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January 03, 2005

Fundamentalists, Gay Activists & The Hegemonic Mainstream

As usual, I did a bit of mumbling to myself on the freeway home tonight, and it occured to me, in this new year, that the chickens of domestic partnership are coming home to roost.

As of Saturday January first in California, domestic partners now have to go to court to have their breakup recognized by the state. This is bad news for the bathhouse boys who thought they could become the new welfare queens. What percentage of the alternative lifestyle scene that is, I have no idea. But at least John Waters is on my side when he questions whether 'gay marriage' is the proper legacy of Stonewall. Bottom line is that it ain't so easy to swing, even if you swing that way.

So in disparaging all that is to the left of me I thought to myself what is the biggest mistake 'they' make. I think that the biggest mistake lefties and progressives make is the dismissal of the work done in the Hegemonic Mainstream.

Yes, I am in the Hegemonic Mainstream. I am the straight, conservative, father and husband, Old School Episcopalian, married to my straight, hard working stay at home wife and mother. We are a two car, suburban family, and our children have Christian names. But the incorrect lefty presumption is that because we are 'all' socialized to accept that as the dominant norm, that it's not work, or whatever work it is, the alternative is harder. I think they break their arm patting themselves on the back and otherwise drown in their own koolaid. Sure being a single mom is hard, but is it necessarily harder?

Ooh. Taboo broken here.

It seems to me that if one chooses to be a single mother, then one is choosing *not* to be a wife and mother. Now, by choosing to be a single mother, there are certain duties one must assume, presumeably for the love and benefit of the child which would ordinarily be handled by (or shared with) the husband & father. I'm saying that isn't necessarily more difficult than being a good wife and making a marriage work. Of course I wouldn't know, because I chose to play my part in a real marriage. But the lefties wouldn't begin to suggest they don't know. It's automatically assumed that whatever work goes into being a wife and mother, that being a single mother is harder work. The word I choose today to describe this assertion is bodewash.

Marriage is hard work, and those who take up the cudgels for alternative lifestyles doth protest too much of their struggles for respect and recognition. Married people don't waste their time championing marriage, because those of us who have seen (or done) what it takes to keep a marriage and family working well, know damned well how much hard work and sacrifice that takes. I'm quite sure that it's nothing like battling the prejudices at children's publishing houses lobbying for books about Adam and Steve, then again what is? If the 54% divorce rate doesn't tell you something, then you maybe more than your finger is up your butt.

Of course I can't help but think that much of the carping is at least in part based on experience with the dysfunctional up close and personal. It's difficult for me to imagine that people from strong and loving families don't want to replicate the experience, but it's easy for me to see why those who had reasons to avoid family eschew the institution altogether. I am not suggesting that gay love isn't love but rejection of family. Not at all. I'm saying those who don't know how to do it are probably wise in choosing not to try. After all, marriage is about sacrificing freedom and subordinating oneself to the good of the whole. Making marriage and family work is about aligning your happiness to the success of the marriage and family, not trying to extract benefits from being part of it. I understand and respect that everybody isn't up to that task, and that a goodly segment of the gay lifestyle is all about rejection of precisely that kind of commitment.

That leaves, most assuredly, some segment of the gay and lesbian community that genuinely crave the cradle of marriage and family. But it's hard for me to see how it is that they reconcile those feelings. If you want your children to have what you had, then why not do that? Or did you perhaps always secretly wish your happy family had two moms instead of mom and dad? I extend the benefit of the doubt, but I'm not buying the existentials. The Hegemonic Mainstream family is what it is and nothing else. A good Marriage is a good Marriage. Man + Woman. Marriage + Family is all that plus kids, and it's damned hard work, and it's damned rewarding when done right.

But those who advocate for gay marriage must understand that the difference is real and all their experiences getting book publishers to play their counter-hegemonic battles notwithstanding, nobody else is going to buy it. And all of their insistence that we take them seriously and that their alternative is just as legitimate is so much wasted effort. It's as fruitless a battle as Fundamentalist Christians trying to sell creationism as science. You can say it and protest that you're marginalized until you are blue in the face, when the cows come home, at Kingdom Come. But the difference is real and the work is real whether or not you care to understand or do the work yourself. Just as the science of evolution is real. You're never going to convince the people that do the work that your marginalization is a valuable currency.

So give up.

Don't worry. Be happy. Reap your own whirlwind. Use the freedom you have to make the life you want. Just don't expect the others to give you the honor of using the title of Marriage or Science, just because that's what you want your belief to be. We work too hard to get our thing right.

Posted by mbowen at January 3, 2005 09:12 PM

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Come on kid. It is better for children to be raised in an environment that is materially rich. It is better for children to be raised by parents who are sane and fulfilled. Society bears the burden when this does not happen. We pay more in all TYPES of different ways.

So there is the cultural approach--make everyone fit some box that doesn't even work for the people IN the box. And there is the material approach--either give resources only to people in the box hoping more people will jump in, or give resources to people in and outside of the box.

Speaking as a man who is married and the father of five children, I think the latter is much more important. That single mother shouldn't have to make a choice between a job, benefits, and daycare. And if the beef is that MARRIED people have to make that choice too, then I say change the choice structure. NO ONE should have to make those choices.

Posted by: Lester Spence at January 4, 2005 12:27 PM

An I think no one should have to choose between a '78 Chateaux Margot and a '03 Stag's Leap Merlot. Not to be too flippant, but life is choices and some of them suck. But thinking that there's something the government can do to prevent anyone from having to make hard decissions is just another way of saying "Daddy, take care of me and tell me what to do."

Posted by: submandave at January 4, 2005 04:12 PM

The government can't do anything about that. But I deal in numbers. We have a vested interest in making sure that children have every opportunity to fulfill their destiny, and that their parents do the same. To ignore that is to believe that up is down, right is left, and that choosing between cheap wine and the good stuff is equivalent to life and death.

Posted by: Lester Spence at January 4, 2005 08:04 PM

I agree with you that marriage is hard work. I've been doing that hard work for more than 10 years now. I agree with you that raising children is hard work. I've been doing that hard work now for over 4 years.

I don't, however, take seriously, anyone's claims that people's living situation is all about personal choice. There are choices, yes, but many of those choices are made within the context of real constraints.

I don't have an answer to the whole "gay marriage" issue. I personally feel more success at rights would be gained by individual couples and persons working bit by bit at exposing injustices that the rest of us can relate to: the man in a gay couple living together for 30 years who now is barred from the hospital of his dying partner at the request of that partner's kin, the lesbian woman who has been the stay at home mom for 10 years who now does not have visitation rights to her ex-partner's biological kids, yada yada.

Many folks who consider themselves conservative may balk at denying rights and benefits to people like these who have put in the hard work and sacrifice that (some of) us straight "marrieds" have--even if they are still against blanket "gay married" benefits.

Posted by: YvetteP at January 5, 2005 08:02 AM

Well, speaking for myself as a conservative opponent to gay marriage, I have very few problems with 'civil unions', Just don't call it marriage.

Posted by: Cobb at January 6, 2005 09:10 AM