Gay Marriage Hurts Patriarchal Marriage

7168_480594065357947_606393277_aHave you heard that gay marriage hurts marriage and family? Some Supreme Court Justices worried about this in hearings over DOMA, the Defense of Marriage Act — which  was recently struck down, allowing for gays to marry.

If my gay cousin gets married, will my husband and I start fighting more? Will my brother’s kids feel more stressed out and run away?

When marriage equality was argued before the California Supreme Court the presiding judge asked the attorney “defending marriage” how gay marriage would harm it. After several false starts the lawyer finally admitted he had no idea.

Gay marriage doesn’t hurt families.

But it could hurt patriarchal families.

Patriarchal families have male heads. In a family with two men married to each other, who is the male head?  If one man were in charge would the other be submissive? No patriarchy-lover wants to see a submissive man!

And in lesbian marriage there can be no male head.

If families without male heads begin flourishing that could harm the whole notion that men must be in charge. Oh no!

All this reminds me of a post by CanBeBitter which lists relationship phrases we should retire. Like this one: “Wearing the pants,” referring to women who possesses an “inappropriate” amount of power in a relationship. And then there is “whipped”: a man who is at his lover’s beck and call and defers to her.

CanBeBitter goes on to observe that, “This list mostly applies to heterosexual relationships.”

Yes, exactly, I thought.

Of course that’s why so many patriarchy-loving folks rail against gay marriage. Who will “wear the pants”?

Gay marriage doesn’t hurt marriage and family.

But it may hurt patriarchal marriage and families.

And that’s a good thing.

Since invalidating DOMA, the Supreme Court scored one for marriage equality in more than one way.

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About BroadBlogs

I have a Ph.D. from UCLA in sociology (emphasis: gender, social psych). I currently teach sociology and women's studies at Foothill College in Los Altos Hills, CA. I have also lectured at San Jose State. And I have blogged for Feminispire, Ms. Magazine, The Good Men Project and Daily Kos. Also been picked up by The Alternet.

Posted on July 1, 2013, in feminism, LGBTQ+ and tagged , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 23 Comments.

  1. I found your insights on gay marriage negatively impacting patriarchal marriage quite interesting. But I would love to see a post on matriarchal marriage where the woman is the head of the family and the man is her help-mate.

    Although I’ve never ever really considered myself submissive, in my marriage I follow my wife’s lead. I respect her judgement, wisdom, and decisions. My personal motto is, “We discuss, she decides, I abide”.

    Although my wife never really openly admits that she is the head of our family, we know that she is, and I’m very content this way. I don’t consider myself less of a man because I defer to my wife. I love her, I respect her, and I accept her leadership in our family. To me it seems only natural…women tend to be more nurturing than men and tend to be more relationship oriented so I am confident in knowing that her decisions are for our family’s best interest.

    We’ve been married for 18 years, and I truly could not be happier. While a matriarchal marriage/family may not be for everyone, I believe it is a viable option that is never really discussed or explored in a serious way.

    Who knows, maybe one day in the future I will take my wife’s name!!

    Have you ever seen the film ‘Antonia’s Line’? It’s an award winning Danish fillm about a matriarchal family.

    • I haven’t seen the film. I’ll have to check it out.

      Interestingly I do know of several so-called patriarchal marriages in which the women are in charge in reality, if not in name. In these marriages women take their husband’s name, men sit at the head of the table, the man determines who says prayers, and symbolic things like that. So they both say that he is head of home. Yet she’s in charge.

      Some of these marriages are happy where the woman is a natural leader and the man is a national follower.

      Some of these marriages are abusive. Not because they have to be but because the wife just happens to be abusive.

      What bothers me is when you have a culture that insists that men should be the leaders. Then you culturally define men as higher status, more powerful, and better. I would be similarly bothered by a culture that insisted on the reverse–-that women were higher status, more powerful and better.

      Plus, the patriarchal ideal leads to a lot of homophobia and gay bashing, along with other pressures to keep women in the home and out of status and power.

      • Yes, I find it amusing how many marriages are actually matriarchal in nature, but both partners still cling to patriarchal trappings such as the man being at the head of the table. They’re not really fooling anyone, just deluding themselves.

        At least I admit to living in a matriarchal marriage, and am quite content. And, it’s not so much that my wife is a natural leader and I’m a natural follower, it just works for us.

