Are Civil Unions For All The Wave Of The Future? []

By Anna North /

That’s the argument one journalist makes after interviewing several couples in Illinois who chose to get opposite-sex civil unions. But don’t bet on these legal arrangements edging out marriage yet.

Writing in Slate, John Culhane says his interviews with some of the 148 straight couples who have gotten civil unions in Illinois since it became legal last June “reflect a cohort prepared to take the wrecking ball to marriage itself.” According to research by the Illinois clerk’s office, most straight couples who got civil unions had “personal or religious convictions against marriage” — some specified “solidarity with the gay community and/or support of equality, fairness, and inclusiveness,” while others cited discomfort with the labels “husband,” “wife,” or “marriage.” In his interviews, Culhane found several couples who chose civil unions as a statement in favor of LGBT rights — says one man, “until marriage is an option for everyone, it shouldn’t be an option for us.” He also found people who disliked traditional marriage and its implications — one newly married partner says having a civil union “keeps me from falling into any preconditioned behavior that I might have picked up. Calling [Leah] my partner, not my wife, helps me not to have any assumptions.”

Culhane sets up these couples as a harbinger of the death of marriage and the rise of the civil union, but I’m not so sure. For one thing, many reported discrimination — several had officials question their decision not to marry, and one clerk insisted that the male partner be listed as “Partner A” even though the law has no such requirement. For another, civil unions still don’t confer the same rights as marriage, and aren’t federally recognized — discrimination against gay couples ends up affecting straight couples who choose this option. Third, despite the much-vaunted decline in marriage, our culture remains obsessed with the institution as a marker of personal success — not to mention an opportunity for a big wedding. It’s tough to go against the grain, and if you’re a straight couple who’s ready to make a lifelong commitment, it’s going to be hard to give up all the legal and social benefits of marriage in order to make a point. The idea of progressive straights giving up traditional marriage en masse in order of more egalitarian arrangements is a nice one, but extending marriage rights to gay couples still seems like the better path.

No To Nuptials [Slate]

Why Marriage is a Declining Option for Modern Women []

By Kate Bolick /Guardian News

In 2001, when I was 28, I broke up with my boyfriend. Allan and I had been together for three years, and there was no good reason to end things. He was (and remains) an exceptional person, intelligent, good-looking, loyal, kind. My friends, many of whom were married or in marriage-track  relationships, were bewildered. I was bewildered. To account for my behaviour, all I had were two intangible yet undeniable convictions: something was missing; I wasn’t ready to settle down.

The period that followed was awful. I barely ate for sobbing all the time. (A friend who suffered my company a lot that summer sent me a birthday text this past July: “A decade ago you and I were reuniting, and you were crying a lot.”) I missed Allan desperately – his calm, sure voice; the sweetly fastidious way he folded his shirts. On good days, I felt secure that I’d done the right thing. Learning to be alone would make me a better person, and eventually a better partner. On bad days, I feared I would be alone forever. Had I made the biggest mistake of my life?

Ten years later, I occasionally ask myself the same question. Today I am 39, with too many ex-boyfriends to count and, I am told, two grim-seeming options to face down: either stay single or settle for a “good enough” mate. At this point, certainly, falling in love and getting married may be less a matter of choice than a stroke of wild great luck. A decade ago, luck didn’t even cross my mind. I’d been in love before, and I’d be in love again. This wasn’t hubris so much as naivety; I’d had serious, long-term boyfriends since my freshman year of high school, and simply couldn’t envision my life any differently.

Well, there was a lot I didn’t know 10 years ago. The decision to end a stable relationship for abstract rather than concrete reasons (“something was missing”), I see now, is in keeping with a post-Boomer ideology that values emotional fulfilment above all else. And the elevation of independence over coupling (“I wasn’t ready to settle down”) is a second-wave feminist idea I’d acquired from my mother, who had embraced it, in part, I suspect, to correct her own choices.

