Tuesday, April 30, 2013

Marriage Manifesto, Part II: Separation of Church and State

What does it mean to be married? There are two lenses through which this question can be answered. There's legal marriage as recognized by our government. Then, there's spiritual marriage as recognized by the church, or "god."

It is unfortunate that the word "marriage" is used for both religious and legal unions. As the current conflict over whom should be allowed to marry whom is a failure to separate church and state.

Spiritual Marriage

From a monotheistic religious viewpoint, the government does not define the parameters of marriage. Instituted by "god" through "sacred" texts, the institution of marriage is the ownership of a woman transferred from her father to her new husband. (Discussed in Marriage Manifesto, Part I: A Biblical History.)

The New Testament updates this a little bit, stating that the husband's and wife's bodies belong to each other (1 Corinthians 7). Still a far cry from personal civil rights. In more recent history, though, Christian marriage is one man with one woman.

What's important here is that America's Religious Right sees marriage as validated by "god" and not by earthly authorities. This is why gay marriage will never be acceptable. The Bible says that "men who practice homosexuality" (1 Corinthians 6) have "committed an abomination" (Leviticus 20). They will not "inherit the kingdom of God" (1 Corinthians 6). I guess this is supposed to be some kind of threat? Anyway, I digress. 

The Religious Right cannot accept gay marriage because it is not compatible with "god's" words in the Bible. Sadly, it is not the recognition of a spiritual marriage that the homosexual community is seeking. (At least as I understand it. Please correct me if I'm wrong.) All these queers want is to visit their partners in the fucking hospital and receive health care benefits for fuck's sake. These are legal issues, and not a place where the church should be sticking it's nose.

Legal Marriage

A legal marriage is a union between to individuals that is recognized by the state. This is a union mutually agreed upon (hopefully) by two adults. In the eyes of the law, the two individuals are considered to be bound together in the same way that biological family members are tied together. Married individuals are the closest kin a person can have.

Those who are legally married have rights that unmarried folks don't have. Like visitation rights in jail or the hospital, legal guardianship of children, and benefits offered through employers. Does "god" really object to who visits a dying man? Would "god" care if a same-sex parent signed a field trip permission slip? Is "god" really offended when Lipstick gets her cavity filled using her partner's insurance?

Legal marriage is about choosing your family, selecting who is financially, functionally, and personally responsible for you and to you. Bible Thumpers will never abdicate the definition of "marriage." So, maybe it's time to reify legal unions with a term that isn't dripping with doctrine. Part III will address where we go from here.

Tuesday, April 23, 2013

Marriage Manifesto, Part I: A Biblical History

Advocates for one man, one woman marriages base their argument on Christian values and "God's plan" for marriage. An examination of Biblical passages regarding marriage, however, reveals this traditional model is not a Biblical concept.

Marriage is not about sex or love, it's about ownership, property.

In Biblical times. woman were viewed as property. A man who had reached a certain amount of status and wealth sought to marry/own a wife. Exodus 20:17: “You shall not covet your neighbor's house; you shall not covet your neighbor's wife, or his male servant, or his female servant, or his ox, or his donkey, or anything that is your neighbor's.” Wives were the property of their husbands, same as his servants and asses.

A woman's sexuality was also his property. Her sexuality belonged to her father until he sold/married her to her husband, or the highest bidder. Men were permitted to have sex with their slaves as this was also their property. The major difference between wives and slaves was the status of offspring. Legitimate male babies were in line to inherit their father's wealth. Legitimate female babies could be sold as a wife. Any illegitimate offspring would only demand the price of a slave, male or female.

Nowhere in the Bible does it say marriage is between one man and one woman.

Today, rich men collect expensive cars, large estates or private islands. The nomadic Patriarchs collected beautiful women to display their wealth. Men were permitted to have as may wives as they could afford. More wives meant a greater number of offspring, another symbol of wealth.

Women, however, could not have more than one husband, as she could only be owned by one man at a time. Having sex with a man who was not her husband was considered adultery and punishable by death. Think about that the next time you take your friend's expensive car out for a joy ride.

Even in the New Testament, while polygamous marriage was less common, women were still the property of their husbands. Permitted to speak to other men only in very limited circumstances.

There are no instances where Jesus or any of the New Testament writers specifically define marriage as one man with one woman.This is because it is assumed that the Law of Moses (read: Old Testament) statutes still apply. If Jesus wanted to deviate from the Jewish Law - which the Jews of his time followed literally - he would have spoken directly on the matter.

