Posted by: aediculaantinoi | November 26, 2012

The Perils of Marriage Equality

I have been wanting to write something about Washington’s passage of Referendum 74 since election day earlier this month; and then, I thought I’d better not count my chickens before their eggs were broken, and decided to wait until later in the week when all of the votes were counted…which they were, and the result was still the same (i.e. it passed with a somewhat slim majority). Then I thought, perhaps I’d wait a bit longer, possibly until the actual law begins to take effect on December 6th. In any case, I’m glad I waited until now, because something just happened last night in my own personal experience that makes this topic all the more relevant.

No, unfortunately, that “something” isn’t that I met someone and now we’re getting married. (And, given I’m not on the legally recognized gender spectrum in this country, I generally won’t participate in a voluntary institution that is based upon gender determinations…but, I digress!)

Lots of same-sex couples I know are considering getting married now in Washington, and I’ve asked a few of them who have considered themselves married already whether or not they’ll be doing it–which, for many, will probably just amount to filing some paperwork, since they may have already had a meaningful and fulfilling ceremony for that purpose at some stage in the past, and may have been celebrating an anniversary related to it (or to their original getting together, etc.) for two or more decades at this stage. While it is most certainly an excellent thing that this greater equality now exists and is available for people who wish to avail themselves of it (just like the repeal of “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell”–even if one has no interest in serving in the military, nonetheless the right of others who wish to do so and are able to do so shouldn’t be restricted based on their sexual orientation), it may not be something that does nor should appeal to everyone for a variety of reasons. No matter how much we joke about Hadrian and Antinous having had such a marriage since 123 CE, or how the Ekklesía Antínoou has been doing such marriages since that time, I’m somewhat ambivalent about it myself; my much higher priority for legal measures in this country in relation to queer people is comprehensive employment nondiscrimination legislation on a national level, rather than just on local levels, which would cover trans people as much as it covers gay or lesbian people (which some of these other advances in legislative equality have not done in recent years).

The thing that happened last night demonstrated one reason why this ambivalence exists, which I had not realized would ever be an issue, but I saw it in full view last night.

I was over at a dinner party at my neighbors’ house; they are a gay couple who have been together for over twenty-one years at this point. After dinner small talk got a bit factional, with one end of the table pretty much dominating the conversation for most of the night (not the end I was on), which had two straight couples in addition to the gay couple who are my neighbors. There was then some talk about doing various housework matters there, and that one part of the deal was that one of the gentlemen would clean up his office in the house once some bling was presented for the purposes of their future official marriage ceremony. The issue of them holding out on getting officially married came up, and one of them explained that because same-sex marriage is only legal on the state level at this point, it means that certain tax and other national benefits are not extended to same-sex couples in the way they are to heterosexuals at this point: one’s same-sex partner cannot get social security from their partner, for example. This is rather upsetting, and is a matter that is lost on a number of people, I suspect. While DOMA may be repealed soon, and there are cases at the Supreme Court at the moment which could have the effect of making same-sex marriage legal across the U.S. independent of the various state constitutions which currently have language preventing it, nonetheless complete equality in this regard has not yet been achieved.

As all of this was being discussed, one of the wives in one of the heterosexual couples commented that she thought one of the gay men was commitment-phobic because he keeps extending these milestones and benchmarks as far as “we’ll get married when…” are concerned. I said, “They’ve been together twenty-one years–I’d call that commitment!” She then replied to me, in the most patronizing and snotty way possible, “No, this is different, you just don’t understand.”

Independent of the snottiness of this particular woman, something occurred in that moment that I had not realized would even be a possibility until that very moment. I’ve long heard, and to some extent agreed with, the radical queer political position that marriage is a game of assimilationism, and that it may not be as useful nor applicable for queer people as for straight people, nor might it be a good institution to be a part of more generally speaking. I’ve always understood those points in general, but I was missing something in very particular that I had not heard articulated previously, nor had I ever thought, before that moment last night.

Now that gay marriage is possible in some places, straight people will no longer consider queer relationships real or valid unless marriage occurs or will eventually occur in them.

Sit with that for a moment.

