A recent graphic sums up the problem perfectly. Wonder Woman, a feminist pop culture icon, officiates a wedding between two women. Afterward, Superman exclaims:
I didn’t realize you were an advocate of gay marriage.
What’s the meaning of a name
The debate over labels centers on the question of whether marriages between partners who are the same gender or opposite genders are the same thing.
The advocates of same-sex unions argue that the gender of the couples in a relationship is irrelevant. Penny Wong, a Labor senator, argued as much in her debate against Liberal Senator Cory Bernardi. Same-sex marriage does not aim to change the institution of marriage but rather remove unfair sexual discrimination in existing marriage law.
The union of same-sex partners might be a socially acceptable form of intimate relationship, but, as the Australian Marriage Forum claimed in their recent advertisement, As the Australian Marriage Forum stated in their advertising, a union of partners of the same sex might be socially acceptable.
It’s. Not. Marriage.
Proponents of the change argue that by using “marriage equal” instead of “gay wedding,” marriages between partners of the same sex are essentially the equivalent of marriages between partners of opposite sex.
By using terms like “gay” or “same-sex” (usually enclosed in scare quotes), those who oppose change claim that the legal union and ritual of same-sex couples is fundamentally different from, and less legitimized than, the marriage of, opposite-sex couples.
This difference in labeling may seem insignificant, but it represents the core conflict of the current debate on marriage.
Does sexuality matter?
Marriages between same-sex couples and opposite-sex couples differ in that they are different based on the gender of the team. What is at stake is the importance of sexual differences in marriages and our society in general.
Marriage is an important institution in the production and maintenance of gender norms. In my recent book about the history of romance and love, I argue :
The gender ideology of the society is reproduced, constructed, and performed in the wedding ritual and marriage practices.
Marriage is a social institution and also a way of organizing two people. It represents “normal” gender roles.
The changes in the structure of marriage’s sexual differences are therefore important for a society’s gender ideals. In other words, marriage equality is directly related to gender equality.
Feminism, marriage equality and feminist principles
The debates over same-sex relationships are just the latest in a long line of attempts to change the marriage structure. Few people today would recall the controversy that erupted 100 years ago, when it was suggested to remove the vow of a wife to obey her spouse from the Anglican Marriage Service.
Conservatives reacted with horror to the proposal for equal marriage vows. They called it “a cruel and evil act.” After more than a decade of debate, the Church of England finally settled the issue in 1925 when it introduced a new wedding service where husbands and wife took equal vows. The introduction of a certain “marriage equal” became commonplace very quickly.
In the last 100 years, marriage laws and other reforms have succeeded in changing gender norms from subordination towards equality.
DC Comics/Jason Badower
The current “marriage equal” campaign has a strong moral and cultural basis because of these widely accepted changes to formal gender equality. When the popular notion of intimacy is characterized by equality, it’s difficult to convince people that sexual differences in marriage are important.
Perhaps it is because marriage equality has been so successful that those who oppose the marriage of partners of the same sex have turned their attention to parenting. Sexual equality in romance is now seen as “natural” but sexual inequality in parenting has a deeper seated root.
This is still one of the strongest arguments in favor of marriage equality. Social studies have shown that despite the fact that women are now equal in many areas of society, there is still inequality at home and in families.
By including couples of the same gender, this insidious inequality could be less believable. There is, in short, a feminist case for same-sex unions.