Recently, I had the honor of attending an amazing wedding, championing the union of a gay, interracial, interfaith couple. I left feeling bubbly and rejuvenated from the celebration of love—and a few glasses of champagne. Motivated by the experience, I got inspired to write about how our society needs to continuously grow to accept these marriages and the new roles people are taking.
Boilerplate Rules for Marriages Don’t Work Anymore
From gay to interfaith to interracial relationships, we have seen the laws and views on marriage catch up to the reality of relationships budding in the U.S. All of these marriages have the same potential for success, but they also have the same potential for failure. As a society, we must learn how to nurture these relationships since every relationship requires its own specific rules in order to function successfully. As allies of these groups, we need to recognize what helps them prosper, rather than applying the boilerplate rules of historical marriages. Let’s examine the dynamics of gay, straight, interfaith, and interracial marriages to uncover our part to help them grow.
Gay & Lesbian Marriages
As a society, our cookie cutter rules for marriage break down when they are applied to same-sex relationships. With two men or women in a marriage, we can’t necessarily view one as the “husband” and one as the “wife”, so we must learn and support the new rules each same-sex couple has established in their unit.
Traditional masculine and feminine roles will be redefined in each couple, specific to their circumstances. For example, household chores and tasks are distributed more evenly in gay marriages versus typical heterosexual ones. As members of the family circle, we can expect to see a much more dynamic and interchangeable set of roles and responsibilities. This means that the concepts of “breadwinner” and “homemaker” may not always apply, especially if both partners have demanding careers and divide up housework evenly. With this understanding, we can support them by being mindful of their ever-changing schedules when planning family gatherings or video calls.
When it comes to parenting, it’s also important for us to recognize that “father” and “mother” roles don’t work here. With two fathers or two mothers, children fare no worse than hetereosexual parents, but it’s up to us, the family support system, to continue to champion and support this truth. To help the gay or lesbian parents and children thrive, we must celebrate their diversity and provide assistance with taking care of the kids when asked and able to do so. There is no need to overcompensate for having two dads or moms—simply be the most loving uncle, aunt, grandfather, or grandmother you can be. And that’s just it. Love is the ultimate guiding tool for us who are supporting these beautiful gay and lesbian relationships. It’s both insurance and investment into cultivating long-term success for the same-sex couples in our families.
Historically, men and women have been entering marriages with predetermined roles of “breadwinner” and “homemaker”, respectively. However, American society has largely progressed, eschewing these older assignments in favor of more dynamic and encompassing definitions. For example, many modern marriages are characterized as dual career couples where both partners have demanding jobs, deeming it dubious to define one partner as the “breadwinner.”
The point is, the existence of these roles aren’t enough. We have to nurture and support them and break free from any residual stereotypes. We can’t look down on the men who stay at home to take care of the home and children as female breadwinners continue to rise in American households. Our job is to promote and encourage the success of the couple holistically, not to judge each one of them compared to what archaic roles they should be filling.
Let’s empower couples from a legal point of view as well. We have to erase the vestiges of prenups, characterized by images of a rich man getting a prenup to protect his assets from an opportunistic bride. The truth is not only do prenups help define financial matters amongst other issues, they enable both partners, no matter who is wealthier or what sex or gender, to have open, honest conversations about tough, important topics so that they may have a successful marriage. Success is the goal here, not undeserved judgment from family and peers. Let’s call out antiquated myths and start embracing tools that help marriages sustain long-term prosperity.
In years past, when two people with differing religions were getting married, one person would have to convert to the other’s faith before tying the knot. In a marriage between a man and woman, typically the woman would be the one to change faiths. However, this wasn’t a legal requirement in American marriages. Rather, the pressure to convert arose from religious, cultural, or familial rules and restrictions. Thankfully, interfaith marriages are on the rise in the U.S., enabling families and communities to embrace differing beliefs for the sake of helping a loving couple succeed in their marriage.
Bringing together two faiths is more than just descriptors on paper. It’s imperative for us family members to help the couple honor and accept each other’s religious holidays, traditions, rituals, prayers, and cultural differences. For example, a Muslim friend of mine described his mother’s approach to Christian meal prayers: “My mom doesn’t subscribe to the terminology that my wife’s family uses. For example, when my father-in-law holds a prayer before a Christmas meal, he equates Christ with God a lot even though my mom doesn’t view Jesus in the same way. Nevertheless, my mom told me that whenever she hears him describe and worship Jesus in the prayer, she doesn’t feel uncomfortable during the reading. She simply uses the word Jesus as a representation of the God of her own understanding and says ‘Amen’ in the end like everyone else and it feels good to her.” She had to think through this decision and create a process to respect herself and her son’s extended interfaith family.
To take it a step further, interfaith marriages present an opportunity to build new traditions that unify both religions or spiritualities. This means that we can help interfaith couples not only pay respect to the origins and history of their respective faiths, but also create hybrid events and practices that combine both worlds into one, completely new and unique tradition. One possibility for a Christian and Jewish interfaith couple, amongst others, is to create a combined gifting tradition during December. As a family and as a community, we must support the new rules set by the couple in the quest to build old and new bonds alike.
Interracial marriages have steadily increased over the decades and are more commonplace than ever in today’s American society. The key to promoting successful interracial marriages is to learn how to nurture these multicultural relationships and feed them exactly what they need to grow. Both families must invest in learning about the cultural traditions and practices before blindly applying their own set of rules.
For example, a Persian husband may be closely tied to his family and instill a routine to visit his parents often, whereas the wife may have come from a single-parent home, placing more importance on independence and autonomy over regular family visits. Plus, the Middle-Eastern man’s family may have differing views on children, money, sex, religion, and politics. When coming together, these differences can become quite apparent during intense discussions around a combined family dinner table or occasional gathering. For us family and community members supporting the interracial couple, we have to be cognizant of these differences. More importantly, we have to embrace them and help the couple bridge gaps in understanding along the way.
There is no right and wrong here. It’s a matter of leading with love as we support the interracial marriage. We need to respect the cultures of both partners and provide insight to questions on why each culture does things in certain ways. In Asian households, it’s tradition to remove shoes before entering a house. Before being quick to judge, let’s inquire about this practice and learn about why it’s important, so that the married couple is not alone in their pursuit of unity. It’s up to us to get past predetermined rules, and use love as the North Star to help interracial couples succeed in their marriages.
Make Love the Ultimate Equalizer
Ultimately, the answer to empowering the expanding scopes of American marriages is to invest in love and promote success from a familial, communal, and societal point of view. Let’s support the new couples in our lives by encouraging them to define their own boundaries within their marriage and be there for them when they need historical perspective or caring advice. Healthy couples beget healthy communities, so embracing the diversity of the marital nucleus is a great start to the greater unity.