Academic journal article Ethnologies

Traditional Ambivalence and Heterosexual Marriage in Canada: Transgressing Ritual or Ritualising Transgression?

Academic journal article Ethnologies

Traditional Ambivalence and Heterosexual Marriage in Canada: Transgressing Ritual or Ritualising Transgression?

Article excerpt

Les episodes louches abondent dans les rituels traditionnels associes aux mariages et aux noces, pas seulement dans quelques regions du Canada anglais, mais dans la plupart des lieux europeens ou de colonisation europeenne. Dans les provinces des Prairies et en Ontario, des parodies de mariages (travestissements spectaculaires de la ceremonie de mariage de la majorite chretienne, ou l'on intervertit generalement les costumes) peuvent interrompre les showers ou les anniversaires de mariage. Et, de l'Ile du Prince Edouard a la Colombie britannique, des charivaris (visites nocturnes a des couples de nouveaux maries, ou l'on fait le plus de bruit possible accompagne ou non de mechancetes traditionnelles) peuvent se derouler a la suite des noces. Les auteures se demandent si ces pratiques transgressent le mariage heterosexuel conventionnel ou si elles ne font que ritualiser et donc restreindre la resistance potentielle au strict encadrement qu'il implique, pour decouvrir qu'elles font les deux.

Queer moments abound in traditional rituals associated with marriages and weddings, not only in some regions of English Canada but in most European and European-colonised locations. In the Prairie provinces and Ontario, mock weddings (folk dramatic travesties of the Christian/majoritarian wedding ceremony, usually performed cross dressed) can interrupt wedding showers or milestone anniversary parties. And from Prince Edward Island to British Columbia, charivaris (late night visits to a newly married couple, featuring extreme noisemaking and/or traditional trickery) can follow a marriage. The authors question whether these practices transgress against conventional heterosexual marriage or merely ritualise and thus contain potential resistance toits strictures, and find that they do both.

Transgressing Ritual or Ritualising Transgression? (1)

Marriage is a unique relationship that's definition (sic) as the union of a man and a woman.... Since the beginning of history marriage has changed very little.... Marriages between men and women provide the moral foundation and social norms that allow us to enjoy the personal freedoms we do (FOTF 110401).

These historically and socially deceptive assertions from the website of "Focus on the Family" (FOTF)--a socially, politically, economically, and religiously conservative Right group--make heterosexual marriage seem invariably uncontroversial. But nothing could be farther from the truth. (2) Even the current definition of marriage employed by the Right hides some fancy footwork around exactly what constitutes "the union of a man and a woman." To quote the same source,

our common law tradition makes it clear that a legal marriage can only occur between a man and a woman. In particular, the case that stands as a precedent is the 1866 British decision in Hyde v. Hyde. While it is an old case, no Canadian court has changed its definition of marriage--that being the union of one man and one woman--and several have upheld the definition (FOTF 110501).

In fact, the full Hyde v. Hyde definition from 1866 actually says marriage is the "voluntary union for life of one man and one woman, to the exclusion of all others" (out emphases). In legal discourse as well as public discussion, the definition indicates both what marriage is, and what it is not. Those marriages that are involuntary or forced, those that are ended by any circumstances other than the death of a spouse, as well as those that rail to align with strict monogamous principles are not considered marriages, valid or otherwise. A selective historical memory leaves by the wayside the inconvenient and/or otherwise problematic voluntary, lifelong, and exclusive properties of this definition. To be specific, for example, the Right wants to be able to force young people who become pregnant to get married, and their members would hardly wish to give up their option to discard an unsatisfactory spouse or to have the occasional fling with another good coreligionist. …

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