The following isn't an overly original marriage piece, but it looked like it was going to run in a certain Washington periodical that shall remain nameless, until they pulled it at the last minute. Since the piece's relevance pretty much expires on election day, I thought I'd post it here. There are a few lines/strains of thought that I want to see the light of day, in one form or another. I hate writing about my own writing, but I'd hoped this might help make the terms of the marriage debate a little less self-evident and start to get at the larger stakes of marriage equality, especially for collective citizenship.
For those of you living in a hermetically-sealed bubble for the past several years, I bring breaking news: there’s a marriage debate being staged across the nation concerning the rights of Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Transgender people to marry. The right exists in a small number of states (plus one district), and a few additional states now recognize the same-sex marriage certificates issued by other states. This election season, though, the question is appearing as a ballot initiative in four states – Maryland, Washington, Maine, and Minnesota. It seems timely, then, to take a moment to root around a little in the business of both marriage equality and state-sponsored love in 21st century America.
Perhaps we should stop swaddling ourselves in inherited marriage bullshit, whether religious or cultural. Let’s be clear: Marriage, within the realm of government legislation, isn’t about love. Marriage isn’t about creating healthy environments for children. (After all, America’s ever-expanding foster care system suggests that nuclear families fail their children every day.) Present-day marriage doesn’t have anything to do with Jesus either, much though that diva would like it to. The nuclear family, crafted in the furnace of marriage and government-sponsored love, is a technology by which the state organizes and exercises power over its citizens. Through the institution of marriage, the state acknowledges specific kinds of relationships, glues in place patriarchal gender relations, and fortifies the structural economic inequality that has become the calling card of 21st century America. Marriage is more about the selective distribution of privileges than it’s ever been about love.
In light of my emerging cynicism, maybe you won’t be surprised to learn that there are divergent strains of thought within the LGBT community about whether or not the ability to marry is even a desirable right. After all, marriage is a deeply sexist institution that has a long history of overt racism. Plus, many LGBT people have spent years, sometimes generations, forging unconventional community ties whose perceived legitimacy hasn’t a single thing to do with one-on-one marriage. We also might wonder if the enormous resources spent passing marriage legislation, by organizations like the Human Rights Campaign, might be better spent on more pressing issues like healthcare and workplace discrimination. Does the fact that in 2012, LGBT rights automatically equals civil marriage keep us from recognizing both the landscape of possibilities that LGBT politics might present to the American imagination and the larger economic problems that make marriage a necessity in the first place?
But if we’re going to have the marriage conversation, and by now it’s very clear that we are, none of this is really the point. That isn’t what is at stake for either the state-specific ballot initiatives or the larger campaign for marriage equality. The black-and-white reality is that one set of American citizens can achieve a basic set of rights and privileges that another cannot. Denying LGBT citizens the right to marry creates a system of tiered citizenship that values certain Americans over others. The fact that Sharon Stone can marry, but Sharon Needles can’t means that Sharon S. has access to fuller citizenship than Ms. Needles, having absolutely nothing to do with whether or not either has any business getting married at all. Flat-out, this is not the democracy on which America prides itself.
What’s more, this debate has an effect on our collective citizenship. Where you, good fundamentalists of the world, love to argue that homomatrimony would weaken the value of your “traditional” marriage, I’m going to suggest that denying a specific group of Americans the right to marry cheapens your citizenship. And honey, in most cases you’ve been American much longer then you’ve been husband/wife.
Will marriage be good for LGBT people? Sorry, the cynic in me started laughing before you even finished asking the question. However, at this particular political moment, it’s possible to be against marriage, but for marriage equality. Hell, it’s even possible to be against LGBT people, but for marriage equality, because voting for equality doesn’t have anything to do with marriage. It isn’t even a statement about how you feel about homosexuality. Fundamentally, it’s a vote in favor of democratic equality for all citizens.
Discuss. Oh, and vote. Be as hipster-trendy as you want, there’s nothing cool about not voting.
Now, Will Danger, your questions are irksome and perhaps you should take your furs and your literal interpretations to the other side of the river. Sashay away.