I've been discussing same-sex marriage on blue_braces's journal and also on a lesbian mothers' list. This post expands on and adapts things I said in both.
First of all, I'm in favor of legal recognition of same-sex marriage. I was married for over a quarter century and had three kids with my then spouse. I feel like we have all (me, my ex, the kids, and society as a whole) been disadvantaged by discriminatory marriage laws. I think it's a huge mistake society has made to exclude same sex couples from the rights of marriage even as we voluntarily take on the responsibilities of marriage. I think the fact that so many of us do choose to take on those responsibilities without the attendant rights is testament to marriage's appeal to many of us. I for one think a committed partnership with responsibility for each other and for children born or adopted during the partnership is a really great way to live.
I'm thrilled with the developments in Canada, in parts of Europe, in parts of the U.S., and even in South Africa that we've seen in recent years. I fully expect that in my life time legal recognition of same sex marriage will be granted on the federal level in the US. I expect to look back on this time much as we view inter-racial marriage pre-Loving, i.e. shaking our heads and saying "What were they thinking?"
That said, I have sympathy and understanding for those who express reservations about the emphasis we've seen on same sex marriage of late, and the kind of enshrinement of marriage as a goal of lesbian and gay civil rights. There’s a good article from The Nation from a couple of years ago that I think expresses the “anti-marriage movement position” (for lack of a better term) very well (and I thank blue_braces for reminding me of it). Lisa Duggan in “Holy Matrimony!” argues against jumping on the same-sex marriage bandwagon and in favor of pushing for “a flexible menu of choices for forms of household and partnership recognition open to all citizens, depending on specific and varying needs.” She argues that it’s not in society’s interest to privilege married couples and their children over other arrangements – single people with or without children, polyamorous arrangements, relationships of friendship or kinship of other kinds than marriage. You can read the article at http://www.thenation.com/doc/20040315/duggan if you like.
I think she makes some good points. I don't think that marriage is the only or best way to rear children and I don’t think other kinds of relationships should be viewed as inferior to marriage. I also don't think that marriage is without value if it's childless, so the emphasis on marriage as a method for child-rearing can be off base. I think to the extent that marriage has become less tied to biological parenthood, the better it is as an institution - I'd like to see that trend continue. I think we need better supports in our society for people who aren’t married - single parents, in particular.
I agree with the critiques of marriage that show how it has historically not been a good deal for women and I agree with the critiques of marriage that say it should not be privileged over other relationships where people take responsibility for and care for each other. I think those critiques need to continue to go on within the GLBT community. OTOH, I don’t think these kind of critiques have a place in the move for marriage equality, which I continue to think is an important one. I’m not surprised that the legal documents and the persuasive essays and so forth that have been part of the campaign to gain us equal marriage rights talk up marriage. If we want this right – and many of us do – we want it because we feel that legal recognition of our marriages is something of value. Not value for everyone, but a valid choice and one we feel diminished by not having access to. So our attempts to persuade courts of law and courts of public opinion will stress what we find valuable in the institution as well as our exclusion from it.
I do think that legal marriage is not going away. IMNSHO we do better to mold it into an institution we can live with than to hope for its demise. I can live with it if it's open to same sex couples as well as mixed sex ones.
OTOH, I understand a lot of the antipathy towards the same-sex marriage movement, I think, and not just on an intellectual level. I can understand the kind of visceral negative feeling that some feel when they see GLBT leaders seeming lauding marriage as a superior institution. I can understand how court documents (see http://www.glad.org/marriage/Kerrigan-Mock/CT_summary_jud_07_28_2005.pdf for an example of one) that present marriage as something special and peerless make those who choose not to marry feel like other arrangements are being criticized by comparison.
I understand this antipathy on a visceral level because I felt similarly during the campaign for gay and lesbian military service in this country (I’m still shocked we lost that one, btw). I have strong antipathy towards military culture and I have strong negative feelings about how the military has often been used in this country. Yet I do believe this country ought to have a military and do believe it should be open to lesbians and gay men on an equal basis to that of heterosexuals. So I’m in favor of ending the ban. Yet I cringed at a lot of the testimony and the articles, asserting that we are just as patriotic and just as eager to serve and just as committed to military service as our heterosexual counterparts. I mean, it’s true. We are just as committed as the rest of society – some of us really want to be in the military, some of us would rather go to prison, and most of us probably don’t want to be in the military but would if drafted and we couldn’t get out of it. But the campaign for the end of the ban on the military focused, of necessity, on those segments of our community who are strongly pro-military.
Some of the rest of us felt a little silenced and a little uncomfortable. I know I did. But I kept my discomfort under wraps by coming back to the idea that if it’s an option it should not be an option for straight people and not for us. Simple fairness. So I supported the campaign to end the ban, even though it wasn’t my issue and it made me a little uncomfortable. I think that’s all we can ask from people in the queer community who have negative feelings about marriage, too. But I don't think it's too much to ask. I think the discussion on whether marriage is of value should continue, intramurally.
I think in GLBT community we have people with a huge variety of attitudes towards marriage and we don't want to present marriage as the only way to form a family or have children. I do think those who are against marriage can still support the right to legal marriage, and those of us who do see value in the institution can still benefit from listening to and engaging with others on the critique of it. I think we're better able to listen to that critique if we believe those who disagree with us still support us in a move to gain this civil right.
Okay, I need another M thing. Monogamy – I’m for it. I respect the views of those who aren’t and I don’t think it should be the only option available, but I find it the most satisfying one. Oh, and milk shakes. I think there should definitely be more milk shakes in the world.
My thanks to the one person who read this far. I’ll know who you are when you offer to buy me a milkshake (vanilla, coffee or strawberry, please. I’m allergic to chocolate).
Obligatory X-Men fanfic reference - if legal marriage had been an option for Jean-Paul and Adam in the U.S., they wouldn't have had issues regarding Adam being the sole adoptive parent.