Friday, December 26, 2008

Fallying For Marriage: A Case Against the Marriage Drive

Fallying for Marriage: An Argument Against Marriage
A Fally is a rally based on a fallacy. A fallacy is a “component of an argument which, being demonstrably flawed in its logic or form, renders the whole argument invalid” (thanks Wikipedia for the refresher). Starting here, I would like to talk about marriage rallies or more so marriage fallies AND how such rallies are really fallies based on problematic arguments. I write this not to de-legitimate these rallies or those persons taking a part in them – although you may very well read this as doing so. I also do not think that their arguments are completely invalid. I commend them for their activism, bravery, and passion – I myself may take part in them as we all have our contradictions and need for solidarity . I write this however so those of us who do not fight for this “marriage” thing in certain ways can have our views expressed AND not simply pushed aside like a pesky bug or worse seen as being in “bed” with the enemy. To make it clear, I am not a fan of Focus on the Family, I am not a fan of religious zealots. I am not a fan of hate. What I am though, is tired…tired of this marriage debate having only two sides and becoming more and more like Dubbya’s notion that “you are either with us or against us”. I am tired that we have spent millions fighting this fight while LGBTQ youth sleep on the streets, HIV/AIDS research and program funding decreases, schools fail to address issues of difference, and a whole host of issues that are pertinent to the “LGBTQ” Community (and I would argue the community at large) are pushed aside and often ignored. So, here goes…
I am not with the marriage advocates and I am not with those who oppose marriage based on religious and moral grounds. I do not hate myself so please don’t try to pathologize me as suffering from “internalized oppression” or “internalized homophobia” because I do not agree with the mainstream gay plight for marriage. I do not buy into there only being these two sides. Rather, I am with the unnamed side in this debate – the “queer” side, the ugly underbelly, that sees such a drive for marriage as rather problematic and based perhaps on some shakey, fallacious grounds. I see this drive for marriage as potentially limiting the exploration of new forms of relationships, new ways of finding intimacy, new ways of being with others…while some will argue that we need the freedom to marry, I argue that in the unfreedom we currently live in with regards to marriage, there are modes of being, freeing modes that perhaps should be explored and fought for, modes that do not simply abide by what we know, but produce new avenues – however fleeting – of being in the world that do not simply require “us” to be like “them”…

So, here is my argument for a different way in this world so obsessed with wedding bells, gifts, wedding dresses, and tuxedos…I note though that these thoughts are heavily indebted to the work of Michael Warner and Judith Butler who have both written about the problematics of marriage.

1) Love is often times used as a device to argue for same sex marriage. Why shouldn’t two people in love be able to marry? How can you look at this beautiful same-sex couple that has been together for years and deny them access to this hallowed institution of marriage? How could you be so hateful to not want to grant people the right to show their love for one another? How could you deny them the right when it doesn’t even affect you? These are all good questions, they have some emotional pull…They are kinda effective at pulling at the heart strings…Keith Olbermann in his recent emotional plea relied on love to argue that this is not an issue of politics (huh, it’s not?) but one where you either stand on the side of love or not…But first, since when did marriage become about love and why is it that one needs the government to legitimate one’s love for a partner? Or perhaps I should ask, since when did the government care about there being love in a marriage…last time I checked, you just had to sign a piece of paper that was for all intensive purposes a contract, a entering into a union, a rather non-loving document really. So, Keith, I agree that love is important, but marriage is not the solution, it does not make those who don’t love those who are different (those “haters”) all of the sudden love difference. Love is more difficult and marriage is not the solution to showing love, having love, or being in love…I can be in a committed relationship (gay/straight/lesbian/polygamous/monogamous/open) without governmental interference and still have the stability and permanence that has oddly been tied as coming with marriage?

So, for those who argue that you need marriage to show your love to your partner…perhaps I will ask that you re-examine your notion of love and why you would need anyone beside your partner to legitimate that love. I have no doubt that those couples who seek the right to marry are anything but in love. I can look at the images of couples holding hands and see their love…so I am not denying the importance of love…I am merely denying the notion that marriage legitimates that love and that “we” need the government to be a part of our love – It Doesn’t and we should fight for the deconstruction of the government’s involvement in legitimating and therefore delegitimating relationships (be they gay or straight). Of course I recognize that the ways in which marriage is talked about that “love” has been “wedded” to marriage…but let’s be real and recognize that such is not the case.

