On marriage

May 23, 2012

It’s nearly June, the traditional time for weddings galore. But marriage—its legality, longevity, permutations, and failures—seems perennially in the news. Here are some recent views on love and marriage from different corners of the IU Bloomington campus:

In an article for the Journal of Medieval and Early Modern Studies (Winter 2012), Constance Furey, a professor of religious studies in the College of Arts and Sciences, asks, “How is it that this singular form of committed love came to stand for everything?” She turns to the Puritans for some answers.

Furey notes that the Puritans understood marriage to stand for everything because it represented the “relationship that structures everything: God’s covenant with believers.” But turning from the Puritan orthodoxy to Puritan poetry, Furey finds that the 17th-century devotional poetry of Anne Bradstreet and Edward Taylor conveys not only passionate duty to God but also “a recognition that difference persists.” All in all, despite what Puritan preachers said, the devotional poems of the period speak of a “shared intimacy need not be experienced as sacrificial renunciation and that occupation by ‘Another’ may be understood in terms of relational virtue, rather than loss of self,” writes Furey.

Modern-day preachers and many others have had a lot to say about measures such as North Carolina’s Amendment One, passed in May 2012, which states that “Marriage between one man and one woman is the only domestic legal union that shall be valid or recognized in this state.” Yet, despite the passage of the North Carolina amendment, a recent Washington Post-ABC News poll (following President Obama’s expression of support for gay marriage) found that a majority of Americans (53%) support legalization of marriage for gay and lesbian couples.

IU Bloomington social scientist Brian Powell, co-author of Counted Out: Same-Sex Relations and Americans’ Definitions of Family (2010), says the president’s evolving view about same-sex marriage is strikingly similar to Americans’ evolving views and notes that the evolution has been rapid and remarkable.

“Just 10 years ago, same-sex marriage was a foreign idea to most Americans,” says Powell. “Years from now, President Obama’s comments will be viewed as a critical historical moment in the movement toward marriage equality.”

Powell, the James H. Rudy Professor of sociology at IU Bloomington, led national surveys of opinions about families in 2003, 2006, and 2010 that were reported in Counted Out.

He traces the shift in American attitudes toward gay marriage to greater public discussion, media exposure, and personal awareness of gays, lesbians, and same-sex couples (Read more in this IU Policy Briefings blog post.)

As for the president’s statement, Powell said it’s not likely to have much near-term impact, “but in the long term it will have a big effect. It’s another factor that will make people more comfortable with the idea.”

Finally, the Kinsey Institute Juried Art Show 2012 is now on display the Grunwald Gallery of Art at Indiana University Bloomington. Although marriage isn’t an explicit focus in the exhibit, the contemporary art exhibition, which continues through July 21, explores the basic ingredients of any relationship—sex, gender, romance, eroticism, reproduction, and politics.

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