I was her first and only recruit, marching off to third grade in tiny green or blue T-shirts declaring: “A Woman Without A Man Is Like A Fish Without A Bicycle”, or: “A Woman’s Place Is In The House – And The Senate”. Once, in high school, driving home from a family vacation, my mother turned to my boyfriend and me cuddling in the backseat and said, “Isn’t it time you two started seeing other people?” She adored Brian – he was invited on family vacations! But my future was to be one of limitless possibilities, where getting married was something I’d do when I was ready, to a man who was in every way my equal, and she didn’t want me to get tied down just yet.

This unfettered future was the promise of my time and place. I spent many a golden afternoon at my small New England liberal-arts college debating with friends the merits of leg-shaving and whether or not we’d take our husband’s surname. (Even then, our concerns struck me as retro; hadn’t the women’s libbers tackled all this stuff already?) We took for granted that we’d spend our 20s finding ourselves, whatever that meant, and save marriage for after we’d finished graduate school and launched our careers, which of course would happen at the magical age of 30.

That we would marry, and that there would always be men we wanted to marry, we took on faith. How could we not? One of the many ways in which our lives differed from our mothers’ was in the variety of our interactions with the opposite sex. Men were our classmates and colleagues, our bosses and professors, as well as, in time, our students and employees and subordinates – an entire universe of prospective friends, boyfriends, friends with benefits, and even ex-boyfriends-turned-friends. In this brave new world, boundaries were fluid, and roles constantly changing.

In 1969, when my 25-year-old mother, a college-educated high-school teacher, married a handsome lawyer-to-be, most women her age were doing more or less the same thing. By the time she was in her mid-30s, she was raising two small children and struggling to find a satisfying career. What she’d envisioned for me was a future in which I made my own choices. I don’t think either of us could have predicted what happens when you multiply that sense of agency by an entire generation.

But what transpired next lay well beyond the powers of everybody’s imagination: as women have climbed ever higher, men have been falling behind. We’ve arrived at the top of the staircase, finally ready to start our lives, only to discover a cavernous room at the tail end of a party, most of the men gone already, some having never shown up – and those who remain are leering by the cheese table, or are, you know, the ones you don’t want to go out with.

In the 1990s, Stephanie Coontz, a social historian at Evergreen State College in Washington, noticed an uptick in questions from reporters and audiences asking if the institution of marriage was falling apart. She didn’t think it was, and was struck by how everyone believed in some mythical Golden Age of Marriage and saw mounting divorce rates as evidence of the dissolution of this halcyon past. She decided to write a book discrediting the notion and proving that the ways in which we think about and construct the legal union between a man and a woman have always been in flux.

What Coontz found was even more interesting than she’d originally expected. In her fascinating Marriage, a History: From Obedience to Intimacy, or How Love Conquered Marriage, she surveys 5,000 years of human habits, from our days as hunters and gatherers up until the present, showing our social arrangements to be more complex and varied than could ever seem possible. She’d long known that the Leave It To Beaver-style family model popular in the 1950s and 60s had been a flash in the pan, and like a lot of historians, she couldn’t understand how people had become so attached to an idea that had developed so late and been so short-lived.

For thousands of years, marriage had been a primarily economic and political contract between two people, negotiated and policed by their families, church and community. It took more than one person to make a farm or business thrive, and so a potential mate’s skills, resources, thrift and industriousness were valued as highly as personality and attractiveness. This held true for all classes. In the American colonies, wealthy merchants entrusted business matters to their landlocked wives while off at sea, just as sailors, vulnerable to the unpredictability of seasonal employment, relied on their wives’ steady income as domestics in elite households. Two-income families were the norm.

Not until the 18th century did labour begin to be divided along a sharp line: wage-earning for the men and unpaid maintenance of household and children for the women. Coontz notes that as recently as the late 17th century, women’s contributions to the family economy were openly recognised, and advice books urged husbands and wives to share domestic tasks. But as labour became separated, so did our spheres of experience – the marketplace versus the home – one founded on reason and action, the other on compassion and comfort. Not until the postwar gains of the 1950s, however, were a majority of American families able to actually afford living off a single breadwinner.

