(Preliminary Note: This became extremely long. My apologies. It turned out I had a lot to say.)
As most of my ‘Queer News Bulletins’ are updates on the progress of same-sex marriage legislation in the United States (35 states and counting!), I am obviously in favor of same-sex marriage. However, as I have alluded to in my previous blog posts and comments in class, my perspective on the issue is a bit more complicated than the typical cry of “yay gay marriage!” often chanted by well-meaning allies. And, while I could go on and on (and on) about all of the other necessities of the GSRM community that are ignored by the mainstream media and mainstream gay rights movement, I addressed these to a large extent in my blog post for the second unit. So I’m going to talk just about marriage, starting at the beginning.
At the risk of repeating myself for the five-hundredth time during this class—the term “gay marriage” makes just as little sense as the term “straight marriage”. Both same and opposite sex marriages can involve individuals of any sexual orientation and any gender. Even the term ‘opposite sex’ makes little sense in light of the complexity of sex as discussed in Anne Fausto-Sterling’s Sex/Gender: Biology in a Social World; rather than a strict male/female binary determined solely by chromosomes, sex is composed of “layers” starting with chromosomes (of which there are at least six functional possibilities and possibly more), and continuing with fetal gonadal sex, fetal hormonal sex, genital sex, internal reproductive sex, brain sex, etc. (Fausto-Sterling 5). Referring to one sex as being ‘opposite’ another ignores not only the similarities between sexes but also the complexity of sex itself. Worst of all, it erases or marginalizes intersex individuals. So the term ‘gay marriage’ is unpalatable, the term ‘queer marriage’ is also not necessarily accurate, and even the term ‘same-sex marriage’ is still not perfect.
What about ‘marriage equality’? When not calling same-sex marriage ‘gay marriage,’ most mainstream media outlets discuss ‘marriage equality,’ as though now the entire GSRM community has the same marriage rights as the non-GSRM majority. In addition to not being true in practice (since many areas with same-sex marriage are still denying newly married couples social security benefits and other rights), the idea of ‘marriage equality’ is also not true in theory. While nearly always left out of acronyms (other than the inclusive GSRM) and often marginalized within the queer community as being somehow “damaging to the cause,” the polyamory community is real and important and is still not included in ‘marriage equality.’ Like many other parts of the GSRM community, they have been erased by the narrative of mono-amorous upper-middle class white gay cis men. So, since what we now have in 35 states is not ‘marriage equality,’ I usually opt for the still-inaccurate-but-at-least-a-bit-less-so term ‘same-sex marriage.’ But with reservations.
Asexuals and Marriage:
Before I go any further in a discussion about marriage, there are major misunderstandings about the ace community and its relationship to marriage that I’d like to discuss and correct. I think this is particularly important in light of the next section, ‘Redefining Marriage.’
During our class discussion of asexuality, the question “are asexuals really part of the queer community?” was brought up. One of the arguments against our inclusion was that we do not “have the same issues as other queers.” It was stated that since there were/are no laws illegalizing our relationships, it does not make sense for us to join with the ‘more oppressed’ LGBT communities to fight for rights. It was also assumed in this argument that the ace community as a whole has no interest in marriage. I would like to address these points one-by-one:
In general, it makes no sense to talk about “having the same issues as other queers.” The issues of white cis gay men are very different from the issues of non-white transgender individuals. My issues as a white suburban ace in Maryland are different from the issues of a white rural ace in Indiana. The reason that people of various gender, sexual, and romantic minorities in the past have organized together (or at least tried to) is that major structural changes to a heteronormative/cisnormative society can help to solve our individual issues. If gender and sexual/romantic orientation are no longer policed constantly and forced to fit narrow molds, our own individual struggles are lessened. This is also why it makes sense for GSRM rights supporters to support other rights as well—rights for minority races and ethnicities, rights for women, rights for people with disabilities, rights for non-Christians (who are often persecuted in a country that claims to have freedom of religion), etc. Intersectionality makes it essential that the movements for civil rights and a just society work with each other and learn from each other. Trying to exclude aces from the queer community because we might not have the issues the mainstream media and mainstream gay rights movement have recognized as ‘queer’ is silly and can only be damaging.
