Marriage as Leadership and Submission


Jason Kuznicki

Jason Kuznicki is a research fellow at the Cato Institute and contributor of Cato Unbound. He's on twitter as JasonKuznicki. His interests include political theory and history.

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161 Responses

  1. Avatar David Ryan says:

    A dear friend of mine is a fan of this book. I have not read it myself, but it’s the first thing that popped into my mine when I read your post:

  2. Avatar Chris says:

    I suppose since this version is rather explicitly based on beliefs about the natures of and differences between men and women, if we’re going to be charitable, we’d have to challenge those beliefs. I’m skeptical that doing so would get us very far, though, because those beliefs are part of their fundamental world view, and challenging people’s fundamental world views never gets anyone very far. As long as they hold those beliefs, this view of marriage will be perfectly reasonable.Report

  3. Avatar Sam says:

    Two quick thoughts:

    1. I married my wife because I love her, not because I wanted a subservient person in my life.
    2. I owe no charity to those that offer none of their own in return.Report

    • Avatar Sam in reply to Sam says:

      And yet, now that I think about this, I am charitable with conservative Christian. I don’t propose that they lose the right to marry. I don’t propose that they be treated as second class citizens. I don’t propose that they not be allowed to conduct their marriages how they see fit (assuming that both sides are consenting). I don’t propose anything that in any way affects their private relationships. The same can hardly be said of them.Report

    • Avatar Jaybird in reply to Sam says:

      I owe no charity to those that offer none of their own in return.


  4. Avatar North says:

    Engage with the above? I think not and neither charity nor principles require it since no one is demanding access to or inclusion within this explicitly (conservative) Christian form of marriage.

    Same sex marriage advocates are requesting access to the institution of civil marriage which both exists outside of and predates this particular conservative Christian definition of marriage.

    The question is whether conservative Christians have the right or power to define civil marriage exclusively in their preferred terms and the overwhelming answer (an answer that long predates the SSM question) is no they have neither the right nor power to do so.

    So, the conservative Christian view of marriage, submission and sacrifice et all, while interesting from an anthropological perspective, is pretty much irrelevant to the question of same sex marriage specifically.Report

    • Avatar Jason Kuznicki in reply to North says:

      But here’s the problem. It’s only a short, obvious step from the above to the additional claim that — rather obviously — civil marriage was instituted to instantiate this type of relationship in the law.

      You can look at the whole lot of it and say “we shouldn’t have marriage,” but you will I think have a much harder time saying “oh yeah, and let two guys get married, too.”Report

      • The problem with this approach, I would argue, is that it assumes there is a logical, rational argument that – could you just both divine and engage – would bring about an agreement. I think this is wrong. In fact, I would say that you’re looking for the kind of approach that would convince Jason Kuznicki – but he doesn’t need convincing in this area.

        In the end, people that are that far away from agreement about SSM will be convinced (*if* they are convinced) in the same way people are always convinced of such things: It will become more and more mainstream, and over time they will see that the differences and risks they imagined never quite came to pass. It won’t be an epiphany so much as a gradual understanding.

        Until then, there will always be a counter argument to whatever you you say, no matter how brilliantly you say it. You may find that counter argument illogical and unconvincing, but they won’t.Report

        • Avatar North in reply to Tod Kelly says:

          Oh well if we’re talking about the nuts and bolts of the debating, my Tod, that’s an entirely different thing. The people who actually believe what Jason is advocating aren’t really swayable. They’ll lose (and are losing) this debate because the people who don’t think about it much are persuaded the way you define and because the people who think like they do are outnumbered and increasingly old and shuffling off the bosom of Jehovah.

          But from the angle Jason is approaching there really isn’t much debate to have. The fundamentalists lost this debate back with women’s lib. If civil marriage was ever in thrall to one specific religious definition I’d submit the chains that bound it were broken back then.Report

          • Avatar Pierre Corneille in reply to North says:

            I think Jason’s “angle” is that the traditionalists’ argument needs to be refuted rather than dismissed, especially when it comes to convincing the traditionalists. His “angle” is not to endorse their view.Report

            • Avatar Sam in reply to Pierre Corneille says:

              Why do they need to be refuted? We all know they can’t be refuted because we all know that the dead-enders on marriage – the ones who are mostly likely to end up in this sort of arrangement I’d wager – are unlikely to ever be persuaded by anything, not even if Jesus Christ himself materialized out of thin air to officiate a gay marriage ceremony.

              Is there anybody who really thinks that the arguments for gay marriage aren’t already strong enough? And what, pray tell, could be done to strengthen to the argument such that a person who believes that wives owe husbands their submission abandons their opposition?Report

              • Avatar Pierre Corneille in reply to Sam says:

                Why even discuss it all then, other than to strategize about how to beat them? Or why comment on blog posts? We can just be assured that we’re better than they are and call it a day.

                Now, here I’m the one who is probably being uncharitable, but that’s the tone in which I’ve heard your comment. Unfair to what you meant? Maybe. I don’t have all the answers either.Report

      • Avatar North in reply to Jason Kuznicki says:

        Jason, it’s a short but historically impossible step much like saying “I walk up these stairs to my house so now I’m going to walk up these stairs to the moon”. Civil marriage in its various forms predates this particular Christian definition of marriage. The Romans did civil marriage centuries before they nailed that enlightened Jewish carpenter to his cross in Jerusalem. The Babylonians were recording civil marriage contracts according to government prescribed arrangements on clay tablets a millennia before that. The claim that civil marriage was instituted to instantiate this type of Christian relationship fails because civil marriage came first. This is an archeological and anthropological fact.

        Setting aside the rout of that claim on historical grounds we need only look to the last century of jurisprudence and legalism. Wives are no longer subordinate to their husbands in the eyes of the law. Women can vote and own property. Even if you somehow claim that the principals of conservative Christian marriage were somehow enshrined in civil marriage before Christianity itself came along the fact remains that we as a society have exiled every practical aspect of it from civil marriage.