All of this was intriguing, for sure – but even more surprising to Coontz was the realisation that those alarmed reporters and audiences might be on to something. Coontz still didn’t think that marriage was falling apart, but she came to see that it was undergoing a transformation far more radical than anyone could have predicted, and that our current attitudes and arrangements are without precedent. “Today we are experiencing a historical revolution every bit as wrenching, far-reaching, and irreversible as the Industrial Revolution,” she wrote.

Last summer I called Coontz to talk to her about this revolution. “We are without a doubt in the midst of an extraordinary sea change,” she told me. “The transformation is momentous – immensely liberating and immensely scary. When it comes to what people actually want and expect from marriage and relationships, and how they organise their sexual and romantic lives, all the old ways have broken down.”

Click here to read the rest of the article:

How Could Anyone Be Against Gay Marriage After Watching This? []

By Matt Cherette /

One reason why some people oppose same-sex marriage is that they’ve never met a happy, loving gay couple or family. That’s what the Campaign for Southern Equality is trying to change with the WE DO Campaign.

For the past 10 days, same-sex couples in Asheville, North Carolina have been showing up to the county register’s office to politely request marriage licenses. They’ve all been denied, since North Carolina doesn’t permit gay couples to marry. (A proposed amendment to the state constitution banning same-sex marriage comes up in May.) But it certainly puts a human face on the struggle for marriage equality.


Can’t Buy Love: Materialism Kills Marriages []

by Courtney Hutchison /

Focusing too heavily on the “for richer” part of the nuptial vows could spell disaster for a marriage, according to research published today by Brigham Young University.

In a survey of 1,700 married couples, researchers found that couples in which one or both partners placed a high priority on getting or spending money were much less likely to have satisfying and stable marriages.

“Our study found that materialism was associated with spouses having lower levels of responsiveness and less emotional maturity. Materialism was also linked to less effective communication, higher levels of negative conflict, lower relationship satisfaction, and less marriage stability,” said Jason Carroll, a BYU professor of family life in Provo, Utah, and lead author of the study.

Researchers gauged materialism using self-report surveys that asked questions such as to what extent do you agree with these statements? “I like to own things to impress people” or “money can buy happiness.” Spouses were then surveyed on aspects of their marriage.

For one out of every five couples in the study, both partners admitted a strong love of money. These couples were worse off in terms of marriage stability, marriage satisfaction, communications skills and other metrics of healthy matrimony that researchers studied.

The one out of seven couples that reported low-levels of materialism in both partners scored 10 to 15 percent higher in all metrics of marital quality and satisfaction. Interestingly, the correlation between materialism and marital difficulties remained stable regardless of the actual wealth of the couple.


The Things That Money Just Can’t Buy

Study authors and marriage experts noted that the findings probably have to do with the personality traits that go along with materialism. They will be published today in the Journal of Couple & Relationship Therapy.

“The finding does not necessarily mean that it is the materialism itself that damages their relationships. … A materialistic orientation may be associated with other unidentified factors, such as childhood deprivation or neglect, which might play a more pivotal role in adult marital satisfaction,” said Don Catherall, professor of clinical psychiatry and behavioral sciences at Northwestern University in Chicago. “Of course, it may also simply mean that people who are more focused on making money have less energy and interest left to invest in their marriages.”

Click here to continue reading the article…

Rose-Colored Glasses May Help Love Last []

By Regina Nuzzo, Special to the Los Angeles Times, July 25, 2011

Research suggests that happy delusions help when looking at your partner in a general sense (but be more realistic on the details)

If Cupid wanted to improve his game with science, he’d shoot first, then hand out rose-colored glasses with instructions attached:

To be worn when viewing your relationship and your partner’s personality or body.

For best results, keep using well after “I do.”

Remove carefully at your own risk.

Psychologists have long known that new love can be blind and new lovers delusional. Research has shown that newlyweds exaggerate their partner’s good qualities, forget the bad ones, rate their own relationship with annoying superiority and so on.

But newer research tantalizingly suggests that this myopia is good for more than driving your single friends crazy. Some happy delusions may actually be better for the long-term health of a relationship than hewing to a sober and accurate view of your sweetheart.

