There are many parts of Judge Walker’s decision overturning Prop 8 that are delicious reading, but the most interesting part was how Walker repeatedly stressed that marriage had already changed—that strict gender roles that justified restricted marriage in the past have already gone away. We all know what he’s talking about: men don’t legally own their wives anymore, no-fault divorce degenders divorce legally, women are allowed to work and men to care for children, the legal restrictions on women’s rights in marriage have mostly fallen away. Spouses aren’t legally distinct anymore, so there’s no reason to say they have to be different genders.
This has been an argument in favor of gay rights forever—the horse of “traditional marriage” has been let out of the barn and shot dead by feminism (thank god; it was a demon horse), so gay marriage doesn’t make a difference. And legally, they’re right. But I do think that conservatives aren’t wrong when they fear that legal gay marriage will further erode the practice of traditional marriage. In fact, in my book Get Opinionated: A Progressive’s Guide to Finding Your Voice (and Taking a Little Action), I address this issue:
The theoretical egalitarian message hasn’t done much to provide for the realistically egalitarian straight marriage. Yes, heterosexual coupling is far less oppressive than before, but let’s face it: Most dishes in these houses are washed by female hands. Ninety percent o American wives capitulate to social demands and male egos and rename themselves after their husbands, and even more name the children after their husbands, as if they were the ones that birthed them.
And so on—buy the book and you can enjoy the jokes that come immediately after! But the point stands. The existence of actual same-sex married couples opens up a whole new social definition of what marriage can be, and that is going to influence straight marriages. Over time, you’ll see more straight couples get flexible about their roles, and this will have a cascading effect. Conservatives aren’t wrong about that. But what they’re wrong about is whether or not that’s a good thing. (Hint: it is.)