There are many gay or lesbian relationships that I know of that have lasted for ten, twenty, thirty, or more years; there was a pair of very old lesbians who were probably in their 80s when I saw them, who were sitting on the side of the street at the Pride Parade I was in during June of 1999 who were wearing matching shirts that said “65+ Years Together,” and I pointed at them and applauded from the open-top convertible I was riding in on that occasion (because I’d won a Pride Foundation Scholarship…which was more involved in its application and interview process than either my M.A. or my Ph.D.!). Considering the divorce rate amongst straight couples is more than 50%, and I have a sibling who is in the middle of his second bitter divorce, and a number of other friends who have been married two or more times who are the same age as myself, queer relationships lasting more than a decade without the possible legal and social benefits of marriage are something that have been a point of pride and accomplishment in terms of the triumph of love and companionship in the face of overwhelming societal pressure and discrimination. The existence of such relationships was a common argument for why same-sex marriage should be legalized in the first place.

But now, with legalized same-sex marriage in Washington State, and other states around the U.S. (and some other countries in the world), now “there’s no excuse,” and all of those years of love and devotion amount to nothing unless “you put a ring on it,” and file the legal papers to make it “official.” The standards of heterosexual relationships and their expected norms now apply, practically overnight, to same-sex relationships as well, and people who have spent multiple decades together in committed relationships can be labeled as “commitment-phobic” for not filing the papers and having the legal ceremony of marriage.

I’m not entirely happy nor comfortable with this being the case, I have to say. Again, I do think it’s better to have this legal equality on a state level than not at all, but I also wonder what the social effects of it beyond this particular one will be, or what the further assumptions of this particular effect might look like in the future.


Responses

  1. I have known queer activists who did not argue for same-sex marriage because they didn’t support the institution of marriage at all. Most of them were lesbians who recognized that marriage is at its origins a patriarchal institution meant for passing on property. I agree with this assessment, but also realize that there’s a lot of people out there who want the white picket fence and a conservative family life, just with a partner of the same sex. The solution is one you see a lot; marriage should be a private matter, perhaps but not exclusively religious, and “marriage” only civil and not restricted to only two people. It’s a property contract, and incorporating a family may be what is called for.

    • Certainly…

      If some queer people want this, then I’m happy supporting them doing so, most definitely.

      I do, however, see some of the drawbacks to it as well, and perhaps now more so that it can be a reality for many people I know in my current place of residence.

      (In the meantime, I found out this heterosexual woman who was being such a putz last night is, in fact, NOT MARRIED to the guy she’s living with who she brought to the party. So, it’s clearly a case of “Let me project my actual psychological issues on other people,” alas…!?!)

      • I wonder how much of that reaction was her parroting back what she’s heard other people say directed at her OWN relationship. There is the underlying expectation in heterosexual culture that marriage is the only legitimate form of relationship expression, and somebody is commitment-phobic if you won’t take that step – even if it makes legal and financial sense not to. (There are as many reasons to not get married as there are to want to.) This is, somewhat absurdly, what equality looks like – we are held to the same absurd relationship standards that they impose on each other.

      • Indeed, indeed…and alas, alas…!?! ;)

  2. It is an interesting position to be in, to be sure. While I’m familiar with the radical queer premise that marriage is at its root patriarchal and that the institutionalization and legal recognition of same-sex marriage may result in assimilation, I have maintained and will maintain that (cue Star Trek background music) resistance is futile and we will be assimilated – and it’s not a bad thing! As my partner and I do intend to get married ourselves, we’ve talked to great lengths about the logical conclusions of allowing same-sex marriage using the talking points form both sides and decided that at some point it will be necessary to also recognize non-gender-specific partnerships as well as polyamorous relationships as well at some point as well. To be honest, I’m okay with this and look forward to the next stages of recognition as many of my dearest friends and chosen family are in long-term poly relationships and identify with genders that are not currently protected.

    • Certain things about mainstream assimilation might not be bad at all.

      Certain other things, including gender and relationship expectations, are not at all welcome in my book, though–as I’m sure you’re aware.