        This doesn’t exclude Christian Conservative marriage from civil marriage. Far from it! If some fine upstanding Christian man can persuade some woman to join him in their Conservative union in mutual submission and sacrifice as symbolized by Christ’s sacrifice on the cross that’s just fine. The local county clerk can recognize it as marriage with no difficulty at all.
        But there’s no reason why the county clerk can’t hand out the same certificate to a same sex couple either. There’s nothing in civil marriage law principles that requires that he not. Civil marriage is apart and separate from Marriage as a blessed union.Report

      • Avatar Chris in reply to Jason Kuznicki says:

        I think this is pretty clearly what socially conservative Christians believe. The nature of marriage arises from the nature of men, and women, as instituted by God. Marriage is then God’s way of formalizing a relationship that honors these natures. If the state is involved in marriage at all, then, it can only be to formalize these relationships in the eyes of the state in the way that they are formalized in the eyes of God.

        If this is precisely what marriage is, because it is precisely what men and women are, then marriage between two men, or marriage between two women, makes no sense conceptually or practically.Report

      • But here’s the problem. It’s only a short, obvious step from the above to the additional claim that — rather obviously — civil marriage was instituted to instantiate this type of relationship in the law.

        Then the religious types should have been up in arms decades ago, when states allowed the wife to initiate divorce proceedings and passed community-property laws. How a relationship can be dissolved is important in defining the nature of the relationship. Absent some sort of pre-nup agreement, civil marriages in no-fault community-property states are clearly agreements between equals.Report

        • Avatar Kolohe in reply to Michael Cain says:

          Conservatives *were* up in arms decades ago when divorce and other laws were reformed, even though they lost. *Especially* because they lost. It served as the substrate that the mid 20th-century (4th(?) Great) religious awakening and a concomitant political awakening acted upon to build the modern conservative movement.Report

        • Avatar Lyle in reply to Michael Cain says:

          Note that community property laws came about because the states in question were part of Mexico and Spain before being part of the US. (Except Idaho, Wisconsin and Washington). The community property system comes from the civil law system rather than the common law system. So of course Spain at the time of the Mexican Revolution for example was governed by the church as much as the king. I believe the comment in the post is the common law view of marriage and would be somewhat different if one took a civil law (basically Europe and ex colonies) .Report

  5. Avatar scott says:

    I have a hard time thinking that a relationship based on leadership and submission isn’t a master/servant relationship. And an even harder time thinking that it’s desirable or a good thing.Report

  6. Avatar Jaybird says:

    Well, there’s two attitudes towards this that I am torn between:

    1) What kind of woman would want to take a subservient role? What kind of man would want the woman to take one? Surely she was raised in a way that brainwashed her somewhat and he was raised with nothing but poor examples of relationships to see that sort of thing as desirable in the first place. If both of them had better information, they’d want something more like what Maribou and I have.

    2) I don’t understand it. The fact that I don’t understand it doesn’t mean that it’s wrong, nor that it’s ignorance manifesting, nor that it’s something that people just shouldn’t be doing at all. Or, even if I can’t get over the sensation that it’s intrinsically bad, it’s certainly not something that I ought to be sticking my nose in and trying to prevent. If I am to argue against these folks, it’s to argue against their meddling in the lives of others, not to argue (or worse, do an end run around the conversation in the first place) in such a way that meddles in their lives.

    I mean, if we saw a couple of goths and one of them said “I’m the slave” and the other said “I’m the master” and they were really out there, we’d shrug and say “your kink is okay” the way the tolerance brochure says that we should. It’s when it’s a man and a woman and when they’re dressed up like Mormons that we look at that relationship and say “eeeeeeeew!”Report

  7. Avatar Christopher Carr says:

    Reminds me of Hegel’s master/slave dielectic.Report

  8. Avatar Pen says:

    So, the conservative Christian view of marriage, submission and sacrifice et all, while interesting from an anthropological perspective, is pretty much irrelevant to the question of same sex marriage specifically.

    It’s not just irrelevant for same sex marriage but, I would argue, secular marriages like my own with my wife. We got married for one reason, to publicly affirm our partnership before the eyes of the law. The rings and party were a bonus, but hardly necessary.

    The idea that I want her to be subservient to me and I want to be “head of household”… No, ot unless we’re talking tax forms. My wif is my partner, the mother of my children, and ultimately my best friend. Our marriage is just a contract, so conservative Christians can do what they like but I’ll stick to civil marriage thanks.Report

    • Avatar North in reply to Pen says:

      That’s entirely true Pen but I left it out mainly because opposite sex marriage equality doesn’t have any need for my advocacy. Not even the fundies are insane enough to seriously propose trying to institute conservative Christian regulation on opposite sex marriage. Hell, just say the word “divorce” and the preachers run for the hills (typically with an ex-wife in persuit).Report

  9. Avatar Pinky says:

    Well, this doesn’t have to be viewed as creepy. John Gray’s whole “Men are from Mars, Women are from Venus” thing was simply a statement that men want to feel needed, and that women want to feel loved. Men do, women are, as the saying goes. The average man is more likely to want to feel protective of his wife, and the average woman is more likely to want to feel appreciated.

    But I can step back even further from this, and I only need to assert that men and women are different in order to establish the need for a civil institution which protects the family. You don’t have to believe in submissive wives to accept that a woman plays a different role than a man in the average family, and as long as society sees the family as a good institution, it should be very careful about changing the family’s unique protections.

    Anyway, that’s just a first pass. There’s a lot more to flesh out.Report

  10. Avatar Mike Dwyer says:

    My own experience is that the best choice for us was a process of concious deference depending on the issue or area of our marriage. I defer to my wife on our finances because she has a better handle on what we can and can’t afford. She defers to me on decisions about the house because I know more about its care and maintenance. She covers homework with the kids, I cover life skills and good manners.

    The point is that when those situations come up 99% of the time the other person ‘submits’ to the decision of the ‘leader’ on that issue. So in that sense I understand the marriage described above. I just have a good enough understanding of my strengths and weaknesses to know I can’t always be the leader.

