Thursday, August 5, 2010

The Many Faces of Marriage- Proposition 8

Margaret McLeod and Norman Nicholson, marriage portrait. Is she pregnant? Must check the dates.

I've been poring over the Nicholson diaries and notebooks and I re-discovered Margaret's 1870's autograph book filled with poems about finding a husband. A typical entry: May your cheeks retrain their roses, May your heart beat just as gay, til some manly voice shall whisper, Maggie darling, name the day." Lizzie Thorborne, Montreal, July 1880. Norman's diary of the same era are full of cautionary poems about not falling in the marriage trap. So, of course, they married in 1883. And a few blogs ago I wrote down some of the expenses of getting married and starting up housekeeping.

Now, marriage is a central theme of "Flo in the City, my story in progress about a girl coming of age in 1910, based on the letters of

So, it was with happiness that I learned that Proposition 8 was over-turned in the California courts. I live in Canada, where gay marriage is legal, (at least for now. No telling what the Cons/Reformers have in mind.) But I still was happy. There isn't a cell in my body that can understand why people are against gay marriage.)

I mean, if you value marriage and see it as a stabilizing force in society, then why shouldn't all couples get married if they want to? And if you see marriage as a mixed bag, as I do, part haven, part prison, part end of experience, part new experience, part comfort in a crazy world, part endless tape loop of illogical arguments, well then, why shouldn't all couples get to experience this merry roller-coaster. (Of course, if you think marriage is what it once was, woman as property and one man selling one woman (with working womb) to another in return for future material considerations, or one man bribing another man -using dowry- to take said parasite off his hands, well,then, gay marriage doesn't work.)

And if it's just about the money, well, you can't discriminate on that account.

Anyway, I felt the same many years ago, when I wrote this:

The Many Faces of Marriage

I had a girlfriend back in college who claimed she wanted no children in her future. She was 23. "Wait and see," I said - skeptically. Well, she did get married a few years later and then spent the next few years travelling the world with her mate. They eventually settled down. She went back to school and started piling on the graduate degrees. Today, her marriage is going strong, but she has no children. I am a bit surprised, but to my college pal marriage simply isn't about children. It never was.

My husband's grandmother thought otherwise. Way back when, we're talking the 20's, she got married to a handsome young man from Italy. Three weeks later she left him -and with good reason she felt. He couldn't have any children (How she knew? Figure it out.) and what else is marriage for but to have children? (Her belief.) Personally speaking, I am glad she felt that way!

Then there is me. I got married AFTER my first was born. The ONLY reason to get married, I felt, was because I had given birth. I felt the small ceremony before a Justice of the Peace to be kind of redundant; as far as I was concerned my husband and I had created the strongest bond of all: a human being sharing our genes and needing our care.

Luckily, my mate felt the same way. Lots of men don't. We got married specifically, I recall, because we could get a huge tax credit at the time -and we needed the money.

Which all goes to say, it is hard to define marriage. The institution means different things to different people. To a young girl I know it means months of planning and oodles and oodles of spending on a lavish ceremony and honeymoon. Her fiancee's workaholic ways tells me her marriage isn't likely to be a bed of roses; but, then, what marriage is?

(I, myself, begruded spending money on an engagement ring. My "gown cost ninety dollars.I borrowed my mothers wedding ring for the ceremony. She still wears it and considered herself "married" even though she hasn't lived with my dad for 20 years.)

Today, I read in the news that Justice Minister Anne McLennan came out in support of a Reform motion declaring that the only legal marriage involves a man and a woman.

Many would agree, but I can't buy it. I mean there are sooo many different styles of marriage - and couple --already, why should the men-women thing be the ultimate measure?

Let's describe some of the different style marriages between men and women, for argument's sake:

there are happy marriages;

there are unhappy marriages;

there are indifferent marriages; there are marriages where the principals once loved each other but now hate each other;

there are marriages where love blossomed late;

there are marriages where love isn't the point at all; there are open marriages, where sex isn't only between the man and wife and there are marriages where the couples are totally faithful sexually to each other; and all manner of fascinating and appalling, honest and dishonest, arrangments in between;

there are marriages where the individuals in the couple are too tired to even contemplate extra-curricular copulation -even with George Clooney or Michelle Pfeiffer. (And let's not talk about who's fantasizing about whom.)

there are sexually active marriages where the husband and wife live together and share the same bed; and sexually active marriages where the husband and wife live together and sleep in separate rooms;

there are sexless marriages where the couple share the same bed and sexless marriages where the couple sleep in different rooms;

some married people live in different provinces or different countries;

there are millionaire marriages, where either member can get away to a spa, golf club, or Paris shopping spree at any time; and there are poorer-style marriages where there's no place to escape except the bathroom.

there are childless marriages by choice and childless by fate; there are marriages where couples are raising children produced by their union and marriages where couples are raising kids produced by past unions; and marriages where couples are raising other people's kids. there are even marriages where men are raising kids not their own and they don't even know it or don't care as in Edwardian times when richer married folk could have fling after fling once they'd produced an heir and a spare.

There are marriages where the parents are "staying together for the kids," and marriages where the couple can't wait for the kids to leave home so they can explore Nevada in a camper.

there are religious marriages where the institution means more than the sum of the two people so bonded.

I know we like to think of marriage as a monolithic thing; a la Ozzie and Harriet, perhaps, but that institution in Canada is a reflection of the diversity of human nature - and all the hypocricy inherent in human nature as well. Marriage ALREADY just about has it all -why suddenly get stingy when it comes to sexual orientation?