2) Ahh, but you say that it’s actually not about love…that’s just rhetoric to get people to feel sympathy, empathy, or something good emotionally to “get out the vote”. What this debate is really about is the benefits…the over 1000 governmental benefits that are provided to the wedded couple. “We” deserve equal rights for our relationship because our relationship is just like “theirs” – those individuals who “fit” the traditional definition of marriage. We are normal and if we are normal we deserve the rights that are afforded those who are normal. Again, a good argument…yet, perhaps we should ask, why again should the government be able to legitimate and therefore de-legitimate a relationship? Why again are we fighting for the government to define the “proper” relationship between persons so that “proper” relationships are awarded certain benefits for fitting in? Why, I ask, are there benefits to being in a certain form of a relationship to begin with? Why do we privilege one form of relationship (two-people who are presumably heterosexual) over any other (two or more people who are on the spectrum of “sexuality”)? Simply adding “same-sex couples” to the definition does not deal with the issue that there are still relationships that are and will be disadvantaged because they do not fit and perhaps do not want to fit the new “definition” of marriage? These relationships, still disadvantaged, are relationships between not only “gay” people but also “straight” people…and people anywhere else where ever they define themselves…making this not an issue of “gay” vs. “straight” but between the “normal” vs. “queer” conceptions of relationships.

3) But, wait…you are saying that these are good arguments (thank you), they illustrate the problems with this whole marriage debate. YET, shouldn’t people have the choice to get married? Shouldn’t it at least be an option? I often hear it asked that “shouldn’t marriage be a possibility for same sex couples”…often defended…“so that we can be just as miserable as straight people”? These are really good questions…why shouldn’t marriage at least be an option for same sex couples? Shouldn’t choice be an option? I would argue that it is not that simple – choice is complicated. The ability to choose to marry disciplines not only “ourselves” to conform to the norms that marriage “law” will create BUT it also disciplines those who do not want the choice because that choice occludes the choices that are already present in the “unfreedom” of marrying. This drive for “choice”, the “choice” to marry is then inevitably a disciplining tool to take away the choice of those who resist the normal, the ideal of the married couple. Furthermore, making marriage an option, does little to combat the “hate” that I would argue is a hope that underlies the marriage debate…that if we can show “them” that we are normal and have normal homes in which to raise the future of our nation, then all will be well in the world. But, the “we” of the marriage debate does not include those who don’t seek normalcy, those who are the one’s often violated physically, verbally, and symbolically (often by the “gay” movement itself), those that are seen as “bad” representatives of the movement. Marriage, as a choice, simply makes those who do not fit the marriage wagon more and more outside the movement, more and more violated for refusing to be a part of the normal gay movement and “choose” to be that which is being fought for…These individuals are sometimes told that their time will come, that the wagon will come back to pick them up…but so often if we look at the history of movements, rarely does the wagon go back. I ask then why do “we” seek to have a choice that we know will cause harm to those who are already on the margins of our movement…normalizing ourselves while further forcing them to be less like they want to and more like us…the one’s who are just like “them”, the normal happy couple…

So, I conclude with this…perhaps the success of bans on gay marriage are a good thing…perhaps these successes will allow “us” to re-think the arguments and fight the bigger battle around the normalizing forces that seek to delegitimate those relationships – be they the current same-sex relationships that seek marriage OR those queered relations that don’t and perhaps never will seek marriage BUT still deserve respect and perhaps the “benefits” currently awarded to a small notion of relationships. Perhaps, oh perhaps we can fight for ways in which we imagine new ways of being with one another that do not buy into what is already there…finding our chances at being “a little less alone in the world” not through legal recognition around an institution that has been so detrimental in so many ways BUT through solidarity and coalitions that challenge such normalizing forces to make life more livable not just for those who might fit in, but for those who challenge and defy social sanctions.

