However, apart from that, they have all had long-term relationships, some of which were very happy. There are children, homes, and assets shared.
Since marriage equality in Australia was achieved, I have had the pleasure of attending several queer weddings. Each one has been unique and beautiful. It is hard to imagine a more fertile place to talk about marriage as a social concept than the wedding reception of two people who believed they would never be able to marry.
I’ve attended several gay weddings. Each one was unique, delightful, and moving. Polina Tankilevitch/Pexels
Every time someone says “love is Love”, another guest responds with a reflection about homonormativity. My historian self would have loved to record these conversations, but I was too busy dancing at the time.
Sometimes, at these beautiful queer weddings, I am identified as a spokesperson for feminism. What do I think about it? What do I think?
The champagne may be to blame, but I’m more likely to recall trivial events in the history of “feminism” and marriage, like the intense interest that followed feminist icon Gloria Steinem getting married for her first time at age 66, at the turn of century.
We have seen, more recently, former Australian Prime Minister Julia Gillard reframe her opposition to marriage equalization while she was in office as some sort of feminist action rather than the clear political maneuver it was.
Feminism and marriage
There is a much deeper and more complicated history of feminist activism and thought around marriage. This includes campaigns to help women retain or acquire their rights to paid work, property, and nationality.
Two new books on marriage by feminists cover some of this history. Clementine Ford has adamantly opposed it, whereas British feminist Rachael Lennon married her husband recently.
Both of their books, The Case Against Marriage & Wedded Wife: A Feminist History of Marriage, are written in a way that is accessible to a wide audience. They each turn to history and explore popular culture while also incorporating their personal stories.
Clementine Ford says she’s a ‘hopelessly Romantic.’ Nix Cartel/Allen & Unwin
Lennon’s wife and he “made the marriage decision along with the choice to get married.” Her wife wanted to be recognized as the parent of her children without having to “jump through legal hoops or navigate additional paperwork.” Lennon knew that she wanted a “public celebration” even though (or maybe especially after) she had been a wedding maid six times.
There were inevitable “moments” of miscommunication in the florists, dress shops, and venues when two women got married. Lennon writes that they “shook of some of the patriarchal marriage expectations – even though we still felt” together.
Ford has had many long-term relationships, including one with the father of her son. She worked as a young woman in a pub that hosted “carbon copy” weddings or “festivals of heterosexuality.” This gave her a bleak view.
Ford was shocked to learn that an ex-boyfriend reminded her of a time when she told him she would take his last name if they were ever married. Ford, who was in her early 20s at the time, admits that she did not know what to do.
It sounded like something I would have said as a young woman in love. I would have described it as progressive and probably prepared to brag about the event the same way other people brag about their alternative marriages.
She rarely attends weddings anymore as a guest. Most of her friends, like her, are not married.
From obedience to intimacy
Lennon & Ford both cite the Marriage, A History: From Obedience To Intimacy or How Love Conquered Marriage by Stephanie Coontz, a 2005 book. Coontz’s subtitle captures the idea that marriage should be based upon mutual love and desire and freely chosen by each party.
Rachael L. Lennon.
Lennon, citing Coontz, writes: “About 200 years ago, the majority of societies in the world believed that marriage was too important to be left to two people’s choice. Ford writes that “cultures, where marriages are arranged today, are mocked, and women who are still obligated to pay the price for their heads are pitied.” We would never devalue love or women in that way.
Ford’s argument is promising, but it only gets a brief development because, unlike Lennon and other cross-cultural analysts, Ford does not include examples from Australia. Ford does not consider the success of the Netflix show Indian Matchmaking in opening up a global conversation on arranged marriages.
Lennon tracks the cultural shift that began in the late 18th century, which is evident in the work and life of Jane Austen. She argues marriage should be ultimately about love. Lennon writes that Austen’s novels “set the romantic bar” in popular culture, but “the social and economic pressures placed on middle-class woman to marry are ever present.”
Austen, who was 26 years old and dependent upon her dad’s modest income, accepted a proposal by a family friend, Harris Bigg Wither, but changed her mind the following morning.
Lennon continued, “By the middle of 20th century most young people in Britain not only would aspire but also expect to fall in love with their fiance”. Lennon highlights that the history of marriage, especially as dictated by law and religion, is one of exclusions based on class, gender, sexuality, religion, race, disability, or religion.
Ford does not consider the fact that Indian Matchmaking’s success has led to a wider discussion about arranged marriages.
As marriages for love became more common in the West, laws against miscegenation, color bars, and gender binary also increased. The colonial expansion of Europe “restricted marriage definitions in vast swathes” of the world.
The Australian government passed the Aboriginals Ordinance in 1918. It was based on the existing Protection Acts that were already in place across all the states. This law restricted marriages between Indigenous people and non-Indigenous under their jurisdiction.