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Prop 8 Ruling: “Antiquated” Gender Roles Should Not Define Marriage

August 5, 2010

[caption id="attachment_9654" align="alignleft" width="236" caption="Photocredit: Mike Linksvayer"]Vaughn Walker[/caption] Judge Vaughn R. Walker’s decision on Wednesday to strike down California’s ban on same-sex marriage was certainly a triumph over discrimination, not only for same-sex couples in California, but for women across America.  Reaching beyond a statement on orientation, or the ways in which our government confers benefits to citizens, Judge Walker’s was ultimately a treatise on gender and the ways in which we define it. In one of the most significant lines of his 136-page ruling, he declares traditional gender roles outdated and irrelevant to marriage law:
"The evidence shows that the movement of marriage away from a gendered institution and toward an institution free from state-mandated gender roles reflects an evolution in the understanding of gender rather than a change in marriage."
Furthermore, without taking reproduction into account, the state cannot define a husband as legally distinct from a wife.  By legalizing same-sex marriage, Walker insists, the state would not redefine marriage. Rather, it would ensure that its purpose is the modernly-accepted union of equals, rather than the union of a dominant man and a submissive woman.  As Walker wrote, “Proposition 8 harms the state’s interest in equality, because it mandates that men and women be treated differently based only on antiquated and discredited notions of gender.” To require husbands to identify as men is no different from requiring that Supreme Court justices, homeowners, or taxpayers be men.  Historically, women were excluded from these rights, and we consider that ludicrous. Now, as we explore gender’s fluidity and boundaries, we celebrate the fact that a Federal Judge understands, and so eloquently explains the limits of gender classifications and stereotypes when it comes to marriage. The Women’s Media Center applauds Judge Walker for his recognition that women are not bound by archaic and sexist definitions of “wife.”  Women and men are equal partners in marriage, eliminating any difference, legal or otherwise, between “wife” and “husband.”  Prop 8 proponents were right that same-sex marriage is not just a gay rights issue, just as women’s rights issues affect all citizens. Thanks, too, to the New York Times and many other editorial boards supporting the decision. Excerpts from Walker’s Decision: The WMC Primer “The exclusion of same-sex couples from marriage ‘exists as an artifact of a time when the genders were seen as having distinct roles in society and in marriage,’ he wrote. ‘That time has passed.’” (via NYT) “‘Race restrictions on marital partners were once common in most states but are now seen as archaic, shameful or even bizarre,’ he added. ‘Gender no longer forms an essential part of marriage; marriage under law is a union of equals.’” (Via CNN) “The evidence shows that the movement of marriage away from a gendered institution and toward an institution free from state-mandated gender roles reflects an evolution in the understanding of gender rather than a change in marriage.” “Proposition 8 thus enshrines in the California Constitution a gender restriction that the evidence shows to be nothing more than an artifact of a foregone notion that men and women fulfill different roles in civic life.”

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