Really? After all, common sense (and many a bitter veteran of marriage) would warn that just the opposite was true — that the higher you climb, the harder you fall after the honeymoon wears off. Wouldn’t the starry-eyed, smugly optimistic folks be the most crushed when they wake up and realize that theirCinderella is really a chambermaid, their knight in shining armor actually a fat guy on a pony?

Not according to the evidence. Blinder is often better, it turns out. “Positive biases and happiness seem to push each other along,” says Garth Fletcher, psychology professor at Victoria University of Wellington in New Zealand.

Making the Case for Gay Marriage []

The chief of coastal Oregon’s Coquille Indian tribe must, I think, be a good man. His name is Ken Tanner, and when a tribes-woman asked for a marriage license to marry her girlfriend on Coquille land in 2008 – Oregon’s a no on gay marriage, but tribal sovereignty is another kettle of salmon – he moved things forward. Today the Coquille tribe (pronounced “ko-kwel’’) is one of a little more than a half dozen pioneering US entities (and the only Native American tribe) to grant marriage licenses to gay couples.

In 2004, Massachusetts became the first state to do so. Since then, we’ve been joined by the District of Columbia, Connecticut, Iowa, Vermont, New Hampshire and, quite the recent bombshell, New York. (California is the asterisk: yes for six months in 2008, then no.) So why did the Coquilles take a stand? “Native Americans, more than anyone, know about discrimination,’’ Tanner explained. “Our directive is to provide recognition and respect to all members of our tribe.’’

Recognition and respect: For gays and lesbians, it’s accelerating. More states, including Maine, are taking a look at signing on to gay marriage. And this year, for the first time in history, a majority of Americans (53 percent, according to Gallup) believe same-sex marriage should be legally equal to traditional marriages.

“The river of history has rounded a bend,’’ as the Atlantic’s Jonathan Rauch says in “Gay Marriage: Why It Is Good for Gays, Good for Straights, and Good for America’’ (Times, 2004). It’s one of the movement’s trailblazing polemics, but since then more research has kicked in. Thus the wonky but fascinating “When Gay People Get Married: What Happens When Societies Legalize Same-Sex Marriage’’ (New York University, 2009) by M.V. Lee Badgett, a University of Massachusetts Amherst economics professor and research director of UCLA’s Williams Institute on Sexual Orientation Law and Public Policy.

Badgett gets her data, mostly, from Europe. We might think we’re wicked progressive here in the Bay State, but Denmark became the first nation to sanction same-sex unions in 1989. Chalk it up to “frisind,’’ a Danish word that means “broad-mindedness, tolerance and social responsibility in securing real equal opportunity for everyone.’’ Ten countries are now in the gay marriage column: Argentina, Belgium, Canada, Iceland, Netherlands, Norway, Portugal, South Africa, Spain, and Sweden.

So what does Badgett dig up? The research suggests that legal relationships among gay men in Europe appear to encourage monogamy, resulting in lower rates of HIV and syphilis. Gay couples who marry generally report a feeling of inclusion, which reduces what Badgett calls “minority stress.’’ Also, the more secular a country or state, the more likely it will pass a gay marriage bill.

Apart from the health benefits of wedlock, the legal gains – family leave, Social Security and survivor benefits, joint filing of federal income taxes – are voluminous. According to a 2004 Congressional Budget Office report, married people have 1,138 statutory provisions in their favor. It’s plain wrong that gay couples who want to marry don’t, and the consequences pervade “Gay Marriage, Real Life: Ten Stories of Love and Family,’’ (Skinner House, Books, 2006) by Michelle Bates Deakin.

Take Anne Magro and Heather Finstuen, both academics living in Oklahoma, moms to twin girls adopted in New Jersey, and plaintiffs in a suit to overturn a state law that won’t recognize adoptions by same-sex parents in other states. When one daughter hears a stump speech by then-candidate George W. Bush condemning gay marriage, she breaks into tears. “If Bush is elected president,’’ she sobs, “are they going to take Mommy out of our family?’’