    I will also say I know some couples where they function as equals but whenever there is indecision the husband is the tie-breaking vote. It works for them.Report

    • Avatar Patrick Cahalan in reply to Mike Dwyer says:

      Something of this.

      I see marriage less as a joining of equals and more as a joining of two people who really ought to optimize doing the drudgery part so that they can get on with the fun stuff.

      It’s not that they’re not equal, in a metaphysical sense. It’s that it makes more sense for me to put the dishes away when we just ran the dishwasher with a bunch of stuff in it that sits on the high shelf. Kitty’s more thorough with the bills.

      I think this sex-based demarcation, as a formal thing, is a disservice to many men and many women. Even if you have a relatively bipolar power arrangement – and for some couples that’s what works for them – it’s not necessarily the man who should be in charge or the woman who should be the receptive one… and defending that as a norm would be a disservice to those people even *if* a bipolar power arrangement is optimal.Report

  11. Avatar NewDealer says:

    I have some questions and thoughts:

    1. What does the writer mean by “our young people”? Does he mean people raised as conservative Christians or who choose to stay instead of flee or is there a subtext? This is a religion that believes in conversion. I often find with many Conservative Christians that there is a subtext of “You might claim to be really against us but in your deepest unconscious you know that we are right and want what we are selling”. I find this attitude appalling.

    2. Even if the writer means Conservative Christians by “our young people”, why should the Conservative Christian view of marriage dominate how the rest of society views marriage? There are a lot of Conservative Christians but they are not a majority of the world or even a majority of the United States. And I am sure that a lot of them could not stand up to a serious grilling. How many Evangelicals really practice this Master-Submissive variant in all aspects of their marriage? How many women really submit to “Christian Discipline”. My guess is not as many as the writer believes and that many Conservative Christian marriages form on very secular and modern grounds of love and affirmation and being a “partner”.

    3. As Sam said above, I see no reason to offer charity to those who think people who disagree with them or are not part of the “elect” are going to burn in hell for all of eternity after death.Report

    • Avatar Pinky in reply to NewDealer says:

      “I see no reason to offer charity to those who think people who disagree with them or are not part of the “elect” are going to burn in hell for all of eternity after death.”

      Why not?Report

      • Avatar NewDealer in reply to Pinky says:

        By charity, I meant acknowledging the validity of their definition. I will follow what Michael said below.

        I was not talking about compassion or aide through hard times.

        For my reasoning, I think they come from a position of bad faith. As a Jewish person, I don’t like being a necessary pawn in their apocalyptic world view and find that their support for Israel is dangerous. With friends like Michelle Bachmann, the Israelis do not need Hamas as enemies.

        The writer’s argument is “This is how we view marriage. It is right. You are wrong.” Why should I grant charity to that?Report

        • But at a certain point, it comes down to a question of values. You (and I) are eventually reduced to saying, “This is how we view marriage [i.e., pro-marriage equality]. It is right. You are wrong.”

          Knowing that, it behooves us to know where others are coming from and to see how the define the terms. To realize that our opponents are not, or at least not only, our enemies. We have to share this earth with them, we can do it well or do it poorly.

          Of course, I can’t deny that it doesn’t end there. Sometimes, as you know, it’s not only a question of refutation or empathy. I acknowledge that to a certain extent, it’s also a question of recourse to defeating our opponents through the ballot box (majority rule), common practice (defying traditionalists’ prescriptions by our support for same sex couples), and the judiciary and maybe constitutional reform or legislation (imposing equal practice on those who are disinclined to use the state in ways that make unconscionably arbitrary distinctions) .Report

          • Avatar Sam in reply to Pierre Corneille says:

            There’s something there in the middle though that isn’t being acknowledged. It isn’t simply that we’re for marriage equality. It’s that we’re for their marriages too. It’s that we take no issue with their submissive marriages although we might find them odd. It’s that we propose no legal restriction in their lives.

            We talk about this as if it is us-versus-them, but in fact, it is us-in-support-of-them (and everybody else too) and them-against-us.Report

            • Avatar Pierre Corneille in reply to Sam says:

              “It isn’t simply that we’re for marriage equality. It’s that we’re for their marriages too. It’s that we take no issue with their submissive marriages although we might find them odd. It’s that we propose no legal restriction in their lives. ”

              Good point.

              “We talk about this as if it is us-versus-them, but in fact, it is us-in-support-of-them (and everybody else too) and them-against-us.”

              Another good point. I wish I had read this comment before I made my acerbic one above.Report

            • Avatar NewDealer in reply to Sam says:

              Yup. I have no problem with their version of marriage even though I find it odd. There are plenty of more progressive marriage practices that I find odd and also have no problem with. Though there are some very progressive women I know with some old-fashioned concepts that might cause me problems.*

              The second point is where I raise my objection. It is not the fact that they are simply against everyone who does not follow their view of marriage. They object to all aspects of modernity including how many modern heterosexual couples view marriage as a partnership of equals.

              *I know a lot of very progressive women who still think it is necessary for boyfriends to ask for the woman’s dad for permission to propose. As in the guy saying “Can I marry your daughter?” This strikes me as something that I could not do with a straight face.Report

  12. Avatar Stillwater says:

    I dunno Jason. I’ll concede that it does a better job of providing an account of what constitutes “traditional marriage” than merely asserting that it’s between a man and a woman. I’m not sure I’d go so far as to say it isn’t question begging, tho.

    Consider: “Secular views of marriage are driven by a destructive individualism and libertarianism. This philosophy is inconsistent with the reality of long-term relationships such as marriage and family life.” This argument seems to beg the question, it seems to me, and in an unfavorable way since it’s circular: it’s only because a relationship (or at least a long term relationship) is defined as being comprised of subservience.

    Also this: “The biblical teaching is that the promise made voluntarily by the bride to submit to her husband is matched by the even more onerous obligation which the husband must undertake to act towards his wife as Christ has loved the church. The Bible says that this obligation is ultimately measured by the self-sacrifice of Christ in dying on the cross.”

