Saturday, March 31, 2012

The Conservative Backlash Towards Attempts to Liberate Relationships

When you look around the modern relationship landscape, there is both a trend towards liberation, and also a fierce, conservative backlash. For every person redefining what it means to be with another, there is someone else trying to pass legislation designed to box everyone into what they believe is the "moral, traditional" approach. And these tensions on a societal level are playing out within each our relationships to some degree, for better or worse.

In my home state of Minnesota, we will have an anti-gay marriage amendment on the ballot this fall. Driven by religious conservatives, this legislation is basically a redundancy designed to keep GLBTQ in their place as second class citizens, while also - in my opinion - attempting to reassert the primacy of Christianity in an increasingly diverse spiritual and secular landscape. Not only do I disagree with this amendment for social justice reasons, but I also think it represents one of the myriad of ways humans attempt to define and control the relationships of others. Something that's essentially impossible to do.

What's interesting to me about all of this, though, is how often those who are attempting to support GLBTQ folks in their attempts to gain marriage equality are using conservative scripts to do so. Consider these points from a recent op-ed piece in our local paper:

Paul did on several occasions discuss homosexuality, lumping homosexuals in with us adulterers on his list of people who will not inherit the Kingdom of God.

I bring this up in light of the ongoing argument that homosexual marriage is a threat to the family. We have to ask ourselves: Did Jesus see it that way?

It would appear the real threat that he saw to the family was divorce (and remarriage), and we see the wreckage that is doing to families and children all around us.

Want to protect marriage? How about enacting laws that make it tougher to get a divorce?

How about, if you do get divorced, we put in a law making it illegal to get married again? Then at least each partner would be focused on the kids who exist now and on what's best for them, even if their parents don't get along.

Now, if you read the entire article, you'll see that the author offers these suggestions partly in jest. However, the overall tenor of the piece is that divorce is sinful, or at least a mark of flawed people. And while it's true that the overall stigma around divorce has greatly reduced amongst most Americans, there is still a lot of guilt and shame-ridden stories tied to it. I'd argue that for many people, these stories have become secularized.

Here's a few common themes.

Every relationship that ends is a mark of failure.

That was all of waste of time with so and so.

I'm no good at relationships.

We could have tried harder.

I'll never find "The One."

Consider this comment by dating coach Evan Marc Katz, a self proclaimed bleed heart liberal":

I don’t think anyone should get married before the age of 30 or before 3 years of dating. Unfortunately, I have very little say in what the rest of the world does. You can certainly sleep with men on the first date, get married a year later, have a kid two years later and get divorced two years later. Most people do. I just don’t think that if I’m giving advice, I would advise people to do the same things that everyone else is doing – especially when half of all kids born to 20-30 year olds are born out of wedlock. Are relationships designed to last forever? If you choose the right partner, they can be. If you choose the wrong partner, over and over, then they won’t be. My responsibility is to provide best practices.

If you read Katz's blog regularly, what's best in his opinion is the nuclear family relationship model. It doesn't matter if you're heterosexual or queer, that's the model he's upholding. Which is fine in and of itself for those who want it. But not everyone wants it. Nor is it "the best" option in my opinion. It's simply one option, one that is heavily conditioned by current and recent historical, middle class American social norms. Since Katz brings up children, I'll say that not having a two parent intact household isn't the end of the world. In fact, sometimes it's actually "the best" option for children, given their circumstances. However, more importantly to consider though is that children have been raised in numerous different ways over the course of human history. Even looking cross-culturally today, it's easy to find healthy, well adjusted children who are being raised by single parents, extended family members, friends of one's birth family, adopted parents, a small clan of families co-raising their children together - the list goes on and on. In my opinion, more of us need to uphold different models and their success stories. Why? Because when conditions change, there are more options available. If your marriage falls apart, for example, you could look into co-parenting with other couples or single mothers.

Conscious relationships need a set of structures and agreements to succeed. I view a lot of the conservative backlash and attempts to re-prioritize heterosexually defined nuclear family relationships as a response to the turbulence of the times. While a minority of folks are brilliantly creating new approaches to relationships, including new ways to structure a nuclear family, many others are simply reacting out of fear and confusion by grabbing the old scripts and holding on tightly.

Let me go further. Dismissing or minimizing the value of other approaches to relationships in favor of the nuclear family model is like mono-cropping. Sure, those endless fields of corn might look beautiful at first glance. But because that corn has been privileged and repeated again and again, the soil has been heavily damaged, and is much less resilient then if the corn were simply one crop intermixed with others.

There's a lot more I could say right now, but I'll leave it at that. You're thoughts?


  1. Adorable post! I can say that you really have the point. It's indeed a nice representation of the reality of marriage life nowadays. Thanks for this one.

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