In addition to the quick little video below that I posted earlier today on YouTube about the Supreme Court hearings on Proposition 8 and the Defense of Marriage Act, it may be helpful to clarify a few more points that are worth keeping in mind this week (and hopefully beyond that).
The more radical progressives hesitate to give support to marriage equality because “marriage” – as a historical institution – has a pretty shady past wrapped up in the exchange of property, or more accurately, the exchange of people as property, or even more accurately, the exchange of women as property. In such relationships, there is a clear and problematic difference in power between a husband and a wife. But don’t be fooled. History and its influence on marriage hasn’t changed all that much. When marriage is defended these days as being between “one man and one woman,” such words are often still colored by rigidly prescribed gender roles that imply other “marriage-y” things like “what he says goes,” or that determine “who wears the pants” and who “belongs in the kitchen.”So let’s be clear about at least one thing, gay and lesbian couples who want marriage equality aren’t really looking for those kinds of marriages anyway.
The fight for the right to marry isn’t about fitting into a heterosexual framework or mimicking heterosexual married couples, as if what all the queers really want is to say, “Look, straights! We are and can be just like you!” See, one of the the really cool things about gay, lesbian, and other queer relationships is that they are not like traditional heterosexual relationships. That’s what makes them queer. Thus, rather than striving to be equal in the sense that gay relationships are judged to be just as “normal” as straight relationships, the point is to have queer relationships recognized as legally legitimate relationships. By the way, legitimacy, here, should have very little to do with what is deemed “normal” since “normal” heterosexual marriages aren’t doing so well, anyway.
And that is one reason why love should have nothing to do with the right to marry. Of course we, as a culture, love to believe that marriage is all about love. But it’s not. Marriage is about the ability to legally secure certain rights, benefits, privileges, and liberties. Straight people can (read: are legally able to) marry for all of the reasons that give people warm, fuzzy feelings. But they can also marry for all of the “wrong” reasons, like to dig that gold of a sugar daddy or sugar mama, to get health insurance from a spouse’s employer, or to become a naturalized citizen of the great U.S. of A. Some “defenders” of marriage may be inclined to say, “But that’s not what marriage is for! Such shams don’t embody what the institution of marriage is really about!” And a lot of people would probably agree that marrying someone just to get access to health insurance may end up getting kind of complicated, perhaps even too complicated to make it worth it. The implication, then, is that you’d be much better off if you first fell in love with someone whose job offered them benefits. Things like health insurance, inheritance protections, hospital visitation rights, certain tax breaks, and the possibility to immigrate to be with your lover are simply secondary perks to loving someone (registered as of the opposite sex) first. Well, grab a glass of water because this pill may be a little hard to swallow.
None of the love stuff or marrying for the “right” reasons matters when it comes down to legal issues of justice. Regardless of what one might think God has to say about how men and women ought to relate to one another, or what science today might suggest about gay genes, or even whatever insights are presumably gleaned from talking about how heterosexual intercourse can lead to procreation, none of that matters. The most important thing on the table is that straight people can legally marry whereas non-straight people cannot. In other words, some people can choose to opt into the web of advantages and benefits that arise from participating in a legally recognized, contractually-based relationship whereas others are not even granted the opportunity to do the same. That, dear reader, is a matter of fairly distributing access to rights, protections, and privileges. It’s not about love. It’s about justice. It’s about fairness. It’s about equality.
To end, here’s one more pill. If, at the end of this little wave of social media activism and Supreme Court hearings it turns out that queer folks can’t get legally married or those who are already married won’t be federally recognized as such, it’s not going to prevent women from having relationships with other women or men from having relationships with other men. Queer people will still continue to have sex with one another in queer ways, they’ll still form their own families, and they’ll still find support within their own communities and from lots of straight allies. They will even continue to LOVE each other and maintain healthy, committed relationships. Queer folks will still be able to live their lives and have their loves in ways that make them happy and gay. These things will continue precisely because they, unlike certain civil rights and liberties, are not dependent on the legal recognition of same-sex and queer relationships as legitimate in order to be realized.