    To be consistent, we have to understand the term “bride” broadly in this passage, defined functionally as “the subservient partner”. That means SSM should be permissible just so long as one partner is subservient, and also that women can be the husbands to their male wives. If his conclusion is that necessarily, brides = women, then I think he’s begging all the important questions again.Report

  13. Avatar Liberty60 says:

    It may come as a bit of a surprise, given my liberal posture on other things, but this is a very personal issue for me.

    My wife and I live a very traditionally Patrirachal marriage, where I am the HoH and she is submissive.

    The very first thing to get out of the way, is that we are rather insistent that this cannot possibly be instituted as the norm; We know too many people for whom this would be a stifling and cruel structure, serving no purpose. There are households that function much better when the woman takes the leadership position. But this works very well for us.

    I can only explain it as a part of our larger set of beliefs, in that we acheive a deeper sense of fulfillment and joy when we- both of us- surrender a part of ourselves to a higher goal. In this case, we are each subservient to the good of the family.

    In any partnership (yes, we do constantly refer to each other as partners) there are differing roles- CEO and CFO, general manager and specialist technician; and so it is that in our household, I am the leader, making the broad general course decisions, and she is the supporter and implementer.

    I don’t talk a lot about it, if only because I chafe with irritation and want no part of the wing of religious bigots who prefer to drape their misogyny and insecurity with the cloth of religion and tradition.Report

    • Avatar Mike Dwyer in reply to Liberty60 says:

      I have heard some people suggest that by making the husband the leader it forces him to rise to the challenge and become a better man. I experienced this on a more micro level when I got married. Suddenly every impulse purchase I would have made when I was single required a second consideration and I often put the item back on the shelf. I could see that process being scaled up to a whole marriage.Report

    • Avatar Kimmi in reply to Liberty60 says:

      thx for sharing! is good to see tolerant people with varying frameworks.Report

    • Avatar b-psycho in reply to Liberty60 says:

      My wife and I live a very traditionally Patrirachal marriage, where I am the HoH and she is submissive.

      …was that openly mutually agreed upon, or is that just how it shook out? If you don’t mind someone asking.Report

      • Avatar Liberty60 in reply to b-psycho says:

        Its hard to say exactly how the dynamic came about; it certainly wasn’t in answer to my ad- “CaveMan seeks timid woman who knows her place”; I think it was more that we were so much more drawn to each other by our mutual desires for this arrangement; for instance, other women I dated were insulted by my suggesting what I wanted for dinner, or even that they should cook it; whereas she enthusiastically offers to have it ready when I arrive home. Other men she dated were puzzled by her behavior, and thought it meant they were assured a free ride without effort or committment.Report

        • Avatar Kazzy in reply to Liberty60 says:

          “…for instance, other women I dated were insulted by my suggesting what I wanted for dinner, or even that they should cook it…”

          What was your response to these women?Report

          • Avatar Liberty60 in reply to Kazzy says:

            As with any relationship, there are always multiple factors that cause one party to decide the other isn’t their cuppa. In the one I am thinking of, there was a understanding, over time, that we had incompatible goals and there was an amicable parting.
            For every lid there is a jar, that sort of thing.Report

  14. Avatar Will Truman says:

    I really appreciate this post, Jason. Even if we reject the reasoning, which I do and have the marriage to prove it, it is important to understand where people are coming from.Report

  15. Avatar John Howard Griffin says:

    Traditional Marriage = 50 Shades of Grey?Report

  16. Avatar Mike Schilling says:

    If they want that kind of marriage, good for them. I would absolutely not make it illegal, refuse to recognize its validity, or restrict it in any way.Report

  17. Avatar Sam says:


    What would you have those of us who believe in gay marriage do in this case? None of us has proposed making Christian marriage of this sort illegal. None of us has proposed doing anything to Christian marriage. But the Christians arguing from this (retrograde) definition of marriage insist that the only acceptable marriage is this one, with no leeway given to anybody else, anywhere, ever.Report

    • Avatar Lyle in reply to Sam says:

      My simple solution is that the law be re-written to eliminate the term marriage completly. The law will use the term civil union, and that will be the license that is granted by the county. Marriage will then become a purely private affair. If you essentially take the current legal codes and replace the terms, what becomes the problem? A civil union is 2 adults deciding that they want to have a lasting relationship that has legal sanction. The law defines what happens in situations afterwords, but does allow for detailed contracts (pre-nups ) to be made.Report

      • Avatar Sam in reply to Lyle says:

        Well, that’s simple in theory, but not at all realistic when you consider our democracy.

        More to the point: I want to know what Jason wants us to do with this definition above? Although many of us wouldn’t choose this in our own lives, nobody has proposed making such an arrangement illegal if the two participants are themselves willing. But in his final line, he writes that “Charity toward Christian conservatives would demand that we ignore the sound bite version and engage with the above.” What though does that mean? Do I now have to construct an argument that accounts for the definition of marriage Jason outlined? If so, why? If something else, why?Report

  18. Avatar James H. says:

    Damn. And all along I thought Christian conservatives approved of my marriage. I guess I’ll have to start taking responsibility for training my wife to be submissive. If history’s any judge, it’s not going to work out well.Report

  19. Avatar Tom Van Dyke says:

    There appears to be a component for men that is key to the female component of “submission.”

    “My greatest interest in the draft service the diocese has prepared is the high standard being proposed for men.

    When a husband promises to love his wife as Christ loved the church and give himself up for her, he is declaring his intention to be a man of strength and self-control for her benefit and for the benefit of any children born to them. Such qualities, properly exercised in the spirit of self-sacrifice, enhance the feminine and personal qualities of his wife.

    Each marriage and each era will work this out differently. It is in this context and this alone that the revised marriage service enables a woman to promise submission.”

    [BF mine.]Report

  20. Avatar Murali says:

    This is an awesome post and the comments are vry interesting as well. So basically, social conservatives have very different fundamental views about what marriage is from other groups. These disparate views cannot be reconcilled.

