Why Same-Sex Marriage Isn’t (Is) A Threat to Heterosexual Marriage

Amanda Marcotte

Same-sex couples might be able to teach straight couples a thing or two about egalitarian relationships. And that's the precise threat to traditional marriage social conservatives are afraid of.

Oh, we liberals love to laugh
at right wingers, mostly evangelical Christians, who claim that same-sex
marriage is an assault on "traditional marriage." If a gay
couple down the street gets married, we reasonably ask, does that invalidate
your marriage? Are you going to get a divorce in protest?
These retorts leave our opponents sputtering,
mostly because they grasp for a lie to cover up for their homophobia,
and few people can really lie smoothly. Or they commit the fallacy of tautology, claiming that marriage simply is
between a man and a woman, many of them knowing as they say it how lame
that sounds — after all, everyone but the dumbest among us understands that marriage
is whatever society agrees it is.

However, just because conservatives dance
around why same-sex marriage is a threat to "traditional"
marriage, it doesn’t mean they’re crazy or don’t have their reasons for opposing it.
Mostly, they know that their reasons won’t sit well
with the general public. Which is why I read with amusement Tara Parker-Pope’s piece in the New York Times about why same-sex relationships
might be healthier on average than opposite-sex marriages.

The article had a tin ear for what makes opponents of same-sex marriage
fearful. Conservatives say that gay marriage is a threat to "traditional"
marriage, and this article all but answered, "Oh yes it is and thank God
for it."

The article was very convincing if you’re already convinced that
marriage equality, and equitable marriage, are good things.

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    Controlling and hostile
    emotional tactics, like belligerence and domineering, were less common
    among gay couples.

    Same-sex couples were also
    less likely to develop an elevated heartbeat and adrenaline surges during
    arguments. And straight couples were more likely to stay physically
    agitated after a conflict.

Sounds good, right? But
the reason for lower stress levels goes right back to why same-sex marriage
is indeed a threat to "traditional" marriage [emphases below are mine].

    Notably, same-sex relationships,
    whether between men or women, were far more egalitarian than
    heterosexual ones…

    While the gay and lesbian
    couples had about the same rate of conflict as the heterosexual ones,
    they appeared to have more relationship satisfaction, suggesting that
    the inequality of opposite-sex relationships can take a toll…

    The egalitarian
    nature of same-sex relationships appears to spill over into how those
    couples resolve conflict.

The Times
article argues that the equality modeled by same-sex relationships could
influence opposite-sex marriages to adopt that kind of equality. This is exactly the assault on "traditional" marriage that conservatives
are talking about.

In 1998, the Southern Baptist
Convention made a point of highlighting Ephesians 5:22-23. Not a random choice, this was a direct reaction to the creeping peril of feminism. The verse
made it loud and clear that "traditional marriage" is not egalitarian at all,
but that women should "submit to your husbands as to the Lord."
Which sounds like sound common sense to the largely male leadership
of the fundamentalist movement.

And now those yappity-yap decadent
liberals are telling us that not only should same-sex marriage be legal,
but that it might actually teach straight couples a thing or two. Opposite-sex couples can learn how
to relate more equitably, and equal marriages are happier.

Happier, pray tell,
for whom?

Not for the men who would suddenly be living in a world
where dishes don’t just do themselves and diapers aren’t changed
by magic. Men who face the prospect of having to give
up being right in every conflict, having to take the
wife’s opinion on finances seriously, or even of having their right
to name their wives after themselves called into question might dispute
the idea that they’d be "happier" in this new egalitarian world.

Like the husband
in this scenario:

    Can you explain just how
    submissive a wife should be towards a husband without losing her identity
    and respect?…..

    Today the kids were eating
    a hamburger in the car, and they were looking for a drink. My husband
    says to the kids, "Grab your bottle of water" (they keep a
    bottle in the car at all times). Well, I remembered I had a can of soda
    in my purse, so I gave it to them, and he says I undermined his authority!
    I didn’t think it was a big deal, but he did.

Do you think that guy is going
to read an article in the Times telling him gay marriage is good because
it might provide a model of equality for his own marriage? I suspect this man reading it will only be reassured that gays should not
get married, if they’re going to give his wife ideas about how she
has equal authority in their marriage.

The Times article doesn’t
hide the fact that it’s straight women who suffer from inequality
in opposite-sex marriage.

    "Heterosexual married
    women live with a lot of anger about having to do the tasks not only
    in the house but in the relationship," said Esther D. Rothblum, a
    professor of women’s studies at San Diego State University. "That’s
    very different than what same-sex couples and heterosexual men live

But fundamentalists would probably
argue that the solution isn’t to change marriage so women are happier
in it (because remember the threat of men with dishpan hands), but to
change women so they are happier being second class. Like this article:

Pray each morning that God
will guide you and give you a servant’s heart.

Do those with a servant’s
heart demand that their masters share the housework with them?
Not if they want to keep their jobs, they don’t.

The New York Times article read like
it was trying to soothe opponents of same-sex marriage by telling them
that their fears of a spreading contagion were ill-founded and that
same-sex marriages might actually be a model for more happiness through

But what if your opponents think that equality is the
very contagion from which they have to protect their own marriages?

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