Just read an article on Salon.com called: “Same-sex marriage – I don’t care if it is legal, I still think it’s wrong — and I’m a lesbian.” and it brought home again a lot of the things that I was thinking about yesterday while watching Queer as Folk 2. The situation is this. Gay politics in the 80s was about being worthy, reasonable, “rising above” abuse, scrabbling for rights. And to an extent, that is still what it is about. It mirrored to the legal aspects of liberal feminism. But feminism progressed, and so has gay politics.
Now, for me at least, gay politics isn’t like that any more. For me the horrors are the Uncle Tom like behaviour of happy little queens on TV and in films (stand up, you abomination Three to Tango) and the assimilationist politics that means that just because gay people are now beginning to have the rights that everyone else (and by this I mean straight, male, european caucasions of a certain age – I suppose) has, that they should want to do the same things that everyone else does. That is, of course, when it doesn’t offend people’s delicate sensibilities. “Let’s let them be like us,” goes out the cry, “and if there are things they are allowed to do, but just can’t, well that’s their problem isn’t it?”
- Gay Marriage
Marriage is a legal institution and it comes with a range of legal and financial advantages and disadvantages. It is an option for co-habiting heterosexuals, but not for most gay people. Should it be an option – YES. Should a non-“institution of marriage”-type form of legally recognised relationship be instituted (for both straight and gay people) – YES. Should gay people “get married”. It’s up to them – but I’d say no. Why do it? For whom? Are there no alternatives that might provide better options for gay people? Will lesbians have the same relationships as gay men or straight couples? Are there no alternatives that might provide better options for relationships that are currently grouped as “heterosexual”? The point of gay politics has been to fight for a space to be different. And that difference doesn’t end when you are out of bed (or wherever it is people have sex nowadays)…
Most gay men I know have spent at least some portion of their lives thinking that they’d never have children. The first thing parents say when they find out you’re gay is “No grandchildren for me”. The first thing friends say when they hear about coming out to your parents is “It must be a shock for them realising they are never going to have grandchildren”. But of course all of this is the same tacit assumption that a child must be the product of a “healthy relationship” – which encodes all kinds of things within it (the age of the respective partners, the number of people in the relationship [and I’m not talking about sex there, although I could have], their backgrounds, sexual orientations, race, occupations, preference to work or to look after children etc etc etc). By which we could easily read “normal relationship” of course. But gay people aren’t normal. That’s kind of the point. If we were normal we wouldn’t have had to fight for so much – we wouldn’t have had to fight for the right to have sex with people we love, or desire, or like – or to adopt, or not be subject to medical experiments, or to be bullied at schools, or to be thrown out of our parent’s homes. If people are happy to accept that there are different ways to have a relationship – why are they so resistant to their being different suitable relationships to bring children up within? And one of my favourite headlines recently: “Britains first gay parents” – as if the fact that they actually got a surrogate mother to conceive for them makes them any more legitimate than the thousands of gay parents who had to hide their sexuality in harder times, or who chose to conceive with a friend or ex-lover.
Laurie Essig (the writer of the Salon article) is completely correct when she says that marriage is “an institution founded in historical, material and cultural conditions that ensured women’s oppression”. That’s not to say that marriage can’t work well for a woman, but that it depends upon the adaptation of the individual to the institution or the institution to the individual. Marriage is also (as she goes on to say) founded in conditions that excluded “non-productive” sexualities, like homosexuality, masturbation, oral sex, anal sex – the list goes on indefinitely.
And I couldn’t agree more with her when she says:
“why should those of us who have organized our lives in a way that looks a lot like heterosexual marriage be afforded special recognition by the government because of that? What about people who organize their lives in threes, or fours, or ones? What about my friend who is professionally promiscuous, who for ideological and psychological and sexual reasons has refused to ever be paired with anyone? What about my sister who is straight but has never in her 40-odd years seen a reason to participate in marriage? Which group will gain state recognition next? The polygamous? The lifelong celibate?
“My point is not that we should do away with marriage but that we should do away with favoring some relationships over others with state recognition and privilege. Religions, not the state, should determine what is morally right and desirable in our personal lives. We can choose to be followers of those religions or thumb our noses at them. But the state has no place in my bedroom or family room, or in yours, either. ”