October 20, 2006
Volume 34
Issue 42
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Thursday, Jan 21, 2021



The Gay agenda
The Gay agenda
by Josh Friedes - ERW's Advocacy Director

The Gay agenda is obvious: Equality. The agenda of the radical right and religious conservatives is less so: oppression of women and the desire to impose rigid gender roles. Equal Rights Washington recently joined Causes in Common, an alliance that seeks to foster stronger relationships between organizations working on reproductive rights and LGBT equality. Of course, our memberships are overlapping, our causes are interrelated, and our organized opponents are nearly identical.

Opponents of same sex marriage are careful to always say that they are working to preserve "traditional marriage." Traditional marriage is a code phrase for old fashioned marriage. What separates modern marriage from old fashioned marriage is that modern marriage is an institution between two persons who come before the law, and increasingly society, as equals. And since modern marriage is today the legal norm, the radical right is disingenuous in saying that they are trying to preserve traditional marriage. Rather, the right is attempting to turn back the clock and reinstitute old fashioned marriage on a public that overwhelmingly supports modern marriage.

It seems axiomatic to religious conservatives to say that marriage has always been between a man and a woman, but in truth the observation bears asking the question why?

No matter how many times religious and social conservatives declare that marriage has always been between a man and a woman it a falsehood because of the historic prevalence of polygamy. That reactionary individuals and organizations can say with a straight face that marriage has always been between a man and a woman speaks volumes about the lack of respect they have for women and their history.

Those who argue that same-sex marriage is leading us towards the slippery slope of polygamy should recognize that the stronger argument is the opposite. Same-sex marriage is the ultimate recognition of legal and social equality of the parties to a marriage and destroys the basis for historical polygamy, the dominance of the male in the marital relationship.

Lack of respect for women from marriage equality opponents should be no surprise since the defining characteristic of "old fashioned" marriage was the legal and social inferiority of women. In an institution as changing as marriage, practically the only thing that has remained constant throughout the millennia-until just a few decades ago-is that men were superior to women in the marital relationship. In short old fashioned marriage required a minimum of two parties with differing reproductive organs because the legal rights of spouses were determined by their sex organs.

The marriage equality movement, better known in the mainstream media as Gay marriage, poses an insurmountable problem to those who would like to return to old fashioned marriage. It will be impossible to legally return to old fashioned marriage if the two parties to a marriage can no longer be distinguished based on genitalia. Marriage equality poses an even greater problem for the radical right if their intention is to impose the subjugation of women by demanding rigid gender roles based on physical sex attributes.

A while ago I participated in a panel discussion with representatives from the Massachusetts Family Institute-which is working hard to undo marriage equality in Massachusetts. Time and time again they talked about the importance of having a father who is strong and a disciplinarian, and a mother who is nurturing and loving. Clearly the religious right believes that successful childrearing is predicated on a mother and a father both of whom ascribe to rigid gender roles based on the sex of the parent. So strongly held is this belief that when talking about children being raised by Gay or Lesbian parents they often act as if the child only has one parent or worse yet act as if violence is being done to children by being raised by same-sex couples.

In a society that seems to demand legal equality between the sexes in the marital relationship, how does the radical right intend to subordinate women? The answer is simple: convince society that women must subscribe to traditional gender roles in order to raise healthy children. Women may have the right to divorce, own property and so on, but they still must be nurturing and submissive and obey their husbands. But successful parenting by same-sex couples destroys the radical rights last defense of old fashioned marriage. The success of children being raised by same-sex couples and the attention that Gay marriage brings to this reality is helping society understand that it cannot demand that women sublimate their own identities for the sake of their husband's progeny.

To young adults today marriage equality is a no brainier because unlike their older peers young adults know marriage as a relationship between legal equals and therefore don't understand why same-sex couples should have been excluded from the protections and responsibilities of marriage. But the notion of marriage as being between legal equals is a very modern notion.

Gay marriage must be understood not as a redefinition of marriage but rather as a response to the evolution of heterosexual marriage. Marriage became attractive to same-sex couples when it evolved into an institution which respected both parties equally. Ironically it was at this point that the exclusion of same-sex couples from marriage became the primary obstacle to the equality of Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual, and Transgendered people in America. This is how and why marriage equality became the central issue in struggle for civil rights for GLBT individuals. At the same time as we work to preserve marriage equality in Massachusetts we should take pride in the knowledge that we are also working to preserve the equality of all women and hope that our struggle will result in society better attending to the needs of all individuals and family groupings.

Josh Friedes is the Advocacy Director of Equal Rights Washington. He'd love to hear your thoughts on this column. He can be reached at

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