married, though.

    “Yet what a lot of pro-marriage conservatives won’t acknowledge is that it is largely women who have undermined marriage. After all, it is women who initiate most divorces…”

    Throughout almost all of history women have generally gotten the raw deal in the marrage contract – giving up what little rights they may have had, becoming property, ect. In an institution with that baggage, it only makes sense that many women would initiate divorce if it were socially and financially possible. For good or ill, social changes (ie, women having rights) and – mainly – the increase in wealth overall is what is behind the rise in divorce rates.

    “Relatively few women have been prepared to oppose measures gutting men’s rights. Therefore, if women today find that men have abandoned them they may only have themselves to blame.”

    Come on. Even if the logic beforehand holds (and I need a clarification on the leading sentance – I don’t get it), does a particular women who was knocked up and abandoned deserve it because of past generations of mistakes by Womankind? Should I, then, be forced to contribute to the “40 acres and a mule” fund?

  12. And Cathy Young does kick ass.

  13. method,

    You have it exactly backwards. Given the wide array of available birth control and legalized abortion, women have a zero percent chance of delivering an unwanted child.

    Men on the other hand only have one (unreliable) birth control option, no say in the abortion decision, and a legal mandate to financially support any children that are biologically theirs.

  14. “Given the wide array of available birth control and legalized abortion, women have a zero percent chance of delivering an unwanted child.

    Men on the other hand… have … a legal mandate to financially support any children that are biologically theirs.”

    Sheesh; I didn’t intend to get stuck on the wrong end of a feminism debate here. I wouldn’t argue with your facts except to say that abortion isn’t fun, in any case, and is morally repugnant to many women, and few birth control methods are 100% effective. And for that matter, vascectomies are pretty damn reliable.

    The point is just that marriage is _a_ way of roping in an unwilling father–perhaps not as important today as fifty years ago. And reliable paternity tests and birth control have reversed things to a certain extent. Actually, I’d say that even on the basis of what you said, that the playing field has simply been more or less leveled as far as parentage goes, assuming your psycho partner isn’t poking holes in your rubbers or anything. Whether the courts sort things out properly afterward is an entirely different matter.

  15. Seems to me that weddings are for two groups of people: Women and gay men. Gay guys would love picking out the china patterns, dancing at the reception, picking out the tuxedos, planning the colors and themes of the decorations and flowers, posing for countless pictures, etc.

    Since every wedding already has at least one gay participant (the wedding planner, the music director, or the minister 😉 it seems to me like all the necessary elements are already in place for gay marriage.

  16. vasectomies are reliable, relatively cheap, extremely effective AND safe.

    why they’re not more popular is a mystery.

  17. I said, wake me when it’s over. This is getting old.

  18. dhex,

    When a vasectomied friend was asked, “So, does the little guy work??” his response was not quite what I expected. “It’s different…sometimes it’s as good, sometimes not as good…” This seemed to be the first his wife had heard about this, and she started rattling off figures about how little of the semen is effected. Hubby replied, “Well I don’t care about that!” He maintained that it was still worth it, but it sent up some flags for me, let me tell ya!! I think I’d have to hear a hearty number of “no difference whatsoevers” to forget about that one “different…sometimes not as good,” sorry to say!!!

  19. I think the real issue here is separation of church and state. Each church is free to set the standards by which they will perform a marriage ceremony. They should not have any say so about whether it is right or wrong for same sex marriages other than in their own church. We have to many laws that are nothing more than the christians trying to impose their values on others.

  20. I’m pretty sure that the story of Dworkin defacing gay posters is a myth. It’s easy to believe since she is quite loony, but I don’t think it’s true.

  21. “There is something inherently violative about sexual intercourse — and there is something dangerous about being a woman in a sexual relationship with a man to whom she is not yet married.”

    This is a nasty bit of rhetoric. Certainly there is implied violence is at the heart of this argument, but, oddly, Schulman drops the violence when he flushes out his position. What does “…commonly thought to be a victim” mean? He jumps from an implied act of violence to a state where single women in relationships are thought by others to be victims.