    Like a guy with a new hammer, everything looks like a nail to me. So, let’s see how public reason applies to this. From a public reason perspective, we cannot say that one view of marriage is right while the other view is wrong and that therefore we should have this kind of policy and others should just suck it up. If we have to discipline ourselves from appealing to the full truth in trying to justify coercive social rules, what kinds of rules could we publicly justify? I don’t think we could justify limitations placed on SSM, nor on plural marriages. But that woulld not be on the basis that marriages are really partnerhsips. It would be a merely negative argument: that the restriction cannot be publicly justified because it is based on a deep view of marriage which not everybody shares. Of course we can continue to recognise limits on child marriages as we have public reasons for such a rule: namely that children are not seen as publicly competent to manage their own affairs and that therefore are not eligible to participate in marriage-like arrangements.Report

  21. Avatar Kazzy says:

    Here’s the thing…

    As I understand it, I disagree with the definition of marriage offered here. I would not want it for myself or my wife and would not recommend it to others. If asked, I’d advise folks not to enter such relationships. I might even find it morally objectionable, though I would need more about it before concluding that.

    But I would never, not for a second, consider outlawing it.Report

  22. Avatar Maribou says:

    When I first read through this post, and the comments, it stood out to me as a post where NO other women had commented so far, and where I didn’t really want to talk to y’all about it either. It was pretty hard for me to figure out why I was so reluctant to say anything, but here’s my best go:

    In my experience (not just with this issue but in general daily life), it is far easier to be charitable towards someone who feels that you ought to be in a dominant position when you don’t want to be, than towards someone who feels that you ought to be in a subordinate position when you don’t want to be. That might be why I find it so hard not just to engage with this argument on its merits, but even to see those merits. The nuances are familiar to me, not just because of The Weight of Tradition, but because of the situations people I love have experienced where the nuanced argument was wielded against women to make it incredibly difficult for them to leave violent husbands. The potential redemption of the male partner was more important than anyone else’s present well-being, explicitly in some cases, implicitly in others.

    As far as it being the real argument behind what “one man and one woman” proponents are talking about, that doesn’t match my experience either: I’ve heard people argue for equality in marriage, but only in their narrow heteronormative definition, and for the necessity of a leader and a follower in relationships, regardless of the genders involved, and without any desire to restrict civil marriage. Perhaps it does make sense to engage with the argument people offer you, rather than the caricatured version in one’s head; but in that case, when people aren’t offering a leader-follower argument, isn’t it rather condescending to assume they must be, if they just knew what they were meaning to say?

    When I hear the soundbite version, I engage with the soundbite version. I have seen people learn to let go of their prejudice against same-sex marriage, and at least some of those people were able to change their perspective precisely because they *don’t* fundamentally believe in the Great Chain of Being.

    Engaging with the soundbite version is the best way I know to find out what the more complex belief behind it really is: otherwise, it’s just a more complicated round of shadowboxing.Report

    • Avatar Maribou in reply to Maribou says:

      (I am a spaz who forgot about Kimmi’s contributions to the comments on this post. And of course, there are folks whose gender I don’t know. But the rest of it stands.)Report

    • Avatar Tod Kelly in reply to Maribou says:


      It’s funny (and probably a sign that I come from a place of privilege in this particular area), but connecting the possibility of domestic violence to this argument didn’t even occur to me. When I balk at this subject (and I do), it’s for the less concrete reason that I dislike systems that approach you as a pre-set “role” rather than as a person (or a couple, I guess) in such a fundamental and sweeping part of your life.

      That this argument (or a similar, related argument) might be used as a justification/apologist for abuse just made me a little sick inside.Report

    • Avatar Murali in reply to Maribou says:

      I read the article as taking the pains to say that the wife’s duty to submit goes out of the window the moment the husband turns abusive. Or else, as per Tod Kelly below, I would have seen this as something that could be connected to spousal violence.Report

      • Avatar Stillwater in reply to Murali says:

        the wife’s duty to submit goes out of the window the moment the husband turns abusive.


        • Avatar Murali in reply to Stillwater says:

          Look as long as no abuse is taking place, I’m with Jaybird in the your-kink-is-okay line of thinking. Maribou was bringing up the possibility that such leadership/submission talk could be connected to spousal abuse (maybe in some legitimating manner). I thought it useful to point out that whatever else we may feel about marriage norms from other traditions, that they took the pains to distance themelves from spousal abuse is not something that we can ignore.

          Maribou is right. There are some things in there that should make you feel uncomfortable if you look at it from a spousal abuse angle. There are also things in there that seem to mitigate this to some extent.

          I do feel that they should be given credit for understanding the link between patriarchal marriage norms and spousal abuse and trying to distance themselves from the latter even as they try to push some version of the former. Very often, when people try to push the former, they completely ignore the ways in which such traditional norms have been usd to abuse females.Report

          • Avatar Sam in reply to Murali says:

            that they took the pains to distance themelves from spousal abuse is not something that we can ignore.

            I’d like to know more about this distance before I sign on…Report

            • Avatar Stillwater in reply to Sam says:

              I’d like to know more about the “duty to submit” as well. Is this based on natural law? Naturalism? Biological evidence? Convention? Male privilege? Religious dogma?

              I just don’t think there’s a coherent argument for the conclusion that women have a duty to submit to their husbands at conclusion, myself. I also don’t think the initial argument does much better. Here it is:

              Her ”submission” is her voluntary acceptance of this pattern of living together, her glad recognition that this is what he intends to bring to the marriage and that it is for her good, his good and the good of children born to them. She is going to accept him as a man who has chosen the self-discipline and commitment of marriage for her sake and for their children. At a time when women rightly complain that they cannot get men to commit, here is a pattern which demands real commitment all the way.

              In this argument, the wife is invoked to submit to the husband in order to get him to commit to the relationship. His commitment depends on her submission. To him as the leader. It strikes me that defining the woman’s role in these terms is a clear expression of male privilege thru and thru. (It also strikes me as factually incorrect, conceptually confused, question begging, etc etc.)Report

              • Avatar Murali in reply to Stillwater says:

                The duty to submit is on the your kink is okay line of things. Liberty60’s wife does it. I don’t want to enter into such a dynamic. The moral argument for it is probably flawed. But as long as it is not abusive, it is really none of my business.

