Thursday, March 08, 2007

Today is Blog Against Sexism day. So hey, here goes.

Louisiana is one of three states that has legalized the option of a covenant marriage for couples seeking a marriage license. My knee-jerk reaction to this is that, if this idea were strictly taken on by couples wishing to wed in the spirit of true love, and wanting to keep everything equal in case that love goes bad, then hey, go for it. Keep it optional, above all. Because love is one hell of an emotion - dizzying highs, palpitating hearts, undying expressions of devotion to the one with whom you are in love - and then reality sets in.

Marriage is a marathon. Add children to the equation, and it is a marathon with an obstacle course tacked on. Tempers will flare. Situations will crop up that cannot possibly be foreseen until they are right on top of you. Finances will be stretched. Love will be tough to find in all of this, sometimes. When it becomes next to impossible to find, the lovers can and will turn on each other. Some reasons for this will be valid, and some won't be. If it gets really serious, then the couple will elect to live apart.

Society is constantly trying to manage the fact that some couples will want to opt out of the marriage marathon. Of course, everyone wants a happier, healthier world in a mental sense for all the parties involved... so now, more than ever before, it seems, every effort is put forth to work things out. The last thing we all want is a War of the Roses-type situation. And I'm glad that the effort is being put out there. What I hate is when the process is biased from the beginning.

Covenant marriage is a nice idea, but I'm glad it's optional for all of us in Louisiana, Arizona, and Arkansas, and that it hasn't gone beyond an introduction of legislation in twenty-one other states, because I cringe at the backers of this concept, who are largely Christian, and who are supporting a narrow definition of marriage to begin with. Yeah, I'm Jewish, and the Christian part just doesn't sound good to me anyhow. But that definition of marriage under a religious umbrella can have consequences for one party in a marriage that is also under a narrow definition, religiously speaking - namely, woman.

Jewish law, through millennia, has traditionally treated women better than most other religions have treated women. Traditional Jewish divorces, however, are very much under the control of the man in the relationship. A woman can sue for the notice of release, the get, but the man is the one who has the final say. If he has not given her that vital piece of paper, she is what is called an agunah (a chained wife), and she can't remarry.

I would give anything to yank back the email I deleted (damn it!), sent from a friend (J, if you're reading this, send me the blurb about this book again, please) from our synagogue in Queens, concerning the publication of a book about the first female chalutzim, the first of the women to help settle what was then British-controlled Palestine and reclaim what was mostly desert and swamp, with the hopes of turning it into a Jewish state. Men and women came to work in such harsh conditions to escape persecution in Europe - but their ideals were not strictly religious ones. Shaped by emerging Marxist and socialist ideologies, many of these people had no clue what they were getting into, but they came, filled with hope and a willingness to work their tails and women. Equal partners, ideally. Workers on the same footing, for a common cause... right?

Somewhere along the way to Jewish statehood, these folks had to make a deal with the Orthodox sects of Judaism. It gave the emerging state an extra legitimacy in a number of ways (it would require another post to go into all of it here). That link with orthodoxy is a mixed marriage of sorts - and women in that marriage have suffered. There are many, many agunot in Israel and in any place in which Jewish orthodox sects live and pray, and it is becoming a huge problem. Organizations such as Agunah International have come into being to help with this problem, and groups such as the Jewish Orthodox Feminist Alliance are throwing their support behind the herculean efforts to release these chained women, but it's tough to cut through centuries of rabbinical rulings that, quite frankly, have failed to recognize the rights of women in the majority of cases. These organizations are fighting a good fight. Support 'em.

If people think that covenant marriage is going to cut the divorce statistics, well, fine, it might. It will also be much more likely to cut everyone's psyche to ribbons. As long as people try to insert measures into our legislation that automatically exclude or denigrate one sex over the other, or define how we should all be together, we will all be prejudice, to hate, and to other unhealthy views of each other. I can't turn back the clock on the three states in which this is an option (and oh, if I could turn the clock back a few decades, geologically, for New Orleans...), but I can urge everyone to keep it an option. DON'T make it into an absolute law.

Off the soapbox. 'Night.

Update, 3-11: The link to a synopsis of the book on the chalutzot (feminine tense of the noun chalutzim - stand back, I'm gettin' technical...), Redemption in Chains: The Women Workers' Movement in Eretz- Israel, 1920-1939, is right here. And the stories it tells of these first pioneers are indeed harrowing and disillusioning. History, in the case of early modern Palestine/Israel, is indeed "his story". Thanks, J!


Maitri V-R said...

As someone who took her own sweet time getting married and knows full that it consists of 256 shades of grey, covenant marriage is such bullshit. Then again, I don't like one spouse getting cleaned out because the other one makes a bit more money. I'll have to think about this one.

Leigh C. said...

I've thought a great deal about this one since I went to get a marriage license nearly six years ago. Like a number of ideas out there, I think it's one that is theoretically good but has the potential to blow up in people's faces, especially when the marriage is clearly a bad one.

Divorce cases would make King Solomon's head spin. We are no longer living in biblical times. To put most theories into good practice, we need to remove prejudice and bias from our judgments - and we're not there yet.

I wish we were.