    This is an easy fix. What does the woman want? If she wants to be in a non marrying relationship with control of her sexuality, she can make clear her intent to do physical harm to those who cross the line. I highly recommend firearms for this purpose. If she feels safer in a marriage, by all means she can go that route as well.

    Why shouldn’t these same options be available to any man who might have similar feelings of insecurity? If there is something of a power play in intercourse, it is present in both gay and straight situations, no?

  22. I like the way Young treats the objections as cogent argument worthy of consideration on their merits (even as she rejects them), rather than as proof of moral, intellectual, or cultural vacuity. We shouldn’t support gay marriage because the opposition are idiotic bigots; we should support it because our position is right on the merits.

  23. Cathy Young is so smart that I would love to have access to her person. As long as she would regulate that access.

  24. Good call, joe.

  25. i don’t know if i would have used violative, but there are mental changes which people undergo based on the “activeness” or “passivity” of their sex roles. allowing someone else to put something inside your body requires a certain mindset which doesn’t exist for the other partner.

    i wouldn’t find it too hard to believe dworkin would deface posters of nude men. she belonged to the santorum school of non-local sexual magick, where the sex acts of parties (usually male) in one area directly affect the lives of unconnected people in other areas.

  26. It’s remarkable the hoops that some really smart political writers will junmp through just to maintain their party’s ideology!

    if only some of these politicians were the “eagles” that Adnrew sullivan writes about.

  27. If you really wanna plumb the depths of psycho-sexual vulnerabilities, don’t forget the guy’s also, um, exposed in his own unique and dangerous way. Just ask Lorena and Sigmund! 🙂

    I second Joe on his complimentary observation about Cathy’s post. A certain degree of snarkiness can be fun sometimes, but treating one’s opponents and their arguments with respect is ultimately more satisfying.

  28. “There is something inherently violative about sexual intercourse — and there is something dangerous about being a woman in a sexual relationship with a man to whom she is not yet married.”

    While I find the first part of this statement disturbing at the least, and certainly not universally applicable, I can actually agree with the second part, but probably not for the reasons the author had in mind. The “something dangerous” for (almost) any woman in a heterosexual physical relationship is the danger of getting pregnant, a danger that the man is totally free of. So from that view, marriage can serve as a way for a woman to legally bind her partner to any children she may have, and avoid being left in the lurch, as it were.

    But to say that this most cynical view is the most, or even one of the most, important reasons for marriage is entirely too depressing, and, I’m pretty sure, wrong. And how exactly that has any bearing whatsoever on gay marriage, I can’t imagine.

    Nice article, definitely; although I would enjoy hearing Cathy’s views on the polygamy aspect. The more I read on that, the more I find it difficult to dismiss. That argument, actually, is intertwined with the “union of man and woman” argument; which is circular, but only insasmuch as one recognizes that gay marriage represents a redefinition of marriage, which means this isn’t so much about equal protection as the creation of a modification of the institution.

  29. If there is something of a power play in intercourse, it is present in both gay and straight situations, no?

    Yes, commonly referred to as “tops” and “bottoms”.

    we should support it because our position is right on the merits.

    Is it? Only if you define marriage in a certain way. The merits are subjective. The VT solution provides the legal rights sought in the lawsuit. Nothing about the lawsuit merited the solution providing more than that which would satisfy the claims therein. I think there is a general sense that the conclusion needs to be advanced merely because it rubs the other side’s rhubarb, not that there are any objective merits to the position. That is of course, a subjective assessment.

  30. ‘Why would allowing two men (or two women) to tie the knot weaken those benefits and protections for heterosexual women? “The reason,” according to Schulman, “is that gay marriage takes something that belongs essentially to women, is crucial to their very freedom, and empties it of meaning.”‘

    Um, no. Even if we grant him all sorts of things, the “something that belongs essentially to women” (the ability to bind men to them) belongs to each individual married woman, not married women as a whole. It binds an individual man to an individual woman, not mankind to womankind. Allowing individual gay men to similarly bind (you in the back, stop giggling) another man does not interrupt at all the ability of any individual woman to bind up her fella.