                As for the distancing bit, I htought Iwrote something, but must have been swallowed by wordpress or something.

                This is not an invitation to bossiness, let alone abuse. A husband who uses the wife’s promise in this way stands condemned for betraying his own sworn obligations


                My greatest interest in the draft service the diocese has prepared

                This hints that this is something new (or at least purportedly different from what has gone on before. From the main article,

                It is in this context and this alone that the revised marriage service enables a woman to promise submission

                So, it is a revised marriage service and it striclty conditionalises women’s (purported) duty to submit. i.e. only in situations where the husband honours his side of the bargain. i.e. it is not a case of “he should not be abusive but his failure of duty does not mean that you can neglect yours” which was presumably the old patriarchal marriage model. This new model says submit, but only as long as the guy is a good husband.

                Even if ultimately the arguments for submission rather than partnership remain unconvincing, moral error does not justify coercive restriction (of course no one is proposing so)Report

              • Avatar Stillwater in reply to Stillwater says:

                Murali, I think we’re talking past each other to some degree on this. I’m objecting to a few things.

                1) The concept of a duty to submit. It strikes me as incoherent, as stated. It might turn out that the woman (just like anyone) can voluntarily submit to X in a certain arrangement, but that’s the exact opposite of a “duty” to submit. If the initial argument quoted in the OP makes any sense at all, it’s that the woman has an obligation to voluntarily submit. Which makes no sense. It seems to me you’re repeating the confusion.

                2) Kink isn’t what’s at issue. The issue is that the conservative conception of marriage – the one they think ought to be enshrined in/as law – is based on defining the role a woman plays as subservient to her husband. Is there a non-question beggin argument for defining the role of women in these terms? It seems to me there isn’t, since empirical evidence refutes the argument before it even begins. It also simply asserts that the role played by the subservient partner is necessarily (or naturally?) the role required of women.

                But that begs all the questions, it seems to me. Even if we concede the premise (the definition) that marriage as an instance of a dominance/submission relationship, the argument only shows at best that the role of what we call the “wife” in that relationship is assigned to the person playing the submissive role (I mean, that follows trivially from the definition, right?). How, then, is that role exclusively assigned to women? Only by begging the question: that women are obligated to play the subservient role in that arrangement.Report

              • Avatar Jaybird in reply to Stillwater says:

                The “Authentic Yes” problem.

                If little girls want to play with pink dolly dolls and frilly ponies and have tea parties because the parents thrust pink dolly dolls and frilly ponies and tea party sets on the little girls as part of a cultural expectation, that’s a bad thing.

                However… there are some little girls who want to play with dolls and ponies and have tea parties. Telling them that they should want to play with something else is to not treat these children as agents in themselves.

                Now let’s have everybody grow up and be fully realized adults.

                There’s a woman who says that what she wants to do is (this). Another says she wants to do (that). So long as both are giving their authentic yes, no problem… right? Even if we’ve been given reason to assume that (that) is not indicative of authenticity.Report

              • Avatar Stillwater in reply to Jaybird says:

                Yeah. It amounts to forcing a role on an individual based on certain preconceptions about the individual, and certain preconceptions about the role. I dunno which comes first in the argument. But it doesn’t really matter since the argument is circular.

                Nice gravatar, btw.Report

              • Avatar Mike Schilling in reply to Stillwater says:

                Are those Commissioner Gordon and Sergeant O’Hara from the old TV series? Awesome.Report

              • Avatar Murali in reply to Stillwater says:

                It strikes me as incoherent, as stated. It might turn out that the woman (just like anyone) can voluntarily submit to X in a certain arrangement, but that’s the exact opposite of a “duty” to submit

                Wait, duties, especially moral duties only make sense if they are voluntary. To say that I ought to submit or that I ought to donate to the Heart Foundation presupposes that I can choose not to submit or not to donate to the Heart Foundation. Isn’t the voluntariness of duty part of what “ought implies can” is all about?

                issue. The issue is that the conservative conception of marriage – the one they think ought to be enshrined in/as law – is based on defining the role a woman plays as subservient to her husband. Is there a non-question beggin argument for defining the role of women in these terms?

                Probably not. But question begging-ness is not limited to just the conservative conception of marriage. Is there any non- question begging argument for deifing a marriage as a partnership? Let’s take a less contentious issue. For example, suppose that I am obligated to refrain from cutting my hair and/or nails after sunset and any time on tuesdays, fridays and other holy days. Is there any non-question begging way for me to show how it is I am obligated? All I can do is stuff it under the heading of obscure religious obligation. i.e. when we are talking about the good, nothing but the most formal claims about the Good can stand up to critical scrutiny.

                Let us suppose it makes sense from within the Christian Conservative worldview. But apart from apure philosophical perspective, I don’t think it matters whether something stands up to critical scrutiny or not. Basically, I don’t think we should say “I am not enacting your worldvie into law because your world view is bullshit” It is not respectful of people. Maybe those people don’t warrant respect for holding silly views, but when our social order doesn’t respect people, they are going to be unwilling to sign on with it. And in the end, I want even social conservatives to sign on with a liberal social order. In order to get there we need to find a way to tell conservatives why we do not let their world views become part of the law. The story I want to tell is that we are not singling out conservative’s world views, we are basing our laws only on reasons that everyone has access to and not things that are based on private not completely shared) world views.Report

    • Avatar Patrick Cahalan in reply to Maribou says:

      I did all non-computery things all weekend so I’m only just now revisiting this thread.

      I wanted to say I very much liked this:

      “It is far easier to be charitable towards someone who feels that you ought to be in a dominant position when you don’t want to be, than towards someone who feels that you ought to be in a subordinate position when you don’t want to be.”


