Sunday, February 10, 2013

An Anti-Marriage Queer Perspective

This is the first of possibly many MBLGTACC-inspired essays.

I am an anti-marriage queer.  I think I said this at some point before.  I don't know, but I am.  This was the subject of the best workshop I went to today, called "Holey Matrimony," which had a pretty good mix of anti-marriage queers, pro-marriage queers, and people who are pro-marriage but against focusing on marriage.  Most of the discussion was... well, standard.  Mostly polite (at least I thought it was).  There was one comment that stuck out, though, which I don't remember in its entirety but I can paraphrase it a bit:

We should be pro-marriage because same-sex couples should have the same rights as everyone else, and when you say we should not get married you are being no better than anti-queer bigots.

At this point I'm thinking "Whoah, whoah... you don't understand what being an anti-marriage queer is about, for serious!"  Which shouldn't shock me, although it does... and when you're living, as many of us do, in the framework the mainstream LGB movement has constructed for us, it's a perfectly reasonable thing to think.

And even receptive people are framing the issue in an inaccurate manner.  One of the first questions we were asked at this workshop labeled us as "pro-marriage equality" and "anti-marriage equality."  This is a side effect of the push to re-frame and re-label the debate from "gay marriage" and "same-sex marriage" into something more friendly, it's just a normal part of the language escalator.

There is a huge problem with this, though.  When you are labeled as "against marriage equality," it leads people to the assumption that you believe same-sex couples shouldn't get married, but that opposite-sex couples should.  I can't speak for anti-marriage queers as a whole, as there are undoubtedly some who feel this way (for anti-assimilation purposes, for example), but my perspective on this is absolutely nothing like that.

Wisconsin is one of those states that has an amendment in our constitution banning same-sex marriage as well as anything that is "substantially similar" to marriage.  Although we didn't win, I fought to the point of exhaustion against that amendment.  I faced property damage, harassment, and threats of personal violence.  I can tell you stories from this period in my life that make me shake with rage.  And I'd do it all again in a heartbeat.  I am not somehow angry and heartbroken when a state enacts marriage equality, and I oppose legislation such as DOMA, the repeal of which would grant very important rights to currently married same-sex couples.  My point is that I am not opposing what you think I am opposing.

No, when I say I am an anti-marriage queer, from a personal perspective, I am saying that I believe there should be a serious difference between a social and religious marriage and a legal contract that lays out how people will negotiate their needs with each other.  In short, the government should not be legislating peoples' love lives.  And that applies to all relationships, not just same-sex or opposite-sex ones.

The so-called "rights" that legal marriage grants are for the most part things that have no business being confined to a romantic or sexual relationship.  For example:
  • The "right" for a person's spouse to share their health insurance implies that people shouldn't otherwise have a right to healthcare.
  • The "right" for a person to visit a person in the hospital should not be limited to spouses, if the hospitalized person agrees with such a thing.
  • The "right" for a spouse to immigrate suggests that people should need to get married to immigrate.
  • The "rights" associated with children, such as co-adoption, suggest that people only have--or should have--children if they are in a romantic relationship.
  • The "rights" associated with cohabitation, such as the "right" to occupy housing restricted to families, perpetuates the idea that housing should be a restricted commodity.
  • The "rights" associated with retribution if your partner should have an affair assume that it is your "right" to own another person. 
  • The "right" to a social event that showcases your love or fulfills a deep spiritual need in your life... is something you already have.

In other words, the "rights" and responsibilities that are limited to marriage, or made significantly easier by marriage, are often things that don't inherently require a sexual and romantic relationship with one person, including several things that should be universal human rights.  We chastise people who "marry for the benefits" without realizing that people who marry without love, without sex, or without romance are merely engaging in a legal contract that grants them rights they should already have.

Yet rather than  point out these things, we reinforce a limited and exclusive institution by focusing our efforts on gaining access to it.  We are completely clueless as to what alternatives to legal marriage we, as not only queer people but diverse straight people, could bring to the community as a whole.

For example, there are plenty of things that--for whatever reason--are more effective when tied to a legal contract.  Distribution of wealth gained during a relationship when the relationship ends, wishes to be carried out after death (such as funeral arrangements and inheritance distribution), hospital visitation rights, who gets to make health decisions if one is incapacitated, etc.  But why must these things be connected to marriage?  Why can't they be fulfilled by other contracts, or by a contract similar to marriage but without relying on the idea that two people must be in love to engage in them?

Many of the ramifications of this give people what I call the "ooeys," so I'd like to address that.  We are very firmly ingrained in our social norms, so the idea of expanding these "rights" to relationships we don't associate with marriage is scary and weird to most people.  Especially when it comes to kids, there's an assumption that a child must be reared with two people who love each other.  This isn't an accurate representation of how all kids are raised even now, though.  There are kids raised in kinship networks, by a grandparent and a parent, by single parents, by parents who don't love each other anymore, by polyamorous networks.  And we ignore how much of the so-called "failure" of these child rearing styles is due to a lack of social support for the carers and the social stigma attached to the kids... and perpetuate it by driving the whole "think of the children" argument for same-sex marriage.  Reality is not made less real by other peoples' discomfort.

In situations like these and many others, marriage creates an excluding factor that denies rights to relationships that do not fit the model ascribed to it.  Currently, in most states, same-sex marriages do not fit that model, and although it is certainly so for bigoted reasons, realize that adding same-sex marriage to the mix does little to prevent the marginalization of polyamorous relationships, cohabitation of various types, non-traditional parenting styles, super-traditional parenting styles that include wide family networks, people who choose for whatever reason not to engage in romantic relationships, and anybody who does not want to be obligated to try "sticking it out" with a person forever.  And that's not even touching on some highly problematic elements of marriage that spring from its use to control people, especially women, and its connection to Christian privilege.

Which brings me to the last point I'm going to make before I go to sleep... one of the arguments I hear over and over and over again goes something like "everybody should have the right to dream about their wedding."  In other words, in a social context the LGB movement has been equating marriage with weddings, and by extension legal marriage with religious marriage.

I don't have a problem with weddings or religious marriage, but there's a problem with equating these with civil marriage:  They both perfectly legal while civil marriage often isn't.  There's nothing stopping you, provided you can find a willing minister in the tradition you prefer... hell, you don't even need a minister, I had a conversation with a bigoted ass at a protest who revealed he's not legally married to his wife because in their tradition marriage is between two people and God (he told me with  no hesitation "God hates it, but gays can get married just like straight people.").  And although there are some fuckwads who will attempt to deny services, it's also perfectly legal for you to have a gigantic-ass same-sex wedding, and there's nothing illegal about that.

But again, my main issue here is that despite my desire to radically reorient the marriage debate, I am not "against marriage equality."  I simply have a different definition of what that is.