He’s back, people!
First, President Obama made the amazing and inspiring move last week to finally support gay marriage. Have you see the latest New Yorker cover?
Is this beautiful or what? How could anyone not feel happy looking at this image?
The whole idea that gay marriage is “anti-family” or threatens “traditional” marriage is such an inane, warped, self-defeating argument.
“Traditional” marriage was, of course, created as a financial contract to control the means of reproduction, that is, women. When women had no social, political, or financial power, when they were not allowed to own property and only valued for how many children they could bear, marriage existed to legalize and ritualize the transfer of ownership of women from father to husband.
Remnants of those ancient roles of womanhood are actually still prevalent in marriage ceremonies. Brides initially wore white to symbolize their sexual purity. The question about “Does anyone know why the marriage should not take place?” was also asked in order to determine if the bride was a virgin.
If I hadn’t lived in San Francisco and witnessed gays fight for the right to marry, I doubt I would be married today. I thought marriage was an antiquated and sexist institution, and I wanted no part of it. But then I moved here, worked in talk radio, and watched gays struggle to gain the right. I’d never even thought of marriage “a right.” Almost the opposite. Marriage was something I was expected– and not much interested– in doing. But here, it became redefined for me as something romantic, vital, and exciting; something worth fighting for and possibly even doing myself.
I actually wrote about all this for The Chronicle back in 2000, the year before I met my husband. Prop 22 was on the ballot in California, an initiative to restrict marriage to only opposite-sex couples. At the same time, Fox was broadcasting “Who Wants to Marry a Multimillionaire?” What crazy hypocrisy. Here was a show where women’s worth was measured by how well they conformed to limited ideals of beauty while male worth was measured by wallet size. That kind of union was not only legal but worth celebrating?
Prop 22 passed that year. “Who Wants to Marry a Multimillionaire” became one of the highest rated shows and ushered in an era of “reality TV” that is still dominating the networks. Oh, and the millionaire, Rick Rockwell, turned out to have a restraining order for domestic violence against him. But he was heterosexual, so it’s all good, right?
The fight for gay marriage has been the best thing that has happened to the institution in years, maybe ever. It’s so clear that if marriage is going to survive and thrive in this culture, to appeal to the next generation, it must continue to evolve, as it always has. Allowing gays to marry does just that; it shatters the antiquated sex stereotypes, the part of marriage that reduced human beings to property, while retaining what is best about marriage: the love, public commitment, romance, and vows. Legalizing gay marriage is good for families and good for America. That’s why when Obama came out in support of it, I sent him money as did many Americans. Now the president is getting criticized because that decision may have been “political?” Of course his decisions are political. He’s the president.
Then yesterday, President Obama spoke at Barnard, not Columbia, his alma mater, but the women’s college. His choice to speak at Barnard communicates that he values women. Was that a calculated, political decision as well? I hope so. The president ought to be sending a clear message to women that he cares about getting our votes.
Obama’s whole speech was great, but I especially love the part where he told the Barnard women why the imaginary world matters:
“Until a girl can imagine herself, can picture herself as a computer programmer, or a combatant commander, she won’t become one.”
People often act like the imaginary world is not important or separate from the “real” wold. But the narratives that we surround ourselves shape our psyches, inspire our actions, and create our community. If you ever doubt the power of a story to drive human behavior, look at the most popular historical novel of all time, the Bible, and how that narrative has led to the creation of politics, art, architecture, cities, jobs, wars, governments, marriages, and on and on and on.
If you haven’t read Obama’s whole speech, here it is.