E.J. Graff, the author of What Is Marriage For? The Strange Social History of Our Most Intimate Institution, is a visiting researcher at Brandeis University's Women's Studies Research Center and a contributing editor at the Prospect.
Imagine for a moment that we live in an alternate universe where the United States is openly hostile to lesbians and gay men. How hostile? Well, in this world, the liberal state of Massachusetts bans lesbians and gay men from being foster parents. The only gay person you might find on TV -- and you'd have to search hard -- is either a lisping hairdresser or a young man tragically dying. Three Maine teenagers confess that they've thrown a young man over a bridge to his death because he's gay, and the national media don't even notice; ditto when hundreds of thousands of lesbians and gay men hold a civil-rights march on the nation's capitol. The U.S.
Imagine waking up one morning to the news that because of a recent court decision, you may no longer be your child's legal parent. Forget all those times you've read Goodnight Moon, those long nights you spent in a steam-filled bathroom trying to keep your sick child breathing. In the eyes of the law, you may suddenly be just a kind stranger. No emergency room, insurance plan, schoolteacher, tax man, or judge will count you as essential to your child.
Killer Woman Blues: Why Americans Can't Think Straight about Gender and Power, Benjamin DeMott. Houghton Mifflin, 256 pages, $26.00.
What do we talk about when we talk about feminism? That depends on what we think about women in general and contemporary culture in particular. Are we talking about makeup-free women with long, gray braids who, back in the hippie days, saved other women's lives by winning Roe v. Wade and haven't noticed that things have changed since? Are we talking about "zine" and Webcam culture, and activists organizing against sweatshops, and rocker grrrls and hip-hop queens with tribal tattoos and platinum or African-beaded hair?
Shouldn't it be enough of a task in life to find meaningful work and love, those north and south poles of happiness? No: The human animal, like so many of its two- and four- and many-legged kin, also has an enduring need to establish social hierarchies. And that job--figuring out your rank and edging it upward--requires acute attention in American culture, which is constantly reshuffling the terms of success. Tocqueville was one of the first to warn that Americans are ever-anxious about the social precipice, the real possibility of plummeting from upper- or middle-class respectability.
Marriage is between one man and one woman: 30 states and the federal government have passed laws insisting that it's so--and on March 7, Californians will vote whether to join them. As a result--or, more accurately, because of the money, rhetoric, and time the American right wing has spent ringing alarums about same-sex marriage and forcing lesbian and gay organizations into a fight they didn't choose--my marriage to another woman will almost certainly be legally recognized in my lifetime.