Marriage Equality: Yay for California but My Overall Reaction to Marriage is *shrug*

By now you’ve probably heard about this bit of news, this morning the CA Supreme Court has overturned the ban on same-sex marriage in my state. The conservatives are already pushing to get something on the ballot in November to re-ban it.

I wasn’t going to write anything about this decision at all. There’s been much rejoicing by my friends but personally and frankly the news gets a shrug from me. Not because I don’t believe in marriage equality but because I don’t believe in marriage at all. So let me explain, but first a disclaimer.

What follows is my personal opinion and not a judgment on those who are married or wish to get married…

Why are you against marriage, it’s just love? Do you hate love?*

I think marriage is an archaic institution that was and still is  to a large degree about ownership. When a man and a woman marry the woman takes the man’s name, why? No, really why? If it was just about having the same name it would be just as useful for the man to take the woman’s name but that’s not the case. In fact even today if a man wants to take his wife’s name it may take him two years and a lawsuit to do so. Renaming someone, even with their agreement is staking a claim, it’s the loss of half your identity to prove what exactly? It’s only in the last 50-60 years that the idea of marrying for love really came into vogue. For the most part marriage has been about property rights, heirs and power.

For me the history of marriage is the history of a system of oppression and ownership of women. This is not a legacy I want any part of because even though people argue that it’s changed I think that building on a dark history only legitimizes that history. Plus I just don’t understand the need for outside validation in my personal relationships. If I want to be with someone then I’m with them until I no longer want to be. I don’t want/need to be legally tied to someone.

But what about the benefits?*

Well I don’t think those benefits should be tied to marriage at all. Because what about those who maybe want those same benefits to go to that friend they’ve had for over 30 years? Maybe a lot of this comes from the fact that I’ve never seen that much difference between romantic relationships and close friendships except for the absence of sex (and really that depends on the friendship). I think the idea that you have to be in a romantic relationship with someone to feel that sort of closeness is a societal construct that we’re all taught to buy into from childhood. What if I want all those benefits from marriage to go to my best friend of 5 years, how is that relationship and love less valid than a marriage of two people who’ve known each other for six months? What if I want my elderly sick mother to share those benefits? Or what if I have more than one partner? What if I’m in a stable loving long term relationship that involves three people? What if I’m polyamourous and seeing two people that I love equally and each of those people is seeing someone else and on and on? I just see marriage as another hierarchical institution that places those who dare fall outside the “norm” once again on the bottom rung.

Those people are freaks! Real love involves two people!*

There are those who would argue that it’s just between a man and a woman. And others who would say that that man and woman have to be of the same race. Love is for everyone.

But isn’t this a move in the right direction?*

Well not for me because I haven’t seen any of the discussion of the above issues, anywhere. I expected a little criticism somewhere on the web but it’s no where to be found and that actually makes me a little sad. But perhaps everyone is just caught up in the happy right now which I can understand and criticism will come later. About the push for marriage equality in particular well I see it as another way for LGBTQ organizations to assimilate more into the mainstream leaving behind the “freaks” and “weirdos” that used to be celebrated by the movement. Again playing into that structure where two people who get married are then considered better or more happy than those who don’t want to get married (like me) or those in the situations I pointed to above who still won’t be able to provide those same benefits to someone they love.

But we can’t just let anyone get married, god wouldn’t like that!*

And that’s another issue I have with marriage, the lines are blurry. It’s a religious institution, it’s also a governmental classification and the lines get blurred so that god is often brought up. Setting aside my personal religious feelings, there’s a little thing called separation of Church and State so personally I could not care less about what your god would and wouldn’t like. If you want to have a religious ceremony with all the pomp involved that’s your choice and more power to you. If your church chooses not to recognize certain unions well that’s their business but I’m talking about the government recognizing it and that’s something entirely different.

Well what do you want?*

I personally would like to see a shift in language, the abolishment marriage and the creation a new classification that would allow people to give those special benefits to anyone they would like, friends, family, multiple partners. I’d like a true kind of equality that would allow me more choice in who I give rights over myself to and that isn’t based on something with such a horrible history. You can’t build a perfume store on top of a landfill ’cause eventually that stench rises up.


Now all that politically radical rambling (that will probably get me in a bunch of arguments and trouble) being said I know none of this is likely to happen anytime soon. Understanding that, am I happy that an institution I don’t particularly like is being widened in definition? Of course as I stated above I think everyone should have the right to be recognized as having a valid relationship with someone of their choice. I think this is a victory but I think it’s a relatively small one and I’m gonna wait to jump up and down with joy until I see some movement towards true freedom.

*All of these are questions I’ve actually recieved in discussions on my view on marriage. 


15 responses to “Marriage Equality: Yay for California but My Overall Reaction to Marriage is *shrug*

  1. I think I love you.

    Or at least this post. XD It puts into words a lot of things I’ve felt regarding marriage but never really been able to articulate exactly. How do you do it?

    Of course, the “meh”ness of marriage does not detract from the joy of a step closer to LGBT equality! But yeah, you voice a lot of things I’ve felt at a gut level growing up. Great post!

