Ramblings: The "Traditional Sense of Marriage"

Scrolling through my Facebook feed the other morning I randomly came across a Frank Bruni article in the New York Times posted by a friend. The article in question is about Liz Cheney’s views on gay marriage while her own sister is happily married to a woman, causing a rift within her own family. That people have these anti-gay marriage views and choose to go public about them is fine in my book. I do not agree with them in any way or form and am happy to discuss my own views in public, but we all are allowed the freedom of our own choices and views of the world, and of other people. It wasn’t really the whole “Liz Cheney is against gay marriage” part that struck me, I’m not really that surprised, although I don’t really know how one can go from completely accepting your gay sister’s marriage to another woman, to then rejecting it in the name of politics. No, it was more the phrase “the traditional sense of marriage” that stuck with me.

My mind started reeling as it often does when faced with a question: what on earth is the “traditional sense of marriage” nowadays? I suppose it is meant to mean the union of a man and a woman with a following of children… Which I do suppose traditionally was what marriage meant in the eyes of a god of some sort. I don’t want so specify which religion and which god, because that will lead to a whole other discussion. So yes, the union of man and woman together til death do they part. The problem is how far back in time can we go to find this “traditional sense of marriage”? Back in the late 19th century, early 20th century, before women started fighting for the right to vote? Before the 1940’s when women started doing jobs that previously were reserved for men, and at the same time started wearing trousers en masse (oh the horror!)? Maybe that doesn’t count, because women were only doing those jobs because the men were overseas trying to save us all from the Nazis and the Japanese. Maybe the image that we get of the 50’s, before the feminist movement started back up again in full force, woman at home cooking and cleaning, father at work? 

Don’t get me wrong, I have nothing against marriage at all, nor anything against a family where the man works and the woman stays at home. I’m just trying to find a marker of what this “traditional sense of marriage” actually is. Because even within this “tradition” of man marrying woman there are so many levels of dysfunction/difference/anti-tradition that I don’t know where to start. Let’s start with divorce. If the “traditional sense of marriage” is based on man marrying woman “until death do us part” then technically divorcing and remarrying goes against any type of tradition. And therefore marrying again, even if it is still man marrying woman, is not a marriage in the traditional sense. Right?

If you think that the “traditional sense of marriage” can only be between a woman and a man because only a woman and a man can conceive together, then what about all of the married men and women who cannot conceive, due to infertility or other issues? What if they use infertility treatment, adopt or use surrogates? Sperm banks? Yet again, absolutely nothing wrong with this, but in the end, does this not defy any type of “traditionalist” views? If a man and a woman want a child so much that they will go to great lengths to have their own, what is wrong with two men or two women doing the same? Isn’t the whole point of marriage being a union between two people who love each other, and the whole point of having a child being a “product” of that union of love, a being that the married couple will raise as best they can, bringing into the world a little human that contains part of each of them. And that goes to adopted children too – by loving and teaching and being with a child you give them part of yourself that they will cherish forever.

It just gets more and more complicated. I certainly did not grow up in an environment where the traditional sense of marriage was observed (although my parents were married when I was conceived). I always wondered what it would be like to grow up in a family that I saw as “traditional”, and it always surprised me when I had friends who had a father and a mother and lived in a home where the mother didn’t work and the father did. This isn’t a bad thing at all – I cherish my upbringing and feel that it made me into who I am. And my friends who had more “traditional” upbringings loved to listen to my stories and were often jealous of the different experiences I had. In the end “traditional” or “non-traditional” we were all loved and cared for and given the best chances our parents could offer, despite any set-backs they may have encountered. Rather that than being part of those horror stories of neglect and abuse that we hear way too much of in the news.

I’m also not in a traditional relationship, even if I am a woman and my partner is a man. Sometimes we have to struggle with a past relationship still being present, and I would maybe like to get married later on, but this is not stopping us bringing a child into the world, and giving that child the best life that we will be able to provide for her. Because we love each other, and I think this transcends any type of wedding license. In my opinion that is. I don’t need to marry my partner, but I am happy that I have the choice to. If I loved a woman I would feel exactly the same way. Love itself doesn’t set standards or boundaries, does it? So why should we set them? When two people feel the same way about each other, why restrict them on their option to marry if they really want to? In this day and age what is still making people that love between two people of the same sex is wrong? 

Back to my main question… What on earth is this “traditional sense of marriage” today? I keep racking my brain and it just brings up more questions. Instead of preaching about how things should stay “traditional”, maybe we should start advocating change and showing the next few generations that it’s ok to be brought up in different environments with parents that may differ from the norm that was dictated to us last century. Let’s stop making children they are different because they their parents aren’t the same as other children’s parents. There is way too much hate in this world as it is, let’s stop creating it needlessly.