In response to the comment that there had never been any laws illegalizing asexuality, someone (unfortunately I cannot remember who) brought up the excellent point that refusing to have sex with one’s husband was once criminalized. While this legislation was not specifically targeted at asexuals (since this term and an understanding of the ace identity did not exist when the laws were made), the point remains. In addition, the argument that the ace community never faced discriminatory laws ignores demisexuals and gray-A’s (as well as aces in sexual relationships with non-aces). The laws that essentially criminalized certain sexual orientations did not do so by specifically criminalizing those sexual orientations, but by criminalizing practices of those orientations—practices anyone can take part in, including aces and straight individuals. In addition, the goals of GSRM rights movements do not just include changing the law—they include changing the structure of society and destructive societal norms.
Finally, marriage. I am an ace of hearts (ace biromantic, to be exact), and I have no interest in marriage. However, this is for reasons entirely unrelated to my sexual orientation, and it is also by no means the opinion shared by the entire ace community. Some aces marry non-aces. Some demisexuals and gray-A’s marry each other or aces or non-aces. Some aces marry each other. Some aros marry non-aros or demiromantics or gray-romantics or each other. Some aces and aros have no interest in marriage. Some aces and aros want to end the institution of marriage entirely. The ace and aro communities are not homogenous. When aces and aros do marry, they might have a definition of marriage the same as the so-called ‘traditional’ one, or they might have a similar definition, or they might have a completely different definition. None of those marriages are less legitimate, just as none of our relationships are less legitimate because they might lack sex or sexual attraction or romantic attraction. At UMD’s ace/aro group, “Ace Space,” I was introduced to a new term—‘queerplatonic’—which was created to denote serious platonic relationships and to stop the marginalization of these non-romantic and (usually but not necessarily) non-sexual relationships. While you do not need to be ace or aro to be in such a relationship, some ace aros (as well as others) in queerplatonic relationships have been or are now getting married—and this brings me to my next point.
The conservative Right very much enjoys throwing the line “you’re redefining marriage!” at same-sex marriage supporters. The mainstream gay rights movement and its allies will often respond with statements like “no, we’re not—these marriages are just the same as any other marriages,” or “our love is just like yours,” in an attempt to appeal to a heteronormative society otherwise frightened by queers.
But this is a lie. We are redefining marriage—for the better.
The critiques of same-sex marriage in Against Equality: Queer Revolution, Not Mere Inclusion tend to focus on the current oppressive nature of marriage, with one essay stating that “marriage is a coercive state structure that perpetuates racism and sexism through forced gender and family norms” (Spade and Willse 32). Kenyon Farrow’s essay also brings up the excellent point that thus far, the movement for legalization of same-sex marriage has focused solely on upper middle class white cis gays (and sometimes lesbians), and that white (and usually very racist) religious organizations have attempted to exploit the black community for their support against same-sex marriage (Farrow 41).
I will not dispute that marriage has in the past and continues to this day to hurt women and minorities, nor that the gay rights movement tends to completely ignore intersectionality in its push to help the white, cisgender, Christian, gay upper-middle class. However, we have an opportunity to change that. Rather than pushing for ‘inclusion’ in the current structure of marriage, we need to reframe our struggle for same-sex marriage as redefining marriage. Rather than remain an institution that oppresses women and enforces gender roles (and other heteronormative-type structures), marriage has the opportunity to become something entirely different—something naturally inclusive rather than something we have to be ‘included’ in.
This is already happening. As discussed above, the existence of married couples in queerplatonic relationships is already redefining marriage as something that does not necessarily need to involve sex, sexual attraction, or romantic attraction. I am extremely excited about the opportunity for interested individuals in the GSRM community to redefine marriage (as well as many other heteronormative concepts/institutions) to make them naturally inclusive and non-oppressive. So my answer to the question “do you support same-sex marriage?” is not “yes, please include me in your oppressive marriage structure!” or “no, the structure of marriage should not exist at all,” but instead:
Actually, I think this is my answer to most questions.
Farrow, Kenyon. “Is Gay Marriage Anti-Black???” Against Equality: Queer Revolution, Not Mere Inclusion. Ed. Ryan Conrad. Oakland: AK Press, 2014. 33-44. Print.
Fausto-Sterling, Anne. Sex/Gender: Biology in a Social World. New York: Taylor & Francis, 2012. 70-98. Print.
Spade, Dean and Craig Willse. “I Still Think Marriage Is the Wrong Goal.” Against Equality: Queer Revolution, Not Mere Inclusion. Ed. Ryan Conrad. Oakland: AK Press, 2014. 31-32. Print.
URL for photo: http://www.quickmeme.com/img/fd/fdd792a0ca8cede0a20322635274b1dc41e9dd1c1a36eaf83c98d3dba8268821.jpg