Saturday, November 15, 2008

here come the brides and grooms

My friend Steven had a very interesting post on Prop 8 recently. Like him, I have always been ambivalent about the institution of marriage. My parents had a rocky one, and when my mom left after the nest emptied, it was a tough one for all concerned. I'm sure divorce is hard on small children, but let me tell you, it isn't any easier on 21-year-olds, either.

I've been reading a lot about Eleanor of Aquitaine recently. I like to go back and forth between actual histories and good historical fiction, like the trilogy by Sharon Kay Penman. The fiction gets me into the period, and the non-fiction gives me the facts and figures. Eleanor was one of history's strongest women, with the vast lands of Aquitaine as her birthright. Her marriages to two kings, Louis Capet of France and Henry II of England, played out as battles to hold onto those lands, and later, to try to secure them for her favorite son, Richard (of Lionheart fame.)

Eleanor's status as a woman prevented her from physically or legally fighting for her own rights. She was unable to give Louis a male heir, which resulted in the end of that marriage. She wasn't allowed to see the two daughters she bore him once the marriage ended. She instigated her sons by Henry to defy their father with disastrous results. Marriage in the 12th and 13th century was beneficial primarily for the man, whether king or commoner.

The question is, with the "women's movement," have things improved all that much? Do women get equal pay or equal consideration as their male counterparts in the workplace? Sometimes. Do women with children get treated differently than their childless female co-workers? You better believe it. As a single mom, I'm the head of household, chief cook, bottle-washer and breadwinner. I guess I have more of a say over my destiny than the great Quean Eleanor did. So that's something.

I don't believe that marriage (no offense to President-elect Obama) is a matter to do with religion. I hate to tell the bible thumpers who seem the most up in arms about this issue, but medieval folks were a lot more devout than we are today, and marriage was still viewed primarily as a legal contract. It was important to legally document the heirs to an estate. A child born out of wedlock could not inherit, no exceptions. Where is God in all this?

I want all people to have the same rights and opportunities in our modern world. I don't want government to keep getting entangled in personal rights, whether it be who can marry whom, who can adopt a child, Roe v. Wade, etc. I find it interesting that marriage, an institution that has seemed on the wane, is getting so much attention. It will be interesting to see how our new president deals this issue while trying to drag us all into the new millenium.


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