In the seventies women's liberation movement, we let go of the vision for liberation and get mired in equivocation, a drive for equality that thirty years later we still haven't got. We settle for equality which quite often means "the same as". We can make the same money as a man for being a CEO and earn more money than any human has a right to or a need for. This is a result for many liberation and civil rights struggles that emerge from the era.
In our political activism we're often met with adamancy, stridency, resistance. Ultimately we get out-chessed in the game. The experience for some of us leads to a cutting cynicism from knowing that not all that much has been changed. When the outcome is broadened to the world, the effort still has a long, long way to go. We haven't been able to bring down the patriarchal institutions; we haven't been able to eradicate the pervasive attitude regarding women's status.
When gay folks begin the chants for marriage, I'm sitting here saying to my self: oh yeah here we go with "the same as". We're still failing to get at the linchpin, to fundamentally challenge the institutions that keep the patriarchy looming over us. Now we're gonna get the right to divorce and have nasty custody fights and spend too much money on a wedding. Swell. Still I can't stop reading or watching the persistent stories, listening to the rising swell of voices, observing the narrowing focus on this one issue.
As this goes on I notice something amongst the clamor and clash and flash of it all. There's panic; the reaction to the call for gay marriage is inducing a panic. This is different than the adamant negative reactions to Blacks calling for civil rights or women chanting for equal rights or even gays asking for the simple right to be out. When gays start with the right to marry, though, one state after another scrambles to pass laws stating that marriage is between a man and a woman.
The news media and even those of us pushing for marriage seem to miss this panic. The overriding description of the action is that this issue is one of equal rights. The recurring legal argument is that separate but equal hasn't been right for other groups and it isn't for this group either. Because we've used this rhetoric for so long to wheedle and cajole bits of rights, we fail to understand what we're really getting at.
When I see a picture of Phyllis Lyon and Del Martin marrying after 51 years of a committed relationship, I notice something. They are the same height, the same build; and obviously they are both women. Suddenly I get what the panic is about. We have finally, though perhaps unwittingly found the linchpin of the patriarchy and we are tugging furiously to pull it out.
Marriage is traditionally between a man and a woman. Traditionally in that relationship the man is taller, broader. Often the woman is his little lady. Even when a woman hyphenates her name, the man is still the reference point. Even if they use an "alternative" commitment ceremony, most usually it's the man's name she adopts. These are vestiges of the premise that women are literally the property of their husbands. In a lot of places in this country and around the world, the sun hasn't really set yet on that premise.
The panic about gay marriage isn't about the need for the species to reproduce more. If we were rabbits, humans would be finding ways to reduce our population. The resistance isn't about the natural order of things. Gay is in the wild as well as the history of the strongest civilizations. It's not about the Bible. There are several instances of gay that God doesn't seem to notice.
When men marry men, they are refusing to own women; when women marry women, they are refusing to be owned by men. The ownership of women is the linchpin of patriarchy and we are about to pull it out. The panic is that when we manage to do this, the patriarchy may come down.