      And, yes, I do hope that other family units and relationship styles, as well as other genders, do get some respect and recognition at some point. (Which will give truth to the ConservaFundaGelical fears that the “slippery slope” of gay marriage will allow other things, too, including people marrying bananas and goats, etc.; but, too feckin’ bad for them!)

      • “Which will give truth to the ConservaFundaGelical fears that the “slippery slope” of gay marriage…”

        While I appreciate where you’re coming from I have to disagree with this idea. Their fears are simply not realistic. While it may – seem – like the result of same-sex marriage is the recognition of other forms of marriage and partnership this is far from a forgone conclusion. Look no further than the recent Canadian court decision re: polygamy (and apparently by extension polyamory) in spite of same-sex marriage being fully recognized there.

        And it goes without saying that there are, unfortunately, gay rights activists who are all too willing to throw poly folks (to say nothing of bi and trans folks and even lesbians more often than you might think) under the bus to further their own interests. Which is really said because ultimately it’s nothing more than a subtle form of “why yes conservafundie, everything you believe in is true and good and let me get down on all fours for you – may I please have another sir?”. And ain’t nobody gonna win that game.

        Of course, often (though, in truth not often enough imho) a person will realize, “Hey wait a minute! My values won’t let me deny marriage to my poly friends any more readily than my gay and lesbian (and bi!) friends! We need poly marriage too, let’s advocate for that!” but that’s an entirely different thing than saying “now we have gay marriage so the boys will play with dolls, the girls will play with trucks, and the horses will start eating each other”.

        But I’m sure you already felt that way. I just particularly loathe that argument – especially when I meet same-sex marriage advocates who are actively trying to throw poly people under the bus to save face with and/or court the straight mono majority. Although when you take into account all the queer people, all the poly people, and all the asexual people you kind of have to wonder who really constitutes a majority – particularly if you exclude serial monogamists, open marriages/relationships, swingers, etc from being strictly mono per se. To say nothing of cheaters, caught or not.

      • Uh…that line was mostly a joke. ;) That’s not my position at all.

      • That’s what I get for responding right before bed.

      • No worries, dear friend! ;)

  3. I think there are a lot of reasons that same-sex marriage isn’t entirely a win for queer people, and I see they’re already being discussed here. But I also feel that the best route to genuine equality is to get it legal in all fifty states and then separate religious marriage from legal unions for everyone. The two ought to be separate transactions. Maybe then we can work from there to make it easier to create what I think of as “family corporations” (basically the rights commonly associated with marriages extended to a group living in the same household). I think that arrangement would have benefits for extended blood families as well as chosen families.

  4. On the other side, I am anecdotally familiar with straight couples both younger and older than myself and my partner who cohabitate, raise children together, and see no reason to get married whatsoever.

    Having had a commitment ceremony (and not considering the legal definition of “marriage” as being necessary to the validity of that ceremony), I did feel like choosing to commit was a scary step that was more confronting than continuing to share my life with my partner without that step. On the other hand, I see that choosing a commitment ceremony of any kind is no guarantee that those relationships will be more stable or durable than people who do not choose “to commit.” My partner often says that every day we have to choose whether we’re going to be together, which I find to be an active, ongoing definition of “commitment” rather than a passive, contractual definition that seems more “traditional”.

    So, in the end, I don’t agree with the person, and I agree with you that having a ceremony or “marriage” doesn’t determine the validity, quality, or durability of relationships. I went to the phone banks and fought for Ref 74 because I believe in equality under the law. But I also wonder, with the way culture has been headed for the past several decades, whether marriage as an institution (religious or civil) is on its way out.

  5. I will almost certainly get married in the next six or eight months, mostly because being able to point to a legally-recognized relationship like that makes certain things like hospital visits a little less of a hassle. It costs less to get married than to get a lawyer to take care of all the relevant paperwork outside of marriage. But I absolutely agree with you that it shouldn’t be necessary or even expected, and for a straight, cis person to act like that is disgusting.

    • Especially, as I noted in one of the other comments above, I’ve since learned that this straight woman isn’t married and is only cohabiting herself at the moment, which means the whole thing was just “my own issues being projected on others” essentially…

      Are you in WA, out of curiosity?