There is no such thing as "the way it's always been."

Monogamous marriage has only existed as the cultural norm for the last couple of centuries. The option of choosing one's marriage partner (at least for women) has only been realized in the last 200 years.

Views on societal norms are changing, have always been changing, and will continue to change long after you and I have vacated the planet. Only 200 years ago, slavery was viewed as "the way it has always been and always will be."

There is no final destination when it comes to defining human relationships. How we define them will change as we come to understand oursevles better individually and collectively.

Tuesday, April 16, 2013

Opting Out of Opinion

Sitting Upright No Matter What

Whatever appears
Sit upright in it,
Neither hoping
You can endure,

Nor fearing you can't.

Just sit upright with
Poise and grace.

And have no opinion
About your circumstances.

A student asked,
"How does one have no opinions about one's circumstances?"

Have no opinion there either.
-Zen Master Dae Gak from Upright with Poise and Grace 

I've recently been thinking about opinions, and how you don't always have to have one. Someone presents an argument or an issue, and everyone assumes you have to come down on one side or the other. But you don't. It's nice to just let your mind stay in that openness.

When I was a teenager I thought entirely in black and white. Mostly this originated from my Christian upbringing. Everything was either awesome (a blessing from God) or horrible (the devil is after me). Nothing could ever just be. 

Having no opinion isn't the same as not caring, though. Caring about the outcome and those affected by it is crucial. At times, I've felt obligated to have an opinion or takes sides on an issue. Not having the option of no opinion has pushed me, on occasion, to not care at all. Politics would be a good example of this. You can get that apathetic mindset and completely opt out.

If you allow your mind to just stay open but still care, without getting attached to one side or the outcome, it helps you stay engaged.

I've been feeling a little guilty lately about not taking sides on the recent gay marriage issue. It's all people are talking about on Facebook. And I have lots of gay friends whom I love dearly. Not that I don't think everyone should have equal rights. I'm just not sure legalized marriage is the answer -- for anyone, not just gays. (A blog post for another day ...) And ultimately, I really have no opinion either way.

I certainly empathize with those who have had their rights denied to them because of sexual orientation, lifestyle choices, gender, race, age, the list goes on endlessly. However, the real problem here isn't the laws, it's the culture. It's the mindset and the paradigm of those making and enforcing the laws. All of my blessings and kudos to those solid souls who take this on as their role in this world.

I've decided that not having an opinion allows me as an individual to care for those who need it in the best way I know how, without getting caught up in sides and politics. I can relax into my life without having to "fight" for one cause or another. I've decided to display my platform, my beliefs, though my my life, my words, my actions, how I raise my children, how I treat others.

This is my subtle way of changing hearts and minds to a way of existing that doesn't need laws to tell people the right way to treat each other. Sitting upright with poise and grace, as the Zen master says.

Tuesday, April 9, 2013

Possessive Language and Relationships

I've got a beef with the way we talk about relationships by using possessive language. Is the problem with the language itself or with us who are using it?

Let me explain. I melt over stupid love songs played on the radio as much as the next chick. But I absolutely cringe when these songs contain possessive phrases like, "I've gotta have you," (Taylor Swift's 22) "I'm yours," (Jason Mraz's I'm Yours), and I'm sure you can think of your own sappy lyrics to add to this list.

There is some instinct in each of us when we see something beautiful we want to have it. We want to hold on to it, and put it away in a drawer or up on a wall. It's not the "thing" that we really want, of course. It's the feeling we got when we first laid eyes on that butterfly flitting through the weeds. The feeling we have when we someone beautiful or handsome smiles at us. The feeling we get laying naked next to someone we love and feeling loved in return. It's the feeling we want, but it is impossible to physically hold on to a feeling. So, instead, we make it our mission to possess the thing that gave us the feeling.

Why is this a problem? What makes these precious moments such an emotional high is that they are free and spontaneous. If you clip that gorgeous tulip and bring it indoors, it will look much the same for 24 hours, but after that it will begin to lose the very essence you craved it for in the first place. Neither being possessed nor possessing bring back that original sense of wonder.

It is not romantic to feel like someone owns you, except maybe if you're BDSM, but we'll set those folks aside for now. (Nothing personal, you just complicate my argument a bit. Feel free to follow up with your own BDSM model of healthy possessiveness.) The real problem is that with all of these cultural messages telling us that love owns or controls us, we start to believe it. We truly start to think, If I can't control my beloved then he doesn't really love me. If I don't have a solitary claim to her affection then I've lost her.