  2. In Scandinavia and the Netherlands, where the social safety net covers everyone, rates of marriage have been in decline for decades, I believe. So the “benefits” argument FOR marriage only works if a society is set up with dependencies. If we had universal health care coverage, etc etc, that wouldn’t be an issue.

    I read a great deal of critique of the patriarchal institution of marriage in the 70s within feminist and critical historical theory, but then a lot of that seemed to fall out of fashion or something. Or else I just stopped reading and missed it all. If the critique did fall out of fashion in feminist theory, I wonder why that is.

    My only quibble is that, as with the business of name changing customs, which aren’t the same everywhere, “marriage” covers a lot of ground over different cultures and time periods. (And our culture tends to get its ideas of ‘how marriage always is and was’ from the still lingering influence of the Euro-American Victorian Age–which is kind of like typical views of the European Middle Ages being what I call “the Victorian Middle Ages” and having little to do with the actual European Middle Ages–anyway, I digress, sorry).

    So while I’m not convinced that marriage is *always* and specifically about ownership (although it can definitely be that), it is, I think, usually at the least about family, lineage, children, property, and alliances.

    I totally agree that the state should not be involved with legitimizing religious marriage. If it were up to me, civic unions/domestic partnership agreements and the legal rights/ramifications that go along with them would be the purview of the state. People who wanted to get married in religious ceremonies could do so at the religious institution of their choice as a separate thing.

  3. Thank you, this pretty much sums up what I have been saying for a long time. I often start off by saying that I think using the term “marriage” is problematic because there is a difference between legal marriage and the sacrament, and the sacrament is often what people are concerned with when they accuse people of infringing on the rights of the churches to establish their own rules. (Of course, most hate the thought anywhere, and apply selective history to the traditions of marriage)

    I don’t think anyone should define marriage (or sin, or whatever) for a church and that participation is voluntary. But the legal term, the legal status, is another matter.

    When I say that, and much of what you wrote, people accuse me of wanting “less than full rights” by saying that we should step away from the term marriage which is religious and favor something else. “Oh, so gays should SETTLE for civil unions?” which is not my point at all. Equal rights, but in keeping with separation. Men and women could have civil unions or partnerships as well, or something else entirely.

    I think the term “marriage” is inappropriate for many, and should be left as a sacrament and church status to bestow separately for those who wish to seek it and follow whatever restrictions are laid out.

  4. Ico:
    I’m so glad that everyone’s whose commented has had a positive response to this. I was really nervous about this post because when I espouse my view on marriage…well you can’t believe the anger and vitriol that I get from some folks. Yeah, I’ve always felt really uncomfortable about marriage from a very young age and it’s only in the last few years that I’ve been able to articulate the why of it.

    Of course, the “meh”ness of marriage does not detract from the joy of a step closer to LGBT equality!
    You’re right, it is a great thing to have another step towards equality.

  5. Kate:
    That’s really interesting about the Netherlands and Scandanavia. I had no idea that was happening but it made sense as soon as I read it.

    The critique on marriage has seemed to fall off in recent years or I haven’t been able to find that much. Now whenever I see feminists discussing marriage it tends to be about how to have a feminist marriage or something like that and nothing criticizing marriage itself. It could just be that I’m not reading/finding the right stuff but it does bother me that critique of it seems to have fallen off.

    My only quibble is that, as with the business of name changing customs, which aren’t the same everywhere, “marriage” covers a lot of ground over different cultures and time periods.
    You’re totally right. I’m working on my own knowledge of the origins of marriage and since I’m in the West that’s where all the knowledge is based. And like mention we tend to have a skewed view of our own history.
    Although nowadays I would say that through colonialization, missionary work and our media we’ve altered so many marriage customs so that they are much more in line with ours than what they once were.

    And your plan is one that I could definitely get with because as it is now I can’t really get angry with people who bring religion into the marriage argument because to me marriage is a religious institution that the the state co-opted. And so the lines are just way too fuzzy between church and state here for me to tell someone to keep their god out of the discussion.

  6. Agreed, agreed, agreed. I’m all for abolishing marriage altogether.

    I live in Quebec where common law relationships are more common than marriage, and just from anecdotal evidence, common law spouses are accepted just as readily as legal spouses, as in they are not discriminated against from a social perspective.
    Also interesting about Quebec is that women do not take their husband’s names upon marriage. If they want to change their names they must go through the same legal hoops as anyone wanting to change their name. So it’s complicated and expensive. Socially they may use their husband’s names if they wish but from a legal perspective they will always be recognized by their maiden names.

    But back to common law relationships being popular in Quebec. I actually think that one reason for this could be language. In French there is a word to describe a partner that includes married and non-married people. (The word is conjoint and it is also not gender specific) But in English no such word exists. I actually know people who are getting married simply because they don’t want to keep using the term “girlfriend” and “boyfriend” to refer to each other. We can use the term “partner” but that is ambiguous since it could refer to a business partner.