    I’m giving Shulman way too much credit, aren’t I?

  31. “I’m giving Shulman way too much credit, aren’t I?”

    Y’know, I was reading along going, Okay, I’m trying to understand, trying to understand…. And then I get to the “and empties it of meaning” conclusion and man, what a letdown, all I could go was jeez. You done a good job of articulating my jeez! I mean, he starts off with a practical argument, and then acts as if the practical value he described is entirely drained by this vague symbolism that is essentially at the heart of conservatives’ angst on the matter.

  32. Er…rather lengthy post, no…?

  33. paternity is legally binding despite marriage, right? i.e. like, a single guy can knock someone up and have to pay child support in most states?

  34. In her post, Baker cast aspersions on the logical soundness of the argument in my post. Yet she can’t seem to see the logical stupidity in her own arguments.

    Baker claims that the reason women initiate most divorces is because traditionally women have had fewer legal rights in marriage. Yet why would women choose to leave marriage in such high numbers when they have gained more legal rights within marriage over the decades. I maintain that the only logical reason for this is because women get a much better deal out of property settlements, child custody etc.

    It is true that in times past women who married often had to give up much of their legal rights to their husbands. Yet it is surely relevant to point out that women were not forced into marriage. Obviously most women believed the benefits and protections of marriage were worthwile, and in all truth many women would prefer to be absolved of responsibility for their own affairs. In the past it was more often men who had to be pressured into marriage. For example, in ancient Sparta men who refused to marry were forced to appear naked in public while women were brought in to scream abuse at them. In Mussolini’s Italy unmarried men over 25 had to pay a batchelor tax, yet there were no penalties for single women (the assumption being that it wasn’t their fault). If marriage was such a privilege for men and slavery for women, it is odd that it was men who had to be pressured into marriage.

    Baker also asks why it is that individual women should be forced to suffer because of the mistakes of womenkind in the past. This argument would carry greater weight if more women were prepared to honestly confront the failings and damage caused by modern feminism. Yet it is clear that Ms Baker wholeheartedly supports feminism, yet she wants to bleat about women having to accept any negative consequences from this. Talk about having your cake and eating it!

  35. “This simply continues the long, convenient, heterosexual marriage between reactionaries and radical feminists.”

    Do you have any evidences that there are any radical feminists who agree with Shulman? Or just the radical feminist who lives in your head to lose arguments?

  36. Quick and short… I’m a woman, and I sure don’t mind gay people to get married. It’ll only do good for society if you ask me. At least gay people will be able to be HAPPY with otehr gay people instead of marrying the other gender (like they use to do) and be unhappy about it.

    It doesn’t wreck sexuality for women, it helps it. I sure wouldn’t want to be sexual with a man that hates it and that sleeps with another man ;p

  37. Oh, and it isn’t because you’re married to someone that this person cannot ‘rape’ you. I don’t see how marriage can protect anyone from this.

  38. “Yet it is surely relevant to point out that women were not forced into marriage”

    eh, well sorry to say, but in most countries it was the FATHER of the girl that chose who she was marrying in exchange for cash. The woman in question had NO words to say about it… it’s why some of them ran from home and ended in prostitution when they were only 10 in many countries. Yea, so women were (ans in some countries are still) sold for money, how ‘yay’.

  39. “eh, well sorry to say, but in most countries it was the FATHER of the girl that chose who she was marrying in exchange for cash”. Suffice to say, what we have been arguing about involves the history of western societies. While there may have been some cases in the past where women were bought and sold, this has been far less common in the West than in certain non-western societies. I don’t believe this was the case during the periods of time over which we have been arguing.

