More conservatives explain that marriage isn’t supposed to be about love or happiness
Last week, I wrote about how, in the face of the Supreme Court legalizing same-sex marriage, a lot of conservatives are becoming more open about the underlying argument behind all that hand-wringing about “traditional marriage”. Basically, their real concern is that people are going to stop seeing marriage as a miserable duty to be endured and instead start thinking that love, happiness, and companionship should be what marriage is about. The marriage-for-love mentality is no doubt especially threatening to some of your more sexist men. There’s already a lot of fear that women prefer singleness to being with a man who isn’t loving and supportive. That’s what all that hand-wringing about single motherhood and singleness generally is about—anger that women might actually have standards and not just marry the first guy who will take them. The fear, then, is that same-sex marriage is a real turning point, where the marriage-for-love mentality will take such deep root that it will never be uprooted.
And thankfully, conservatives are just becoming more open about this fear. Mike Huckabee went on CNN and trotted out an almost shockingly blatant version of this argument.
“Regardless, heterosexual marriage is largely in trouble today because people see it as a selfish means of pleasing self, rather than a committed relationship in which the focus is on meeting the needs of the partner,” he said. “That sense of selfishness and the redefinition of love as to something that is purely sentimental and emotional, has been destructive.”
As noted, this argument is often framed as a non-gendered one, but it’s really not. The deep concern is here is that women are going to want to be loved and that women are going to start wanting happiness. It’s obvious enough why misogynists like Huckabee don’t like that idea one bit, as you can imagine. They can’t or won’t do what it takes to make a woman happy—ew, caring about women is so emasculating!—and would not like that to be the price they have to pay to get a wife. Plus, this expectation of happiness and fulfillment will reshape married life in ways that are also not pleasing to such men. It makes it much harder to tell women that their duty is to be the martyr of the home, cooking and cleaning and serving without much thanks in return. Women are going to start wanting men to share chores on the grounds that everyone has an equal right to enjoy this relationship.
You got a similar argument from senior fellow at Heritage Foundation, Ryan Anderson. Right Wing Watch picked it up:
Anderson provided listeners with a historical backdrop to the ruling, arguing that for “the past 50 years heterosexuals have failed to live out the truth about marriage.” Heterosexuals mistakenly “bought into a bad ideology; it was called the ‘sexual revolution.’” This, he said, made “a mess of the family, whether it was the hook-up culture, pre-marital sex, non-marital childbearing, lots of divorce.”
“And once you have made a mess of marriage in those ways,” Anderson continued, “there’s a certain logic to redefining it to include same-sex couples: if it’s just about consenting adult romance, why not?”
Again, you have this bleak view where marriage is about cosmic duty, not about being happy. In fact, there’s a suspicion of happiness underlying this, a belief that if you’re enjoying your relationship, you must be doing something wrong.
Like I said, I don’t find it particularly surprising that this argument is coming from the same sorts of men who also cast a suspicious eye on technologies that allow women to have more autonomy in the realm of love and sex. Keeping women trapped in dutiful marriages is the most important goal here. That said, they don’t really love men very much, either. Sure, this loveless marriage system benefits men somewhat more than women, by giving them wives to clean and cook and relieve them sexually without having much fear that those wives will leave them for something better. But a lot of men want more than that. Doing your fair share around the house is, for smart men, a worthy tradeoff for the opportunity to be with someone who actually makes you smile, someone who you want to spend time with. That kind of intimacy is precious, which is why holding out for it was gaining in popularity long before gay marriage was really on the horizon. And if these guys think stopping gays from marrying would stem the tide, they are sorely mistaken.