Thoughts: Violence/Non-Violence/Terrorism/Revolution

I started writing this years ago, lost what I was writing, and then started again a few months ago based on something I heard on the news. I then left it sitting for a while and picked it up again today to try to wrap it up. That ended up being literally impossible as I just asked myself more questions than I could even answer and realised that I could just go on forever asking the same questions. So I just closed it out with a "To be continued..." and will continue on my musings, probably after I have finished Mark Kurlansky's Non-Violence: The History of a Dangerous Idea, as this may give me further ideas to discuss.

Every day you switch on your television, phone, computer or radio and you hear the word “terrorist” in all types of news flashes. It will be used in connection with any act of violence committed against a government or a country, or on a group of people by another group of people. We hear about demonstrations and protests and tear gas and violence and non-violence and rebellion and oppressing governments and public uprisings. We hear about sit-ins in public squares, of students being arrested and of protestors being shot at. We hear about air strikes in other countries, about dictatorships being brought down from the inside and from the outside, about dictatorships being pandered to and blind eyes being turned. Public uprisings become acts of terrorism and lawful mass murder gets swept under the carpet. Acts of terrorism are stopped in their tracks while others are successful. Successful democratic elections are held in war-torn countries while at the same time in others women are still not allowed to leave the house without a male companion. One day you will hear about the Palestinian terrorist who blew himself up on the bus on the way to Tel Aviv, but the people who in return pounded Gaza with an airstrike are called soldiers. Gaddafi called the rebels seeking to bring him down terrorists, but to the rest of the world they were portrayed as saviours, and were given the help they needed to fight for and win their cause. Where can you even start discussing this topic? Words are open to a different interpretation by each individual. One man’s terrorist is another man’s freedom fighter; one man’s popular uprising is another man’s violent revolution. The main keyword here is “violence”.
Oxford Dictionary definitions:
- Terrorism: the use of violence and intimidation in the pursuit of political aims.
- Terrorist: a person who uses terrorism in the pursuit of political aims. (Origin: late 18th century: from French terroriste, from Latin terror (see terror). The word was originally applied to supporters of the Jacobins in the French Revolution, who advocated repression and violence in pursuit of the principles of democracy and equality).
- Freedom Fighter: a person who takes part in a violent struggle to achieve a political goal, especially in order to overthrow their government.
- Demonstrator: a person who takes part in a public protest meeting or march.
- Protestor: a person who publicly demonstrates strong objection to something; a demonstrator
- Violence: behavior involving physical force intended to hurt, damage, or kill someone or something; the unlawful exercise of physical force or intimidation by the exhibition of such force.
- Non-violence: the use of peaceful means, not force , to bring about political or social change.
I remember having these thoughts going over and over in my brain years ago, through many an occasion. In the past, or more my past, so the late 70’s and the 80’s, even maybe the early 90’s too, it seems that the media had a specific group of terrorists that it had pointed out and referred to: Palestinian (or more specifically, Hamas or Hezbollah), IRA, Libyan. Nobody (in the general public) cared or really knew about anything else – these were the organized groups that blew people up (including themselves in some cases) and spread fear across countries. Small to large acts of violence that were sure to make it to the newsreels as soon as they happened. I’m not saying that this really was all that there was, but this is what we were fed by the media. IRA bad, Palestinians bad, Libyans bad (or were they always bad – I know that the US government supported Gaddafi at some point in time, but then turned around at another point, but that is a little off-topic for now). “Good” was what was called “Democracy” and “Freedom”; “Bad” was anything that we couldn’t fit into the definitions of “Democracy” and “Freedom”. This didn’t always match with the real definitions of these words, but yet again, semantics are the main tool in politics: words take on meaning in the way you choose to interpret them. Social uprisings against totalitarian governments are applauded, and aided in some cases. People fighting for freedom are called rebels, and rebels are considered revolutionaries. But of course revolutionaries can be good or bad, depending on how it is portrayed to you in the media and how you interpret it. If I had stood on CNN or BBC and tell you in a deeply emotional speech how good Saddam Hussein was for Iraq and how much he had done for the US, instead of hearing the words “weapons of mass destruction” and “nuclear war” thrown about, the public opinion on the man himself may have been different. It’s all about what you see and what you read about. Seeing as most people get their news from the most popular channels on television and maybe a newspaper or two, you can only expect most people to believe what they read and see. Not that our media is always wrong, but it’s not always right either. In the end it is just a form of communication, and also a form of propaganda, because communication via the media is the best way to get a message/thought/intent across to the general public. So, in the end, it is up to us to make our own opinions up, and to research alternative viewpoints and ideas.
I myself define freedom as the right to live in the way I want to, within the boundaries of society – meaning that I, as a person, respect the lives and lifestyles of others, and expect the same in return. Freedom means the right to free speech and education, the right to worship any god I want to (or don’t want to) without persecution. Freedom also means the equality of all human beings, no matter where they come from and where they end up. Freedom means that I can portray my thoughts and opinions without worrying about being persecuted. Freedom does not mean that I can kill another human being and/or many human beings because I do not agree with what he/she or they believe in, or just because I don’t like them. But I do rebel against the society I live in, in a non-violent fashion. I disagree with many of the politics of the country I live in, I pretty much always have, no matter what country I have been in. There is always something I will disagree with and want to fight against. But I have mainly lived in countries where I can open my mouth and protest about something that I think is wrong – I don’t know what I would have done if I had grown up in a country where I was openly oppressed and where I could not speak my mind. How would I have rebelled against this? Would I have just tried to live my life within the boundaries set for me or would I have tried to break away and change things, by any means possible?
During WW2 the French Resistance and the Russian partisans blew up buildings and strategic areas that would damage the German advances and army (trains, ammunition dumps, prisons etc), killed traitors who worked with the Germans and basically did anything they could to revolt against the German occupation. I feel that I would have done the same. These days with the technology that we have it would probably be a lot more difficult to actually rebel/revolt in the same fashion and stay in hiding, so if this type of war were ever to occur again, how would the people stand up and fight? How would one fight against an occupation? This al comes back to the same topic I started off with in the beginning… What can be considered an occupation, a revolution, an act of terrorism and an act of rebellion? In the end, where violence is used the result will always be the death of one or multiple people, innocent or guilty, and that is something that those committing acts of violence, those living through them, and those dealing with the aftermath will always have to deal with. Terrorism is always going to hurt the “innocent” first, because the “innocent” are the ones targeted and the ones who will be damaged. While typing this another thought comes to mind… If a group of people planning to blow up a subway station in NYC are considered a group of terrorists then why aren’t a group of government army fighters in Sudan considered terrorists when they destroy a village and kill all of the inhabitants by locking them in a house and setting it on fire? I feel that once I started writing this piece it just opened a bottomless can of worms, as one idea comes up, followed by several contradicting ideas, and more images and questions that anyone can really answer. Words are simple, but once they are used to determine a specific group of people or a specific act become complex. As I have said before… It all comes down to your own interpretation, and how you are then going to portray this interpretation to others.
To be continued…