    I don’t want to get into the position of having to defend all instances of how women were treated in the past. However, if people are to constantly dredge up the past in order to justify the present it is important that all sides of the story be put forward. Of course it is true that historically there are many cases of women being treated badly. Yet I would argue that women, far more than men, have usually been spared the worst of what humanity has to offer (such as torture, being maimed and killed in war etc.)

    In my original post I was arguing solely about the recent history of western countries. To try to win current debates by simply tossing around a few examples of women being mistreated in the past, without even considering the whole context of this, is really a lame excuse for genuine debate.

  40. Here is a reason against gay marriages. The Judges broke the law, they acted outside thier job description. Now i enjoy the facisitic take over of America by unelected judges as much as the next guy, but come.
    Also here is another great reason, the goverment shouldnt have anything to do with marriage. there now everyone is happy.

    does anyone actually care about this topic anymore??

  41. Honestly the debate has nothing to do with the women or the men or the children. The real consern that people should have is what are they going to say when GOD comes back???????? OHHHHH, I thought that it would be o.k.???? Come on now the fact of the matter is that the bible does say that it is wrong for a man and a man to be joined together in a sexual manner more or less being married. Look at soloman and gomora and now look at America what is the difference now nothing. So don’t be surprised if the consequences are studdingly familiar. Hey you don’t have to listen to me becuase the fact of the matter is everyone is responsible for their own soul. But mark my word GOD will cast his judgement and when he does you’ll remember my commments.

    Given all in love……..
    Cherry

  42. Honestly the debate has nothing to do with the women or the men or the children. The real consern that people should have is what are they going to say when GOD comes back???????? OHHHHH, I thought that it would be o.k.???? Come on now the fact of the matter is that the bible does say that it is wrong for a man and a man to be joined together in a sexual manner more or less being married. Look at soloman and gomora and now look at America what is the difference now nothing. So don’t be surprised if the consequences are studdingly familiar. Hey you don’t have to listen to me becuase the fact of the matter is everyone is responsible for their own soul. But mark my word GOD will cast his judgement and when he does you’ll remember my commments.

    Given all in love……..
    Cherry

  43. Good to know that the virtuous aren’t above petty sniping. 🙂 I believe in a God who prefers his people of the un-miserable variety. And to quote the play I’m in, “The Bible also says that eating shellfish is an abomination, but that didn’t stop you from sucking down the lobster bisque at dinner.” Oh, also, you spelled your Biblical reference incorrectly. And I don’t remember the part where God said two men can’t get married. But I’m not a Biblical scholar. Maybe you can point that bit out to me?

    Oh, and when I happen to see “GOD,” I doubt that a misspelled comment on a message board will be what’s foremost on my mind. I’ll probably just be pleased to meet him. He seems like a pretty cool guy. And, he had a son that was both awesomely mellow, and extremely buff. But I digress.

    The government certainly does have a place in marriage, because the secular side of it is, in effect, a legal contract. Can you put limitations on the type of people who enter into such a contract together? Is it just the word “marriage” that has certain sects shaking in their shoes? Or is it the simple fact that it’s just “gross” or that it makes people feel uncomfortable.

    Well, that’s a shame, but it’s certainly not going away. There have always been homosexuals, there will always be homosexuals. And now, they’re sick of being hushed up and hidden, and deprived of basic human rights. Do two men being married have any effect on your life? Oh, unless you’re a proponent of that Dworkin theory, but…they’re probably having sex no matter what.

    It’s interesting that the same groups who despised homosexuals for their promiscuity are now firmly set against them making government regulated monogamous commitments. Hrm…

    By the way, I’m a woman, and I usually know when I’m being oppressed. Gay marriages, whether male or female, don’t oppress me in the least, and honestly, I really didn’t understand the logic explaining how they did. What does oppress me? When men decide what’s oppressing me without asking my opinion.

    There’s more ranting to be done, but I have to make dinner. If you disagree with me, try not to beat me up too badly; I’m just a high school student. But, uh, yeah. The article was well written and so is a lot of the response.

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