As polyfolk, of course, we know that's not true. We've lived it. But there are still people out there who think like that. And it's not just control over outside relationships these "lovers" want control of. We've all met this type: my girlfriend can only dress a certain way, can only be out so late, can only talk to members of the same sex, on and on it goes. This is love?

Perhaps a possessive person behaves this is the way to keep from getting hurt? Controlling my beloved's behavior and relationships will make me feel safe, and I will never be in danger of losing the good feeling her love brings me. First of all, this is a completely self-absorbed mode of thinking. I might be hurt, so you're not allowed ...

Secondly, I don't know about you, but I only want to be with someone who wants to be with me. I don't want to spend my precious time with someone who's there only because I make them. That makes me feel even less desired and loved than if I was just alone.

Before my husband and I opened up our relationship, we had had many talks about how we didn't want to be in a relationship with each other just because we were married, because we felt we were stuck. We were clear with each other, saying, "I only want you to be here with me, if that's what you really want." The point was to get rid of the idea that we somehow laid claim to the desires of the other.

Not putting demands or guilt trips on a loved one means that when they are there with you, that's where they really want to be! And that feels great! This is not to say you shouldn't ask for what you want and communicate your needs to your partners. These are requests, however, not demands. And turning down a partner's request carries no threat of repercussion. The goal of any loving relationship is to love your partner, not keep them "locked up" for your own gratification.

Where did we ever get this idea that LOVE = CONTROL? (*Sigh* Alright BDSM, go to town ...)

Monday, April 1, 2013

Diluting Disappointment

In the poly world it seems that jealousy often equates to the Boogie Man. But recently, I have come to recognize my own acute sensitivity to disappointment. When I am disappointed by a person, an event, even myself at times, the nightmare in my closet emerges. Disappointment is my Jealousy.

I took me some time to come to this epiphany. I mean, for most people, disappointment isn't exactly on the same level with Jealousy. So what's the big deal?

I started to recognize a pattern in my relationships. Someone would fail to live up to one of my expectations. It could be as simple as cancelling a date, or a repeated irritation like leaving a mess of globby toothpaste on the sink.

My initial reaction is anger. How could they do this to me! For toothpaste-like infractions, I might even launch stupid angry phrases at my beloved: Why do you keep doing this?! Don't you know how much it upsets me?! It makes very little sense to anyone just looking at the messy sink, but the issue goes deeper than that.

Next, I start to feel worthless. If he's cancelled our date, I must have done something wrong. I must not be good enough. And, finally, abandonment: He doesn't really want to be with me. If he did, he'd clean up the sink every night. *Sigh* I am a silly girl.

I'm not a naturally jealous person. So, it made no sense to me why I would care if a partner decided to take the evening to pursue other interests. It became plainly obvious to me that this was my issue when my lover wasn't even going to meet up with someone else. He just needed some personal time. Can a sane person really be jealous of that? Hmmm, seems I'm fresh out of bodies to blame.

Being with the same partner for ten years has helped me to step back and look really hard at my own reactions: Is this something to be upset about? What is really going on here? And separating reality from the crazy, delusional distopian fantasy my anxiety invents.

Freud would be thrilled to hear me say that it all goes back to my mother. I really try not to blame things on her any more. And I certainly don't think my problems are all her fault. But she had tendency when I was growing up to leave me places, forget to pick me up, disappear until well after midnight, etc. So, when she disappointed me by not coming to my choir concert, poetry reading, tennis match, extra-special, extra curricular, well, my childhood psyche felt worthless. And, in time, psychologically abandoned. Though there were times I was physically abandoned as well.

BAZINGA! (I ♥ Sheldon.) So now, knowing the situations that trigger my disappointment/abandonment, and understanding where these pesky emotions come from, I have an arsenal of reassurances in place. I haven't gotten to the point where I need to write them down, but I'm not too proud if it gets that far.

Also, I am blessed to be married to such an understanding soul. He sees my emotions for what they are: powerful disillusionment. He doesn't discount how debilitating they feel. And he's willing to serve up reassurances as necessary.

Regardless of the strong emotions I feel, they belong to me. Blaming my rotten feelings on the actions of others won't ever make me feel better and, in the long run, may actually make me feel worse by driving away those people actually willing to put up my crazy.