  23. Avatar Jaybird says:

    There’s another dynamic that I think I’ve noticed (dunno if it’s accurate, being on this side of the proverbial Kinsey Scale). It’s the attempt to understand homosexual relationships in the context of heterosexual relationships, specifically, the “Which One Is The Woman?” question.

    It seems to me that this is one of the most invasive questions you can possibly ask, it assumes a level of personal intimacy that I don’t share with my best friends (do you know what positions your best friends prefer?), and, apart from that, is pretty goddamn gauche.

    But, on another level, it could be charitably interpreted as reaching out in order to help categorize future interactions. Which one do we invite to the Superbowl party? If the chicks are all going out to have a blood orangtini party, which one do we call and say “put on your best shoes, we’re going out!”?

    I don’t understand the nature of the Ademic Impulse that remains in us… but there seems to be a very large contingent of people who, when they can’t categorize stuff in ways that make sense to them, get very, very upset indeed. You see it when they can’t figure out the gender of a particular person, you see it when they feel entitled to ask “which one is the woman?” of a gay couple.

    There are a hundred ways to be charitable in response to this way of thinking, of course… but it seems to me the most charitable way, in the long run, is to help people let go of what they think they’re entitled to know.Report

    • Avatar Kazzy in reply to Jaybird says:

      “I don’t understand the nature of the Ademic Impulse that remains in us… but there seems to be a very large contingent of people who, when they can’t categorize stuff in ways that make sense to them, get very, very upset indeed.”

      You’re discussing concepts that educational theorists call equilibrium, disequilibrium, assimilation, and accommodation. Though we typically think of these processes happening only in children, they actually happen throughout our life.

      To use a very basic example, a young child might view small furry animals as being either cats or dogs. Every animal is either a cat or dog. They don’t have a formal definition for these categories, but they’re useful enough because, odds are, most small furry animals they encounter are cats or dogs. They are in a state of equilibrium. One day, they encounter a squirrel. Hmmm… it’s not really like the cats OR the dogs. But ya know what? It is more like the cats. So squirrels become cats. They have just assimilated. They assimilated the squirrel into a cat because it needed to fit somewhere and it fit best there. Equilibrium is maintained.

      But soon the child encounters other small furry things… mice and rats and bunnies and gerbils and HOLY FUCKING SHIT, where the hell do they go?!?! Disequilibrium ensues. This can be chaotic, cognitively. Their whole goddamn worldview is shattered. What do you mean there is more than cats and dogs?!?! Look at that one’s ears! And that one’s tail! That one doesn’t even have a tail! HOLY CRAP! Eventually, they accomodate… they change their categories, their definitions. They create new ones, more nuanced ones. They fit these new animals into them. Cats are cats and dogs are dogs and squirrels are neither, nor are the bunnies or mice. Eventually, equilibrium is reached again. Until something else unsettles the balance.

      This is the most basic process of learning. It is typically easier for children because they are more maleable, more elastic, more open to accommodation. For adults, it is harder. Especially if those adults WANT the world to be a certain way. And especially if those adults have the sense of agency to actively desire equilibrium and avoid disequilibrium.

      Put most basically, assimilation is fitting practice to theory: complex but familiar external objects are simplified to fit pre-existant categories in your head. Accommodation is fitting theory to practice: changing the ideas in your head to fit the reality of external objects.Report

      • Avatar NewDealer in reply to Kazzy says:

        Several years ago, I remember reading a piece by Kathryn Lopez at the National Review where she outright admitted to wanting to go back to the 1950s or the idealized version of the 1950s that she had in her head. This basically said “I want to turn back the clock”

        I found her post to be very revealing. I can’t seem to google for it right now. I do find stuff about why she hates contraception from 2011 but it is not the post I remember.Report

        • Avatar Tom Van Dyke in reply to NewDealer says:

          You haven’t left us much to go on here. Did find an interesting interview that says “Today in America, cohabitation now poses a greater risk to children than does divorce. ”

          This I haven’t seen on the national discussion table, but it should be.

          • Avatar Rtod in reply to Tom Van Dyke says:

            Ah! I’ll just chalk that up as another SSM argument, then.Report

            • Avatar Tom Van Dyke in reply to Rtod says:

              Not enough data to know whether it holds for SS, and I’m not going near the Regnerus thing. Just don’t need the noise at the moment.

              I think the co-habiting thing is an interesting angle to get a bit arm’s length from the usual go-round, though, leaving SS out of it for that moment.

              LOPEZ: But isn’t cohabitation at least better than divorce?

              WILCOX: Not from the child’s perspective. This was the most surprising thing to me in reviewing the growing research on cohabitation and children. When it comes to outcomes like education and drug use, kids in cohabiting homes do about as poorly as kids from divorced homes.

              And when it comes to abuse, children in cohabiting homes are much more likely to be abused, compared to kids in stable single-parent homes. In fact, children living with their mother and an unrelated male boyfriend are more than twice as likely to be physically, sexually, or emotionally abused, compared with children living with a single mother who doesn’t bring an unrelated adult into the home.

              So cohabitation seems to pose about as much of a risk to children as does divorce.

              LOPEZ: What’s most harmful about cohabitation?

              WILCOX: I think the instability associated with cohabitation is probably the most harmful thing about it. One study mentioned in the report found that 24 percent of kids born to married parents saw their parents break up by age 12, compared with 65 percent of kids born to cohabiting parents.

              And a lot of new research on kids is telling us that they thrive on routine, stability, and enduring relationships with their caretakers (once known as parents and grandparents). Because cohabitation is so unstable, it dramatically increases the odds that kids who find themselves in cohabiting households will be exposed to a relational carousel, where parents and partners are exiting or entering the home. This instability can be hard for kids to handle.

              LOPEZ: But it’s so mainstream — not just as your numbers demonstrate, but throughout pop culture. It’s now considered a happy ending in a romantic comedy.

              WILCOX: Yes, well life does not imitate art in this regard. Clearly many children do not experience a happy ending when mom and dad cohabit, or — worse yet — when mom and her boyfriend move in together.Report

              • Avatar Ramblin' Rod in reply to Tom Van Dyke says:

                I don’t find this at all surprising.