    Anyway, my partner and I have most of the legal rights as married people but not all, so all we have to do is make wills to designate each other as beneficiaries. These Canadian legal wills are free by the way, and marriage isn’t.

    The only thing that bugs me about the fact that I’m not married and all my friends are about to get hitched is that now I have to buy them stupid wedding gifts, but I get no such gift. Goddamn wedding industrial complex….

  7. Lynn:
    I completely agree. I do think one of the things that has made this fight for marriage equality so difficult and problematic is the irrevocable ties that the word marriage has with religion in our society. Marriage for all intents and purposes is a religious institution disguised as a governmental one, at least that’s how I feel.

    “Oh, so gays should SETTLE for civil unions?”
    I’ve gotten this too, time and time again. I always try and explain that it’s not about that. It’s about deconstructing marriage as a whole and creating something new that encompasses everyone.

  8. Nique:
    I’ve actually been contemplating a move to Canada in the next few years. Yes, I know a lot of liberals say this all the time but I’ve done some research and have been thinking that once I get my MFA I might want to head up north for my PhD and perhaps just stay there for a while. I’m sayiong this because your comment has made me even more eager for the move. I love the idea of common law relationships being more common than marriage and the non-automatic name change.

    I really do think that language itself has a huge influence on this push for marriage. GLBT folks I’ve talked to down here always mention being able to call their partner “husband” or “wife”and how that made a huge difference to their families and such after San Francisco gave out marriage licenses. The fact that we don’t have a word that conveys the same commitment and devotion as those terms and the term marriage definitely has an effect on this push for marriage equality, in my opinion. Laguage is a very important tool of society and effects us in ways we don’t always recognize.

    As for the buying of wedding gifts that’s something that sticks in my craw a bit too. As someone who never intends to get married I kind of balk at the whole thing. It makes me think of a quote from Sex and the City (not the most progressive show at all I know but one of my weaknesses) Speaking about having spent thousands of dollars on a friend’s wedding gifts, christening gifts etc. “And if I don’t ever get married or have children then what, I get bubkiss? I’m happy to give you presents to celebrate your choices in life I just think it sucks that single people get left out.”

  9. I have mixed feelings about this. I pretty much completely agree with what you’ve written here (and was glad to see this perspective amidst all the uncritical celebration) but I also know that conservative attacks on same-sex marriage (which are very different from what you’ve said) feel like attacks on me as a queer person. I’m from Michigan, and when the state voted to make same-sex marriage super-duper illegal, it was very hurtful to me, and, honestly, has been part of my decision to leave. So, feeling attacked makes me feel like I need to defend same-sex marriage (even though I don’t actually believe in marriage.) I do have the sense sometimes that these feelings are being intentionally manipulated in me (and other, white, relatively privileged queer people)–what I mean is, I’ve heard that Gavin Newsom used legalizing same-sex marriage to shore up his support among leftists and progressives after a near loss to the Green party candidate in the election. I also think that the “liberal establishment” has used same-sex marriage as a way of promoting assimilation of queer people into sexual and romantic norms; I half remember reading an editorial in the New York Times that was pretty much explicit in this logic.

  10. It’s always interesting to me how the logic of most people is:

    Marriage is necessary for nuclear family, nuclear family is necessary for civilization… and they’re usually reading the Bible in which folks have 8 wives, sleep with their own daughters, and a bunch of other things that wouldn’t fly right now.

  11. Willow:
    I completely understand being torn on this issue, despite my issues with marriage I do think it’s complete bullshit to deny it to people on the basis of who they love. Even if you don’t want to get married you can’t help but be offended by them trying to keep you out of it. Because it’s not even really that their excluding queer folks from marriage it’s that they’re trying to bar a group of people from something they themselves see as fundamental human right and so are challenging the humanity of queer folks. Or at least that’s what I think.

    Yeah, Gavin
    I’m not a Gavin fan at all, he may be my mayor but I didn’t vote for him and that’s exactly what he used the whole thing for and it bothers me so much.

  12. bankuei:
    Seriously, the bible is really one of the dirtiest books out there: incest, polygyny, rape. Have you read “The X-rated Bible” yet? If not I’ll try and find my copy to let you borrow, it takes out all the instances of all these things and examines them.

  13. once I get my MFA I might want to head up north for my PhD and perhaps just stay there for a while.

    PhD? Are you thinking of getting it in English? Literature? Creative Writing? I was thinking about a PhD, but I got rejected from the programs I applied to. However, I also discovered this past semester, while doing research for a prof, that I hate research. So perhaps I wouldn’t be too good at writing a dissertation.

    What are you looking to get your PhD in?

  14. Ico:
    Right now the PhD idea is vague and unplanned but I never really thought I’d go for my Masters either and I’ve realized that I really do like school and kind of already have an idea for what I’d like to do a diss on, the intersections of race and science-fiction.
    We’ll see if it happens, a lot of which depends on what goes down in the next couple of years, but for right now I’m thinking I’d like to get it in Post-Colonial Literature.

  15. Pingback: Marriage As Inequality « Words From The Center, Words From The Edge

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