Steve's Soapbox

Sunday, October 30, 2005

Sanctity of Marriage !

A little perspective on marriage

By Terri Jo Ryan Tribune-Herald staff writer
Sunday, October 30, 2005

“Traditional marriage,” touted by social conservatives as the antidote to decades of moral decay, can mean many things, depending upon where one sets the yardstick.

Through most of Western civilization, according to Marriage, A History: From Obedience to Intimacy, or How Love Conquered Marriage by Stephanie Coontz, matrimony has been more a matter of money, power and sheer survival than of dainty emotions. It has only been little more than 200 years since people started marrying for love.

—— The evolution of marriage: a timeline ——

Prehistoric – Marriage basically turns strangers into relatives, decreasing tribal tensions.

3,000 B.C. – Marriage first becomes the way the upper classes conclude business deals and peace treaties, cementing socio-political alliances. Ancient societies experiment with polygamy – and in the case of Egyptian royalty, incest among siblings – to forge strong bonds of civilization.

500 B.C. – Short-lived experiment in democracy in ancient Greece actually worsens the status of women. Love is honored – but among men only. In marriage, inheritance is more important than emotional bonds: A woman whose father dies without male heirs can be forced to marry her nearest male relative, even if she has to divorce her husband first.

Circa A.D. 550 – Emperor Justinian tries to enact a requirement for a wedding license, but the unpopular measure is revoked. (He, meanwhile, managed to get a law passed that allowed him to marry a “penitent” former actress, Theodora ).

A.D. 800 – Holy Roman Emperor Charlemagne outlaws polygamy. Germanic warlords, even baptized Christians, still acquire wives for strategic reasons.

900 – The Roman Catholic Church tries to require people to obtain the church's blessing of sexual unions, but is reluctant to thereby create millions of “illegitimate” children whose parents don't obey the edict. The church, however, wins a battle by denying royalty the right to divorce on a whim.

1000 – Catholic clergy are no longer allowed to marry. Upper-class marriages are often arranged before the couple has met. Aristocrats believe love is incompatible with marriage and can flourish only in adultery.

1200 – Common folk in Europe now need a marriage license to wed. Ordinary people can't choose whom to marry, either. The lord of one manor decrees in 1344 that all his unmarried tenants – including the widowed – must marry spouses of his choosing. Elsewhere, peasants wishing to pick a partner must pay a fee.

1500-1600 – Protestant moralists elevate the status of marriage over the Catholic gold standard of celibacy, but enact even stricter controls over annulments.

1769 – The American colonies, basing their regulations on English common law, decree: “The very being and legal existence of the woman is suspended during the marriage, or at least is incorporated into that of her husband under whose wing and protection she performs everything.”

1800 – Marriage for love, not for property or prestige, is gaining wider acceptance. But women are still completely subjected to male authority.

1874 – The South Carolina Supreme Court rules that men no longer may beat their wives.

1891 – England's Parliament passes a law that men cannot imprison their wives (or deny them freedom of movement from the home).

1900 – By now, every state in America has passed legislation modeled after New York's Married Women's Property Act of 1848, granting married women some control over their property and earnings.

1920s – The Roaring Twenties bring about the biggest sexual revolution in marriage to-date and divorce rates triple. The Supreme Court upholds people's right to marry someone of a different religion.

1965 – In Griswold v. Connecticut, the U.S. Supreme Court overturns one of the last state laws prohibiting the prescription or use of contraceptives by married couples. Seven years later, the right to use contraceptives is extended to unmarried people.

1967 – Interracial marriage is decriminalized in all states when the U.S. Supreme Court strikes down Virginia's anti-miscegenation statutes.

1968 – The Supreme Court upholds the rights of children of unmarried parents.

1969 – California adopts the nation's first “no-fault” divorce law, allowing divorce by mutual consent.

1970s – Most states overturn rules designating a husband “head and master” with unilateral control of property owned jointly with his wife.

Sources: Stephanie Coontz, “Marriage, A History: From Obedience to Intimacy, or How Love Conquered Marriage”; National Women's History Project.

William McKenzie:
Republicans run a risk in pushing gay marriage ban
They could lose gay professionals - plus their families, friends
05:27 AM CST on Tuesday, November 1, 2005
It's pretty certain Texans will vote to affirm Proposition 2, the constitutional amendment on next Tuesday's ballot that bans gay marriages. This is a red state, after all. (We're not Massachusetts.)
Plenty of Texans believe marriage between one man and one woman is, well, central to civilization. They'll naturally want to codify that point, even though Texas already has a law that says marriage is between one man and one woman.
I respect their view. Traditional marriage is one of those bedrock points with which most people grow up. They never think twice about it. Plenty of my close friends see it that way, and I know how they got there.
I also understand why others are not sure what they think of gay and lesbian couples marrying. The truth is, I was relieved last year when my wife and I couldn't find a sitter after we were invited to a ceremony commemorating the union of a gay couple we know. She went; I stayed home and chased the kids around the house, fixed their dinner and read to them. That was infinitely easier than figuring out what I thought about two men in a "wedding" ceremony.
But what I don't understand is why Republicans push the gay marriage issue so hard. They obviously want to rev up their die-hards, but staunch conservatives already run things in Austin. What more fodder do they need for the next campaign trail?
In the long run, this may prove a strategic mistake. By putting this amendment on the ballot – and getting it passed – Republicans could further alienate a natural group of supporters.
Gay and lesbian couples often are prosperous professionals who value stable neighborhoods and home ownership. "Those are Republican issues," a straight GOP strategist bellowed the other day. "Why are we driving gays away?"
Log Cabin Republicans wonder that all the time. The group's members are active Republicans who happen to be gay.
They've pressed their party to think about what the anti-gay amendments do to a likely constituency, whether it's in Washington or Austin. If Republicans value free enterprise, why alienate gay business owners? If Republicans tout an "ownership society," why risk losing a large group of homeowners?
I'd add another demographic pool for Republicans to consider: Straight voters with gay family members, friends and colleagues. If Republicans value family – and heaven knows they remind us often enough – what room do they leave for straight people with gay relatives?
Thirty years ago, many straight people may not have been comfortable with a friend's or relative's openly gay lifestyle. Can that be true today, after they've seen children, friends and co-workers reveal and deal with their homosexuality?
I can't prove it, but I'd bet there are quite a few Texans in this camp. Ask around, and you'll probably find them. And if they feel the GOP's putting a target on the backs of their gay brothers, cousins, pals and officemates, they may bolt the party on Election Day.
I'd worry about these points if I were a GOP strategist. I'd particularly worry about them since Proposition 2 could undermine rights already settled for gay couples.
Supporters swear the amendment won't jeopardize, say, domestic partner benefits. Others don't see it that way because the second clause prohibits the state "from creating or recognizing any legal status identical or similar to marriage."
University of Texas Law School professor Douglas Laycock, for one, says that phrase carries too much uncertainty. A judge, he believes, could use it to throw out an existing right for gay couples, like the medical power of attorney. Even if you dislike gay marriage, what's to gain from denying gay couples the ability to make medical decisions?
Maybe Republicans feel they have this issue nailed down, but I'd think twice about being too confident.
Most people possess a spirit of fair play, and if they believe gay and lesbian couples are being targeted, they could turn against the GOP machine. I don't know exactly how I feel about gay marriage, but I'm certain I plan to vote against Proposition 2.
William McKenzie is a Dallas Morning News editorial columnist. His e-mail address is