Thursday, September 3, 2009

Contextualizing The Same-Sex Marriage Debate

This week, Governor John Baldacci of Maine signed a formal proclamation putting Maine’s new same-sex marriage law to a vote. He claims that he is constitutionally required to allow Maine citizens to decide our rights, despite his personal support of the same-sex legislation. Not surprisingly, opponents of same-sex marriage in Maine successfully gathered nearly 100,000 votes to put the issue on the ballot. Once again, it is up to the people to decide whether they are for us or against us.

Before we get into a discussion about equal rights and how we are all the same, let’s stop for a moment to think about what we are fighting so hard for. I was catching up on this season of Top Chef, which includes three gay “cheftestants,” two of whom are rather butch women. In the second episode the cheftestants had to prepare a meal for a bachelor and bachelorette party. This season is taking place in Las Vegas, so naturally the theme of the "classy" affair was liquor shots. I was disappointed to see Ashley Merriman, one of the queer women, throw a fit about how she didn’t want to participate in an event that supports an institution from which she is prohibited.

Is this what we are fighting for? Assimilation? Bachelorette parties? I sure hope not. I support same-sex marriage laws because I think that it is one of the most basic and conservative of gay rights issues. If we don’t have the right to get married, then we will never have queer and trans-friendly laws. But as a feminist I would never be a part of an institution rooted in coverture; as a queer woman I would never be a part of an institution that favors assimilation.

The discourse about same-sex marriage needs to become more contextualized. This isn’t a fight about us against them, or about how we are all the same. My relationship is not the typical straight relationship; my gender expression doesn’t meet heteronormative ideals. Rather than cry about how we are left out, we should be celebrating our difference. As queer feminists we should be questioning why we want to get married before we worry about being left out.

I sincerely hope that Maine voters do not overturn their same-sex marriage law. But if the law stays intact, we should think about whether we should be wanting to get married in the first place.


Erin S. said...

The Blackstone excerpt we read this week had me thinking about this a lot. If the "history and tradition" of marriage (as courts love to say) is one of such an incredibly unequal and oppressive institution as to erase entirely the legal significance of one of the partners, do we even want to participate in it? Obviously there are many legal and social benefits to the marriage right, and I do believe it should be a fundamental right. But from a personal perspective, regardless of my partner's gender, I'm not at all sure about marriage as an unquestioned good.

After our first meeting of Fem Legal Theory, I was discussing the course with friends and someone brought up the linguistic origins of the words "husband" and "wife." "Husband" is of Anglo-Saxon origin and "wife" is of Celtic origin. When the Anglo-Saxons invaded England, the mostly male armies raped and pillaged the native Britons into submission, then settled down with their captive women. So even the language of marriage reflects a history of violence and subjugation, not just in the context of gender but of colonization.

BSH said...

Several points that this post raises are quite salient and not spoken enough publicly. The construction of relationships in a queer context is uniquely gendered. There is an immediate bucking of gender norms in that two people of the same gender are attracted to one another and choosing to partner (in whatever form that takes), however, day to day relationships can play out in ways that at times echo heterosexual relationships. I made a comment in class that relationships are hard; my experience is that they are, no matter what the constitution. There is often times a caretaker and a person to whom many of the domestic burdens lie. Some queer relationships do this intentionally, while in others it occurs unintentionally (and to the chagrin of the partners). But Eve's point about choosing to be in a relationship that does not echo traditional marriage is something I find powerful.

There is a complacency in the gay marriage movement, a sense of banging down the door and begging to be let it. It is pushed all other queer issues to the sidelines, and dominates many of the LGBT advocacy organizations agenda's. It also provides a safe space for heterosexual people to believe they are really supportive of gay rights (believing this is really the only gay right). Really, its just a safe issue to support because it is so basic and so banal. It's a legal issue and a tax issue at this point, not a revolutionary concept that is really pushing any gender boundaries.