Guest panel to discuss new meaning of marriage

A Comma, A - Izmail Glosson

A guest panel is discussing the shift of marriage among couples during “The Marriage Question: Do You?” hosted by the Women’s, Gender and Sexuality Studies on Tuesday. | Izmail Glosson/The Daily Cougar

Marriage was a traditional institution in the past, a top priority for young adults in a time when a growing family was the main goal of life.

The definition of marriage then isn’t the same as the definition of marriage now. With the growth of attention to and recognition of the diversity of sexuality across the nation, this has become a hazy area for many.

The Women’s, Gender and Sexuality Studies and Friends of Women’s Studies guest panel will discuss this complex issue on Tuesday in the M.D. Anderson Memorial Library.

“Marriage has served as a primary means to acquire or transmit wealth, to form alliances, to legitimize and identify heirs and as a signal of romantic love or commitment,” said associate professor of sociology Amanda Baumle; “but there has been a shift toward an emphasis on marriage as a love-based commitment between two persons.”

Baumle researches centers on legal contexts of same-sex parenting. She is one of the guests speaking on this subject along with two other sociologists and a recently married lesbian couple.

The panel tackles the presumption that people marry to have children, when couples are now commonly having children without getting married or deciding to live together.

“Rather than trying to limit access to marriage and all of its protections, we should instead question why so many legal, social and economic benefits are linked to marriage,” Baumle said, exemplifying how some people argue what the marriage documents should actually signify.

Same-sex marriages have gained worldwide support, Baumle said, including in Texas, where a federal judge ruled lack of recognition of union in other states to be unconstitutional.

“Once legalized, we will then have to see whether same-sex couples largely embrace the institution of marriage,” Baumle said. “The right to marriage means the right to marry — and the right to decide not to marry.”

The age-old tradition of marriage has been revolutionized dramatically over the years since 1970, when 72 percent of American adults were married compared to 2011, when only 51 percent of adults were married, according to the Pew Research Center analysis of United States Census Bureau data.

Rules have changed and softened, and what was once a simple formal union of man and woman has become a complex dilemma that the Barbara Karkabi Living Archives Series features through interviews of Houstonian women.

Karkabi, a former Houston Chronicle journalist and longtime member of the Friends of Women’s Studies board, developed the panel in 1997.

“Barbara, a passionate teller, built a community through sharing the stories of immigrants and of women’s lives,” said WGSS director and English professor Elizabeth Gregory. “The Living Archives series was endowed in her memory by her many friends after her death in 2012.”

Students are encouraged to attend and share their ideology as well as learn about alternatives they haven’t considered.

“The changing dynamics of marriage affects women directly, and is of especial interest to young women planning their lives,” Gregory said. “This is an opportunity to think about their options and choices as well as get a sense of the changing national scene.”

Friends of Women’s Studies Program Coordinator Ayanna McCloud said she looks forward to the panel discussion and how it will affect the UH campus.

“We sense that things are changing, so we’ll be interested to see what students who attend will say and their take on this topic and see how the panel responds,” McCloud said. “The whole idea is to have people rethink marriage and revisit their definition of it and to think about this shift in diverse perspectives.”

Years have transformed the meaning of marriage. Now, the question is whether we look for a commitment to a more concrete definition or if this new meaning will serve us, for better or for worse.

“The future of former unions is dependent, however, on how marriage is ultimately redefined,” Baumle said. “What does marriage mean, or what should marriage mean?”

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