      • Yeah, that’s pretty clearly her issues with her own boyfriend being put on display for everyone else.

        I am; I happen to be way down south in almost-Portland.

      • I haven’t been to “almost-Portland” much–one of the only times I was there, I was with my sister, who was there on job-related things, and she dropped me off at a mall where there was a Barnes & Noble, and a cinema, and I saw some movie…perhaps The Spiderwicke Chronicles, maybe?…and hung out in the bookstore, then she picked me up and we went to see my cousin in Portland, and I stayed with my aunt (who used to live in Hillsboro), and then I went to an academic conference in Forest Grove. It was a nice trip! But yeah, that’s about as much of Vancouver as I’ve seen, or really anything at all in that area. It seemed nice; but, Portland is nicer, in fairness. ;)

      • Oh, definitely, we spend plenty of time in Portland. If I didn’t work on this side of the river, I’d probably have moved as soon as the opportunity came up. But the marriage option is a pretty strong argument for staying put now regardless. XD

      • If I happened to get a job in Portland at one of the colleges/universities, I suspect I’d still live in WA and just commute, but do all of my book shopping in PDX, for the “no sales tax” reasons! ;)

      • When I buy paper books I tend to do it in Oregon just because, well, Powells. I try to shop the small bookstores here too, but they often just don’t have what I want.

        It’s a pretty sweet deal, especially if you work in Washington – no income tax here, and no sales tax if I zip across to PDX…

  6. [...] drama. A Million questions about my wedding plans, which are assumed to be immediate. (There was a blog post over at Aedicula Antinoi yesterday that summed up my feelings on that.) My mother decided November was the perfect time for [...]

  7. I understand what you’re saying, but I can’t help but see that as the whole point. After all, read another way your statement reveals another truth about our society: straight people [do not] consider queer [(or any)] relationships real or valid unless marriage occurs or will eventually occur in them. That’s the reasoning against domestic partnerships and civil unions, even when they provide (as they did in Washington) full legal equalilty under the law.

    Marriage is a word and a symbol that holds a lot of weight and power in our society, one that is not easily, or lightly, dismantled. Do I find it unfortunate that one must opt in to this institution in order to have one’s relationships (hell, family structure period!) validated? Most certainly! At this stage in the game, though, I don’t really see opting out as much of an option. As you know, only by “putting a ring on it” can anyone be taken seriously in this country.

    I was talking with one of my coworkers the other day and our conversation stumbled upon marriage as an institution (as you do!) and she was lamenting that America couldn’t be more like Norway. Apparently in that country marriage and family relationships in general are more relaxed and so mired in the legal arena. For instance, if you told a hospital employee that that person is family, they’ll take your word for it. How bizarre is that?

  8. That being said, what that snotty woman told you just rubbed me the wrong way. It reeks with privilege, her insinuation that the only thing holding him back from “real” marriage was this law, as if American society hasn’t been actively and persistiently participating in our oppression and persecution for decades, and that only when they were acknowledging our existence at all. How dare she insinuate he has “no excuse” now??? Fuck her!

    This is brand fucking new territory and I don’t begrudge anyone their treading lightly into this institution. Marriage equality opponents are right about one thing, and I think it’s disingenuous to suggest otherwise: this is, broadly speaking, very new. I don’t think it’s bad because it’s new, like they do, I just think it’s important to regonize the historical significance of what’s happening before our very eyes. Same-sex relationships are becoming on par with heterosexual relationships. It’s fricking momentous is what it is!

    I also look forward to the day when all possible relationship structures are validated in the eyes of the law. Hell, I look forward to the day when all families, of all kinds and structures (well beyond the narrow nuclear family America became obsessed with in the ’50s), are honored and respected.

    • Exactly…and, considering that I have since found out she’s cohabiting with the guy she was there with, but isn’t married, one could very easily turn the whole question around to her without any difficulty. As someone else commented on this situation elsewhere, “Projection, party of one?” ;)

  9. [...] still not that wide) in order to pass the initiative and make same-sex marriage legal in the state. I wrote about some possible implications of this late last month, but in the meantime, over 600 couples filed the paperwork for same-sex marriage licenses yesterday [...]


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