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"We're getting married!" A phrase that once meant nothing more than a business transaction has become one big celebration of proclaiming love,

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Stephanie Coontz and Anne Levinson on Getting Hitched and What that Actually Means Today

Wedding Rings Creative Commons.jpg
Jeff Belmonte/Creative Commons
"We're getting married!" A phrase that once meant nothing more than a business transaction has become one big celebration of proclaiming love, partying it up, and promising to be there for your honey 'til death do you part.

These differences included, the institution of marriage has changed drastically over the last few decades. That's the subject set to be discussed at the July 17 "Think and Drink" event with Evergreen State College family studies professor Stephanie Coontz, and Anne Levinson, an LGBT community leader and also a former judge and Seattle deputy mayor. Naturally, the discussion will cover the gay marriage debate, but also how the definition of marriage has evolved into what it is today.

"We will talk about misconceptions of marriage, as there is no one, single traditional marriage," Coontz says. "If you want to get picky about it, the more traditional marriage is one man, many women."

Coontz explains that the biggest change in the definition of marriage has been its transformation from a union based on economics and bettering society, to one of love and expected commitment. While this switch began in the 1800s, marriage was still generally seen as a union of opposites rather than equals, says Coontz, who wrote 2005's Marriage, A History.

"Until the 1950s, men were seen as incompetent at raising children and cooking, while women were incompetent at breadwinning," she points out. "People wanted to marry opposite to gain other skills."

However, as gender roles became less defined throughout the 20th century, these roles within a marriage also became less relevant, which Coontz says has helped lead us to the gay marriage debate. As heterosexual couples decided that married couples didn't need to procreate, could use artificial insemination, or could have a female breadwinner, marriage changed so that it wasn't so defined by gender roles.

"Same-sex couples are asking for the same rights as heterosexual couples, because we have changed marriage ourselves," Coontz says. "We have ideas about what married couples owe each other, and that is why gay and lesbian couples want to be recognized for that same level of commitment."

In Washington, as we know, Gov. Christine Gregoire signed legislation earlier this year legalizing gay marriage. However, opponents of the law rallied, and now voters will be asked to pass Referendum 74 come November to ensure gay couples have the right to marry. The anti-gay marriage campaign qualified for the November ballot in June after sponsors collected 247,331 signatures. While many people assume the votes for the referendum will fall along party lines, Levinson says it is not that clear cut.

"It's not really in a conservative-liberal frame anymore," Levinson says. "There are conservatives who came out for marriage equality because conservatives are about liberty, less government regulation of freedoms, and the right to pursue happiness as an American value."

Votes may not be cast based only on political party, but Coontz and Levinson both note that opposing opinions tend to fall based on religious views, and there are two distinct groups who oppose legalizing gay marriage.

"There is a wide swath of people who support LGBT protections, but don't understand why marriage is needed and think domestic partnerships suffice--that's different," Levinson says. "The group that thinks it's morally wrong is getting smaller."

Legalizing gay marriage either state by state or nationally may be the hot button topic right now, but Coontz argues that the debate is part of an even bigger issue. Gay marriage is an inequality issue, but with inequality increasing in general between the haves and the have-nots, this translates to an increasing inequality between those who marry and those who don't.

"The real crisis in marriage has nothing to do with same-sex marriage, but has something to do with the growing inequality," Coontz says.

Which is a complex problem not likely to be solved with one piece of legislation.

This Think and Drink will be held Tuesday, June 17, 7 p.m., at Naked City Taphouse, 8564 Greenwood Ave. N.

Ed. note: This story first posted with an inaccurate description of Referendum 74. It has since been corrected. We apologize for the mistake.

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