Yet, this battle will never conclude, everyone will not be included, as the horizon is always illusive…utopia is but a mere fantasy…but perhaps we can make life a bit more livable, creating little paths, little moments where the horizon of possibilities comes a bit closer to reality…but inevitably is always off there, in the distance, forever on the horizon. Marriage is not the solution to the problems that plague our hesitancy around sexuality…it merely displaces the burden of difference, making some of “us” feel better, perhaps “normal” while excluding others, perhaps giving them less choice in being anything but “normal”.


Leland Traiman said...

President-Elect Barack Obama has thrown the LGBT community a lifeline in our time of need and no one seems to be grasping for it.

After 31 same-sex marriage election defeats in 32 elections, with 45 of 50 states banning same-sex marriage, with 17 states banning civil unions & domestic partnerships our President-Elect, still, wants to grant us federal marriage equality. Yes, all 1,138 federal rights of marriage, including joint income tax returns, shared social security benefits and immigration rights.

Barack Obama’s official Presidential Transition web site proclaims he “believes we need to repeal the Defense of Marriage Act and enact legislation that would ensure that the 1,100+ federal legal rights and benefits currently provided on the basis of marital status are extended to same-sex couples in civil unions and other legally-recognized unions.”

This means that anyone in the eleven states & Washington D.C. that have same-sex marriage, civil unions or domestic partnership could have full federal marital rights. If Congress words the legislation correctly, this may also mean that if you live in one of the other 39 states you could travel to Massachusetts and get married or to Vermont to get a civil union or to California, Washington or Oregon and sign up as registered domestic partners and have all the federal marital rights even if your home state does not grant you state marital rights.

However, there are two catches.

The first is that the federal government will not call these marital rights “marriage.” Indeed, it appears the federal government will not call them anything. Rather, they will simply be recognizing whatever the state calls them, marriage, civil union or domestic partnership.

The second catch is that we need to work our butts off to help our President-Elect fulfill his promise.

Any president can only sign what Congress passes. We need to start lobbying our current and newly elected Members of Congress to support the President-Elect’s pledge for federal marriage equality. This has been made more difficult with the passage of Prop 8 and anti-marriage propositions in Arizona and Florida. But our community has faced long odds before and prevailed. Prior to the marriage lawsuits which brought a tsunami of reactionary electoral defeats outlawing same-sex marriage, we had a strategy that was working. Working through legislative bodies, and not the courts, we successfully passed hundreds of domestic partnership and civil union policies, none of which have ever been directly reversed. Civil unions and domestic partnerships have only been reversed when they were included in anti-same-sex marriage laws. Indeed, the promoters of Prop 8 admitted that they did not try to overturn California’s domestic partnership because they knew they would lose.

Now President-Elect Barack Obama has invited the LGBT community to work for federal marriage equality in our nation’s most important legislative body, the Congress of the United States. He wants us to help him fulfill his pledge to us. But President Obama cannot do this without our help. Equality California has said they want to repeal Prop 8 on the 2010 ballot. This is all well and good. But is this the best use of our time, money and energy at this juncture in our history? Is this the best time to focus on anything else when our new President has a mandate for change NOW?

President-Elect Barack Obama has thrown the LGBT community a lifeline in our hour of need. I hope we have the good sense to grab for it.

narrator said...

In the world's most "Calvinist" nation, I find the marriage debate bizarre. After all, it was Calvinism which first suggested (in 'Western' Society) that marriage be (a) about love, and (b) NOT be the government's responsibility. (for, perhaps, the best view of this debate as it happened see "The Return of Martin Guerre"). So, the essence of Protestant thought on marriage is that human governments have no right to interfere in people's love decisions (why Protestants can be divorced and remarried, among other examples).

The pre-Protestant - Catholic - notion of marriage is that it is a contractual set of obligations to the state, which not only assure active reproduction, but help guarantee that households will remain together, thus ensuring social stability in old age.

So, belief that government has the right to establish marriage automatically accepts the idea the government can set the rules of marriage. I, in perhaps my one bit of agreement with John Calvin, reject the whole idea. Marriage is fine, assuming it is based in love, in mutual desire, and free from government constraints. Outside of that, the fight in the US should be for the basic human rights and benefits which citizens of most other nations enjoy, married or not.

- Ira Socol