        About twelve years ago, my wife and I were having some disagreements. I don’t know how, but it just kind of hit me like a revelation that most of our disagreements were over control. I would want to do something my way, and my wife wanted her way. At the same time, I realized that we agreed on 95% of things. The problem was the other 5%. Of this 5%, maybe my wife was correct half the time and maybe I was right half the time. So, my reasoning was that if I accepted my wife’s decisions, I would in actuality only be giving up very little. After all, we agree 95%, and she was probably right an additional 2.5%, so I was only really giving in on 2.5%.

        So, I told her that from then on I would abide by her decisions. She was amused, and didn’t take me seriously. But I was determined to change and to follow her lead. While we still have some disagreements, I would say that on the whole we are very happy, and have a strong, healthy relationship.

        It’s not that we insist that she have a higher status, or is better, but I do defer to her wishes and have the utmost respect for her judgement. She doesn’t sit at the end of the table or decide who says grace, ie. it’s not just a reversal of a patriarchal marriage.

        In fact, one of the things I appreciate most is that she taught me to be more nurturing. When our children were younger, she insisted that I be the one that put them to bed at night. Why? Because she was with them all day while I was at work, and she felt I needed to bond with them and have quality together time. My parents used to complain that that wasn’t my responsibility as a man, that the woman should do that. But now that my kids are older (teenagers), I’m glad that she afforded me that opportunity.

        The point I’m trying to make is that a matriarchal marriage is not an inverted patriarchy. Instead, after living under my wife’s leadership for many years, I’ve realized that sometimes women may actually be the ones better suited to lead a marriage and family.

      • Thanks for offering your perspective.

        And I really only think that the notion of one sex being better and higher status comes when that entire sex is expected to always be the leaders. Then the message subconsciously gets into everyone’s minds that men –as it arises in patriarchy– are better.

  2. Interesting. I never considered that perspective and the archaic phrases that are utilized so commonly. I have always been an advocate of same-sex marriage. I never understood why being homosexual was wrong. I never understood how people could say that homosexual love is different than heterosexual love. A Biblical argument could be made, however there is no factual science basis behind it. And the Biblical argument is for naught. If we were following the Bible that did not allow for homosexual relationships, we would not eat pork, wear clothes of different materials, not do anything on Sundays, and black people would still be slaves. Even the Ku Klux Klan rationalizes the Bible as truth. Their interpretation of the Bible gives approval to slavery and racial segregation.
    But I digress, the ignorance that I have of using these statements thinking they were just commonplace is a mistake. It allows me to remember to think before I speak. Simple words can have such negative implications that I am unaware of my own ignorance.

  3. So there is no hierarchical structure in gay female marriage, or gay male marriage? Really?

    • Of course there could be a hierarchal structure, but you can’t have a man in charge of a woman in a lesbian marriage or in a gay marriage. So they don’t fit the patriarchal ideal of men in charge of women.

  4. Your post gives me hope that a shift is occurring. Patriarchy is being exposed and losing it’s ideological grip on institutions. Let’s hope this is a drop in the pond that will ripple to the rest of society.

  5. My parents looked traditional on the outside, but my father brought home his paycheck and gave it to my mother uncashed. She handled the money and paid the bills, and pretty much was the boss of the family. My question is, do we need to have a “boss” in the family, or can a family have two equal partners of whatever gender. That is the ideal, in my mind.

    My husband is a little more traditional (read that as patriarchal) and once even used that line on me of “wearing the pants.” I told him that as I paid the bills and made most family decisions regarding money, I would continue to make those choices no matter what I wore, but he could don a dress if he wished to. He has never mentioned that again and has, in fact, grown closer to my politics after a long time 😉

    • I’m all for equality and do believe couples can be equal.

      But patriarchal-types feel very differently. That’s why gay marriage is such a threat to them.

      • I agree. Such a shame, as those in “traditional” marriages; that is, man in charge no matter what, miss out on so much of the richness and complexity of a real partnership of equals. No piece of paper is needed for that, but I am all for people in love being officially granted couple status, which is what marriage at its best should be. Of course they would find such a partnership threatening.

  6. Yeah, proponents of marriage inequality make the most ridiculous arguments as to why legal recognition of same-sex relationships is such a problem. There is no rational basis for their position. As for the U.S. Supreme Court, I am very happy that Kennedy decided not to fight history on this one, but I wish the Windsor decision had gone farther. It struck down DOMA, but punted on the bigger issue of whether same-sex marriage is protected in the constitution. So, marriage equality remains a state-by-state battle, which is a problem in states like mine. But, thanks to Windsor, at least same-sex couples who are legally married in other states but reside in PA will probably now get federal benefits.