Which brings to mind another mother, sweet, flinty Judy Sobiesk, whose son is the edgy advice columnist Dan Savage. He and his former partner and now husband, Terry, have a young son, and Savage is also the founder of the It Gets Better video project to help gay teens, plus the author of “The Commitment: Love, Sex, Marriage, and My Family’’ (Dutton, 2005). It’s the most personal of the books mentioned here, and by far the funniest (Oh, their snark at the Seattle Wedding Expo!). At one point, Sobiesk gives an impassioned speech to Dan and Terry, who are waffling about getting married (their only choice is Canada, since it’s not legal in Washington, their home state). “It seems crazy to me that your father and I had our relationship blessed legally and by the church and you guys can’t,’’ she says. “You’re being robbed. But you’re robbing yourselves, too, of publicly saying ‘I care about this person as much as I care about myself,’ and having everyone around you applaud that and promise to support you.’’

Applauding and supporting; that’s what history now demands of us. And this goes out to the other 43 states. Or as they say in Coquille: K’wen ‘inish-ha? Have you heard the news?

Katharine Whittemore is a freelance writer based in Northampton. She can be reached at

Judge Decides Transgender Widow’s Marriage Was Illegal []

Margaret Hartmann – A Texas judge has announced that he plans to nullify the marriage of a transgender woman whose firefighter husband died in the line of duty, on the grounds that they had an illegal same-sex marriage. His family is fighting the widow for inheritance, but the case is also a setback for transgender rights in the state.

Nikki Araguz, who was born Justin Graham Purdue, married Thomas Trevino Araguz III in 2008, and had had a sex change operation two months later. Thomas died while fighting a fire last summer, and now his family and ex-wife, Heather Delgado, are now battling his widow for $600,000 in death benefits and assets, according to the Associated Press. They argue that the inheritance should go to Thomas’ two young sons from his marriage to Delgado because his marriage to Nikki was never valid.

In a draft order issued on Tuesday, District Judge Randy Clapp said he’s found that “any marriage between Thomas Araguz and Nikki Araguz was void as a matter of law” and Thomas “was not married at the time of his death.” At issue is when Nikki legally became female, and when when Thomas found out she’s transgender. In an interview with 20/20Nikki says she told Thomas that she was born male a week into their relationship, and he supported her during the process of getting a sex change operation. His mother, Simona Longoria, and Delgado paint Nikki as a con-artist, and claim Thomas only learned Nikki’s gender history shortly before his death, and was totally shocked. They say after he found out he immediately moved out and planned to get a divorce. Longoria and Delgado claim they were duped by Nikki, but it seems they’re actually having a hard time accepting that Thomas chose to marry a transgender woman and didn’t tell them about her past. Their argument is ridiculous; They seem to think Thomas simply didn’t pick up on any signs that Nikki once had male genitalia, even though he had been to her childhood home where photos of Justin hang on the walls, had a sexual relationship with her, and was married to her while she had a sex change operation.

According to the Houston Chronicle, Nikki’s lawyer argued that her marriage was legal because the Texas Family Code allows transgender people to obtain a marriage license if they’ve had a sex change recognized by the court (Republican legislators are working torepeal this law). The family’s attorney countered with a 1999 Texas case that says a person’s chromosomes, not their genitals, determine the sex at birth.

Nikki had her California birth certificate reissued shortly after Thomas’ death to say that she’s female. The family’s lawyer says this is irrelevant because, “At the time of the marriage, Ms. Araguz was a man.” However, Nikki’s attorney says the document reflects that she was always female. “For all purposes, she’s female going back to the date of her birth,” he says. “She could have gotten that (reissued) birth certificate at any time in California.” Obviously the judge disagrees, but Nikki says she plans to appeal and is willing to take the case to the Supreme Court if necessary. She adds, “With this ruling I continue to be reminded of the bias that exists toward transsexual and intersex people ignoring the laws of Texas that recognize their medical and surgical transition.”

Lawyer: Transgender Widow’s Marriage To Be Voided [AP]
Texas Judge Set To Rule On Validity Of Firefighter’s Marriage To Transgendered Woman, Death Benefits [ABC News]
Judge: Transgender Widow’s Marriage To Firefighter Not Valid [Houston Chronicle]
Wharton Judge Rules Against Nikki Araguz [Dallas Voice]

Earlier: Texas May Ban Transgender Marriages