(WOMENSENEWS)–The Senate Judiciary Committee earlier this month passed a bill to repeal the 1996 Defense of Marriage Act, or DOMA, which defines and limits marriage as "a legal union between one man and one woman as husband and wife."
The vote has garnered support from a number of state-level politicians too, including Washington State Sen. Ed Murray and California Gov. Gerry Brown, who has called DOMA "a strain on our common values."
If passed, the repeal bill–the Respect for Marriage Act–would provide federal protection to couples married in states that recognize same-sex marriages and also provide national leadership on the issue. Same-sex marriage is not currently a federal issue, although DOMA blurs the line for states.
Repealing DOMA would provide a huge landmark for lesbian and gay rights in the remaining 44 states where same-sex marriage is illegal.
Same-sex marriage is a key issue on my radar because it feels like the equivalent of the civil rights battles for previous generations. Bans on same-sex marriage are one of the remaining examples of flagrant discrimination.
When New York State’s Gay Marriage Act went into effect in July, I planted myself on the corner of Worth and Center Street in lower Manhattan as a reporter for Women’s eNews and watched upwards of 8,000 same-sex couples line the streets of New York City to declare their love for each other, sign marriage papers and join legions of heterosexual New Yorkers who have done the same.
The event raised my morale, made me feel hopeful about humanity and about the future of our political discourse, all because of one main feeling that everyone could relate to: love.
Three Months Later
Fast forward three months, when I was sitting in my off-campus college apartment watching commercials for "Kim Kardashian’s Fairytale Wedding: A Kardashian Event" on E! and "Say Yes to the Dress" on TLC.
Meanwhile, some young women on campus have started putting college boyfriends dead-center in their post-graduation plans. They are key factors in their equations when applying for jobs all around the country.
For them, the mainstream cultural idea of a big, white wedding–$10,000 dresses, thousand dollar wedding cakes and all–is apparently recession-proof and an inescapable destiny, even as other members of our generation are occupying the country’s parks and common grounds to protest social inequity.
I draw back from all this, which makes me realize a paradox: I passionately advocate for gay marriage rights, but have no interest in getting married myself. How can I simultaneously feel so passionate about same-sex marriage and yet cynical about entering a conventional heterosexual marriage myself?
It’s not that I don’t believe in love, happiness or tax breaks. But I still wonder about the limits of equality between men and women within this age-old arrangement.
In the 19th century, becoming a wife meant relinquishing the right to owning property, making a will and earning a salary. Until quite recently, a married U.S. woman couldn’t take out a bank loan without her husband.
The confinements to certain kinds of work and the blockage from higher education options–Columbia University, for example, didn’t accept women until 1983–required women to depend on their husbands for survival. Within the marital system of "protection," well-known abuses persist, in the form of domestic violence and sexual battery.
Enjoying the Rewards
Yes, we’ve come a long way since the days of bartering brides in exchange for dowries, but as of now, I’m content to enjoy some of the rewards of a generation that isn’t so dependent on marriage. I’m not eager to join a tradition that expects me to change my last name to that of my male counterpart and have my father walk me down the aisle and pass me over to my husband.
I support those friends who want to enter the heterosexual marriage culture–and perhaps continue to update it–but for me it’s not tempting.
And I’m not alone in my hesitation to rush to the altar.
Despite the seeming wedding mood all around me on campus and on TV, Census figures in May found Americans waiting longer to get married and the median age for marriage last year was 26 for women, up from 22 in 1980.
Since 1986, the number of women ages 25 to 29 who have never married has jumped sharply, to 47 percent from 27 percent.
Women with better jobs, women with more education and women enjoying the single life (cue "Sex and the City" here) are all possible explanations.
These same women have also become increasingly liberal and progressive in our ideology and political discourse. The Gallup Poll reported in May 2011 that for the first time a majority of Americans, 53 percent, believe the law should recognize same-sex marriage.
The same report implies that the future of legal same-sex marriage rests with America’s youth: 70 percent among those aged 18 to 34 support same-sex marriage in comparison to 39 percent among those 55 and older.
Apparently, many other young women, like me, avidly support same-sex marriage without any strong, urgent interest in entering the institution themselves.
We must be a concern and target of the social conservatives; perhaps one of the reasons they are barrage-attacking reproductive rights is to drive us back into the walls of marriage.
But that won’t work for me.
I am pro-equality, pro-rights and pro-choice and I think this is true for many in my generation. It all boils down to an individual’s right to choose and the government’s role in enabling these rights as American citizens. As the saying goes, same-sex couples have every right to be just as miserable as straight couples.
Perhaps one day I’ll grow up and change my mind about getting married. Maybe I’ll find a way to honor my family’s religious and cultural tradition without compromising my own values. Maybe I’ll decide that it’s financially beneficial to sign legal documentation with a long-time partner.
Or perhaps, better yet, I’ll throw logic out the window, follow my heart, and wind up in a white wedding after all. But it would have to happen like that; while I’m making other plans.
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Krystie Lee Yandoli is a freelance writer and student at Syracuse University.