Thursday, October 14, 2010

Supremely single

I was reading in today’s USA Today a letter from a reader commenting about a story that appeared last week about the personal backgrounds of the U.S. Supreme Court justices. The letter reads:

“I was dismayed, however, that it described both Justices Elena Kagan and Sonia Sotomayor with ‘Family: Unmarried.’ Women and men do not need to be defined by what they are not. They are single. Period. The single vocation is valid on its own terms.”

Interestingly, the author of this letter was writing from Wiesbaden, Germany.

This comment really got me thinking about how ingrained the institution of marriage is in this country, that a newspaper as high-profile and cosmopolitan as USA Today could define anyone’s family as “unmarried.” Note that the category is not martial status, but “family.” As if parents, grandparents, aunts, uncles, siblings, children out of wedlock, adopted children, nieces, nephews and cousins don’t count as “family.” No, in order to have a family, you must be married first, according to USA Today.

It would be particularly galling for those GLBT people who are currently not allowed to be married to be referred to in this way. To be described as “Unmarried” when one does not have that legal option is like an unjust accusation and conviction.

And the letter’s author brings up an excellent point that we should not be defined by what we are not. It’s just like I’d rather say I’m in an open relationship rather than saying a non-monogamous relationship. It takes away the presumed expectation that you’re not there yet, but someday you hope to be.

And of course that kind of language also presumes that everyone’s goal in life is to be married. Clearly, if you want to become a Supreme Court justice, it’s expected of you.