                Don’t know if it’s related, but my oldest daughter (she just turned 23) revealed to me a few years ago that she was something of an oddball among her friends. Why? Because her bio parents were still married to each other. Everybody else had single parents, divorced parents, step-parents, etc.

                She’s since grown to appreciate that weird can be really good.Report

              • Avatar Jaybird in reply to Ramblin' Rod says:

                “bio parents”

                When I was a kid, I don’t know that this term would have immediately made sense to anyone who heard it.Report

              • Avatar Mike Schilling in reply to Jaybird says:

                As opposed to “adoptive parents”. (More likely “real” parents than “biological parents”, I suppose, which seemed wrong to me even as a youngster.)Report

              • Avatar Jaybird in reply to Mike Schilling says:

                Oh, yeah. I’m down.

                I have friends now who have parents that died with they were very, very young indeed who refer to their stepparents as “Dad”, friends who have a father that they refer to as “the sperm donor”, and, yes, friends who were adopted who refer to their adoptive parents as their “real” parents.

                I’ll stop before I get into a rant about the boomers.Report

              • Avatar Kazzy in reply to Mike Schilling says:

                “I’ll stop before I get into a rant about the boomers.”

                For some reasons, when I first saw this, I read it as “… a rant about boners.”

                I taught a kid who had three dads once. And a mom. Sort of. And he owned his story. Awesome.Report

              • Avatar Mike Schilling in reply to Mike Schilling says:

                What I was thinking of is that back in, probably the late 70s, there was a lot of criticism of closed adoptions by the adoptees, who felt they had a right to know who their “real parents” were. (It was a thing; there were a lot of TV movies about people who sued and/or committed break-ins to get at their records.) And (not that I was in any way affected by this), I thought “You mean ‘biological parents’. Your real parents are the ones who took care of you since you were a baby.”Report

              • Avatar Jaybird in reply to Mike Schilling says:

                I think that the culture has flipped around on that, though.

                Doesn’t “real” mean “the ones who done raised me” now?Report

              • Avatar Kazzy in reply to Mike Schilling says:


                In my limited experience working with children of adoption, that is my understanding of how the phrases are used nowadays.Report

              • Avatar Mike Schilling in reply to Ramblin' Rod says:

                You don’t find it surprising that people who are committed to being there for the whole childhood do a better job than people who are there till they find something newer and hotter? Me either.Report

              • Avatar Mike Schilling in reply to Mike Schilling says:

                But concluding that the same would be true of a same-sex couple? That’s crazy talk.Report

        • Avatar Kazzy in reply to NewDealer says:


          I’m not exactly sure the connection you are making here. For what it’s worth, the process I describe here is a natural one inherent to all humans (and possibly other species). It is not unique to conservatives or indicative of any particular backwards-looking mindset. Rather, it is simply how the human (and, again, maybe other species) brain responds to new information.Report

  24. Avatar Diablo says:

    I seriously do not understand the whole marriage debate at all. Me personally, I will never get married. I don’t need the validation of the government for my personal relationships. My parents have been married going on 40 years and if they have said two words to each other in the last 3 months, I would be shocked. I view marriage as an archaic act based on a bunk of crap that if you want to do it, go for it. Just don’t complain when your going through the joys of a brutal divorce.

    The idea of two men or women getting married is somehow going to hurt the “institution” or sanctity of marriage is freaking hilarious to me as marriage is basically a joke now. I could see this argument back in the 50’s were a politician caught cheating on his wife or getting a divorce would kill his political career. But now we have the likes of Newt Gingrich who manages not only to make a mockery of the act of marriage, but also claim to be a Catholic (which really offends me as one), all the while taking a stand that state recognition of the gays is going to destroy society or some bunk. If Britney Spears can get drunk and wasted in Las Vegas and marry one of her back up dancers for 48 hours, why the hell can’t two men who have been in a loving relationship for over 10 years?

    I really don’t get people who think gays should just sneak off into the shadows and live their lives in shame. As a military vet, I am glad that DADT (the dumbest freaking rule in the history of the military…and that says a LOT!) was finally chucked. Gay marriage is going to happen eventually…may as well just get the darn thing over with.Report

    • Avatar Ramblin' Rod in reply to Diablo says:

      While I understand your cynicism, this: I don’t need the validation of the government for my personal relationships. doesn’t really work.

      A marriage is really a contract between the couple getting married and the rest of society. It has very real consequences entailing both rights and responsibilities. Saying you don’t need society (or the government acting as the administrative arm of society) to “validate” your relationship is akin to saying you don’t need a deed to prove you own a piece of real estate.Report

      • Avatar Diablo in reply to Ramblin' Rod says:

        You are correct and I agree. That is the big reason why I take a dim view on people who take the position that marriage is some sacred religious act, hence the gays must be prevented from enjoying the same rights.

        I still believe that in the long term, any social, financial, and legal benefits of marriage are cancelled out by the eventual divorce, or in my parents case, the decades long simmering arguments and bubbling mutual hatred.

        Again, I am not against anyone taking the plunge. You want to do it, rock on and I hope it works out. I just am of the opinion that arguments against gay marriage makes as much sense as arguments against inter-racial marriage. I still can’t believe we were even discussing that as a nation as late as the freaking 70’s.Report

        • Avatar Ramblin' Rod in reply to Diablo says:

          Like I said, I totally get your cynicism. But it can work if you’re committed to it. We’ve made it work for 27 years now. Not always easy and there were times when, if we hadn’t had children, we probably would have split up. But I think it’s been worth it.

          Also, I should have said as well that I totally agree with your last two paragraphs. I’m just one of these people that will quietly nod when I’m in agreement but then get all uppity and have to actually… you know… respond when I disagree with something. It’s a bad character trait. 😉Report

        • Avatar Johanna in reply to Diablo says:

          I’ll ditto R Rod. I would add that my also 20+ year marriage has only solidified my support for SSM.Report