Last week the decision in Ohio broadening the scope of gay marriage put one more nail in the coffin of homophobic culture and was a win for equal rights– or was it? Don’t get me wrong. I am in full support of gay marriage and everyone having the same civil rights. The trouble with fighting for a civil reform is that we are fighting for the right to be included in the existing system and that doesn’t take into account the fact that we are basically fighting for the right to be as f**ked up as everybody else.
The movement for gay marriage came out of the gay movement which came out of the male gay culture. The agenda of this movement for social change has always focused on reform demands for the same civil rights (i.e., gay marriage) that the heterosexual community already has.
Then along came the lesbian feminist movement calling, not for the right to assimilate into traditional gender roles, but the elimination of those roles altogether; eliminating the assumptions that women should be submissive and challenging the basis of marriage entirely since it had originated as an institution in which men literally bought and owned women, their labor and their children.
Although the majority of states that have weighed in still ban gay marriage, there are 17-19 states (depending on how you are counting) that have now legalized gay marriage. The most common way has been through the courts, though a couple of states have been through legislative votes and in recent years all the decisions and votes have been going in the right direction (for legalizing gay marriage).
The dominant liberal media has been strongly behind the LGBT community on this issue. None of the problems or oppressive social structures that have been associated with the nuclear family seem to make it into the media as we watch the two little old ladies who have lived together for 50 years finally gain social respectability and generous tax breaks as they take their vows, or the two gorgeous young men who just put out $500,000 for a fabulous destination wedding. Most recently, the media has been touting “statistics” that show that gay marriages have less divorces than straight marriages.
In fact many young heterosexual people are waiting longer and longer periods to marry, if they choose to marry at all, and the number of divorces for heterosexual marriages hovers around 50%. And the data that is currently being aggressively promoted by the media to show that homosexual and lesbian marriages are more stable is laughable given the lack of statistics or very small samples over very small periods of time that are available.
So why the rush by the media and the dominant culture to support gay marriage? Even a few Republicans have gotten on board (which really makes me suspicious given how in every other area of my life the Republican platform’s interests have been directly opposed to my interests)? Is it a sincere desire to accept gay folks for who we are or is it more about shoring up and reinforcing the failing institution of marriage? And why is marriage so important to them? Of all the policies issues we as a LGBT community could focus on, is Gay Marriage actually our first choice or is this the main LGBT policy issue because the dominant culture picked it for us?
I can hear the comments, even from anti-capitalists, now: It’s another one of those picky humorless Lesbian Feminists who just won’t give it a rest. OK, it’s only a reform, but it’s hard out there in a capitalist world and why can’t we just get a few tax breaks now with out this ridiculous harangue? Besides, I finally found my one true love and we want to proclaim it to the world like everyone else. We’ll get rid of the nuclear family after the socialist revolution.
Even I have occasionally drunk the Kool Aid. I remember when I was in graduate school writing whole treatises on the evils of the nuclear family, I went to a Bette Midler concert with my girlfriend where, with an entire concert hall of other lesbians, we held hands, and with tears in our eyes, loudly joined in the refrain:
“We’re going to the chapel and we’re going to married,
we’re going to the chapel and going to get maaaried,
we’re going to the chapel and we’re going to get maaarried,
we’re going to the chapel of love!”
(The repeats are necessary to get the full emotional effect)
What we do and don’t get out of Gay Marriage on both the personal and policy level.
On a personal level, the most important advantages of gay marriage to me would be 1) the tax breaks (over 400) that I would get and the other legal conveniences such as hospital visiting rights, joint insurance, etc; 2) sharing the rent and utilities, the cleaning, etc.; being able to roll over and have an intimate relationship without having to go out and look for it. But all of these things could be available to me in a domestic partnership (if, in fact, the states gave all the same rights to domestic partnerships as marriages). What I couldn’t get is the social respectability that comes with two people signing up for a lifelong monogamous relationship that only comes with marriage sanctified by God and shows that I am an adult capable of a committed adult relationship — otherwise why would there be two separate categories if one was not better than the other? Like marriage is like the black belt of relationships.
I kind of resent this because, personally, when I was married, I tended to find the two by two Noah’s Ark relationship kind of isolating. One of the things I enjoyed most about the Lesbian community was that the very fact that marriage was not available to us, led to the development of more alternative types of arrangements. While plenty of women did live in couples similar to heterosexual marriages, many lived in relationships which involved three or more people. Also I found that many of us found our best friends and most committed relationships were with ex-lovers. Kind of like a community of sisters (think Sister Sledge and We Are Family).
I also find that in marriage, because of its origin in heterosexual marriages, there is a tendency to sometimes mimic the gender roles (who is the husband? Who is the wife?). Since the traditional marital relationship was also based on extreme inequality where the husband literally “owned” the wife, some of this power inequality also filters into gay marriages even though it not legally mandated in modern marriages.
Besides reinforcing the inequality between the two people in the relationship, marriage reinforces and magnifies other forms of inequality. For one, single people (who constitute and increasing percentage of the population) do not get the tax breaks or other financial benefits society bestows on marriage. Also, if two men marry, since men in a patriarchal society still make more money and accumulate more wealth than women, are likely to end up in a more upscale lifestyle than if two women marry since our incomes are lower. Moreover, if there are children (which is true in most cases) the women are more likely to be the custodial parents than the men and have to bear the labor and monetary costs this implies.
My personal policy solution would be to shore up civil unions that would in fact be equal to the advantages of marriage but would not 1)be based on sexual relations or required monogamy. In such cases, two single friends could apply, a grandma raising her nieces child could apply, several people in whatever kind of relationship (sexual or not)could apply.
Such a legal structure would further, if there are children involved, provide a stipend to the “parents” for raising the children. This would eliminate the blatantly unequal financial start children have in life, depending on what private nuclear family they were born into.
Speaking of focusing on private versus publicly funded solutions to our personal economic relationships, I think it is important to understand that capitalism is intent on preserving private arrangements for reproducing the next generation of children (i.e., marriage) because it gets them off the hook for paying for the necessary public services (childcare, physical nurturing, etc) to reproduce the next generation and greatly increases capitalism’s profits.
So let’s get marriage out of the public domain and leave it to the religious sphere where it belongs and focus our energies on civil unions.