    • I find the whole “protected by the Constitution” thing puzzling.

      When the Bill of Rights was first proposed some didn’t want to have one because they worried that such a bill would imply that any right that wasn’t “protected by the Constitution” was no right at all. As though any right we had had to be enumerated in the Constitution. My understanding is that the founding fathers did not have any intention of saying that you have no rights unless they were enumerated in the Constitution. And the Declaration of Independence says that governments were made to protect our rights, not take them away.

      • I agree with you that the enumerated rights were not meant to disparage unenumerated rights, which is why the Framers of the Constitution passed the 9th Amendment. The Supreme Court has held for a long time that marriage, though unenumerated, is a fundamental right protected by the Constitution, but has refused to decide whether gay marriage is protected (they’ve came close to doing that in Windsor, but they didn’t quite go that far in the ruling).

      • Thanks. Helpful to have a legal mind helping me out on these issues.

  7. Rohan 7 Things

    Interesting post! In any partnership one member tends to lead a little more than the other I’ve found, however gender is rarely the determining factor. My father’s family was primarily matriarchal. My grandmother on my father’s side was the leader of the clan. When my dad asked his father why they never fight or have problems he replied “It’s simple, she talks and I listen”. They raised 11 children and are one of the strongest and happiest partnerships I’ve ever known. In my own parents’ case my father tends to “lead” a little more, but still they are very happy.

    The idea that the man, by default, should be the dominant figure is not backed up by the biological or psychological facts on the ground. And as you say, same sex couples simply bring that “uncomfortable” truth to the fore!

    There is a certain degree of leading a following in all relationships from groups of friends at school to married partners, but it’s to do with the individuals involved and not their gender!

    Great post, thanks for sharing 🙂


    • A lot of conservatives fear losing male dominance and male dominant homes, even when they don’t exist in reality. (And I think that this culture is much more alive and well in the United States than in Europe and Australia, where you have lived.)

      I grew up in a very conservative religion and I know a lot of families where the dad was definitely the leader as a result of this.

      My mom even had some books that talked about how men were supposed to be the head and women were supposed to follow, even if his direction was wrong, or even immoral. The books said that if a woman did something morally wrong because her husband told her to, that it would be the husband who would be punished by God, not her. Her job was to obey. (It was growing up in this culture that turned me into a feminist.)

      But I also know homes in this same religion where dad was the “designated leader” even though mom was actually in charge. So dad would sit at the head of the table and determine who would say prayers, and do ceremonial things like that, but mom was in charge all of the rest of the time, often bossing him around.

  8. What is your stance on polygamous marriages.

  9. Well, if marriage is just a piece of paper, then I guess it doesn’t do anything good or bad for anybody or anything. But then the question is, why do gay people want a stupid piece of paper?

    But if it does mean something more than that, then maybe it does hurt traditional marriage. As an example, in the UK they have to abandon fidelity as legally part of marriage, because they can’t figure out what that means for gay people.

    So which is it? Meaningless paper? Or meaningful, in which case the the thesis that it doesn’t hurt marriage fails.

    • No one is saying that marriage is just a piece of paper. If that were the case no one would care about gay marriage.

      Of course it hurts traditional marriage, if by traditional you mean patriarchal. The people who fight gay marriage are worried about this. No male head!!! People who don’t like patriarchy, on the other hand, think it’s a good thing, as I expressed in the post.

      What you describe as “can’t figure out what fidelity means for gay people” may be misleading. The question revolves around the usual notion that sex and consummation means penis/vagina penetration. Obviously, that definition can’t be used for “consummation” or “sex” for gay and lesbian couples. When one member of Parliament suggested that gays and lesbians will just have to figure out for themselves what adultery means in a physical sense, she was referring to that. That doesn’t mean that gays all cheat on their marriage partners and so everyone else should too.

      Nowadays even hetero couples can have that question. Years ago when Bill Clinton had oral sex with Monica Lewinsky there was a big debate over whether or not he’d had sex with her. He said he hadn’t but a lot of other people thought he did.

      Interestingly, I know people who are in open marriages. And they aren’t even gay. And they were in open marriages before the question of gay marriage even arose.

      Now that gays can marry in the state of California I have no feeling like, oh, now I’m going to go and have sex with other men, even though I’m married, because gays can get married. No one else I know feels that way either. Why would they?

      And in fact, the divorce rate is down in states where gay marriage is legal.

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