Inspiration – Ayat Al-Gormezi

A few weeks ago I posted about the uprising in Bahrain and how it was quashed by the Bahraini government and pretty much ignored by the rest of the world. If you watched the Al Jazeera documentary that stemmed my original post you probably shed a few tears in the same way I did and wondered why Bahrain was ignored when other countries weren’t. The answers to those questions are pretty self-explanatory, even to an idealist like myself (cynical idealist is probably a better way of putting it). In any case, out of this uprising came a young woman who should be a source of inspiration to us all. No matter what your religion, skin colour or personal beliefs are, we all have the right to live in freedom, to speak freely and to be able to live our lives without having to constantly check our backs to make sure we are not being followed or spied on.

During the popular uprising of Bahrain in the spring of 2011, Ayat Al-Gormezi, a 20 year old student and poet recited a poem that criticized the Bahraini government and its policies. She was subsequently arrested, subjected to psychological and physical harassment and most possibly torture and sentenced to a year in jail. Her family was also subjected to major harassment before and after her arrest, and they had no idea where she was being held or what had happened to her. With other vocal public figures that had been arrested during the uprising turning up dead, I assume that her family would expect the worst every day. Ayat was eventually tried without any type of representation (not even allowed to represent herself) and charged with a year in prison for "incitement to hatred of the regime", "insulting members of the royal family" and "illegal assembly” – all because she used freedom of speech to express her views on the way the government was treating the Bahraini people.

She was subsequently released, but remains on house arrest, and was forced to make a public apology on television to the king and the prime minister. All for using her creativity and art to express how she, and a whole nation, feels about the way they are being governed. Imprisoning her and subjecting her to abuse just because she spoke her mind is to me a form of extreme censorship and dictatorship. Ayat Al-Gormezi continues to advocate her thoughts through other channels outside of Bahrain and will not be silenced.

I don’t think I need to explain why Ayat Al-Gormezi is an inspiration to me, as well as to many others – without fear she walked on stage and spoke her mind in front of thousands, and consequently was imprisoned and suffered for speaking her mind against governmental injustices. I doubt that she will ever really be silenced, and for this she should be celebrated. I feel that if we all stood up and spoke our minds a little more there would be a little less suffering in this world and a little more activism.

Here is Ayat reading her poem on stage last year, with English subtitles:

Here is a blog about Ayat: http://ayat-algormezi.blogspot.com/

Here is the forced apology on national Bahraini TV (with English translation):