When Judge Walker’s decision to overturn Proposition 8 was issued two weeks ago today most of my queer friends and supporters of equality everywhere where electrified by the historic decision. But I couldn’t share in the enthusiasm ; in fact I even felt depressed over the news. Why? People asked me a number of questions when I made my views known: I was a self-hating queer? Didn’t I want to get married? Why couldn’t I be happy for other people? Nowadays I usually avoid discussion of the issue because I’ll usually be shouted down for my unpopular opinion. Namely being that marriage is an obsolete patriarchal and inherently oppressive institution and should be abolished instead of expanded.
Marriage is oppressive because it gives state-sanctioned privileges and approval to some relationships at the legal and social expense of other relationships that may not fit the hetero-normative, nuclear family model that have has been held up as the ideal form of love, companionship and child-rearing for nearly a hundred years now. Marriage by its very nature is an exclusive practice, its purpose is to ennoble some relationships and by default render other relationships to be less meaningful and less worthy of legal and social recognition. Granting the right to marry to one minority group will do nothing to change this or make to the institution equal.
Given the temperament in the LGBTQ community today, it would be hard to imagine a day and age when the raison d’être of the gay rights movement wasn’t “equal” marriage. But just barely ten years ago there was a vigorous intra-community debate that had been ongoing since Stonewall era over the desirability over gaining the right to marriage. Early attempts to obtain marriage licenses in the wake of Stonewall were oftentimes accompanied with political statements pointing out how morally corrupt the institution is and were more political statements than genuine efforts to marry. The early queer liberation movement resisted the idea that the state has a right to regulate private relationships and was dedicated to challenging heterosexual ideals surrounding the purity of the institution.
This perception began to change around the time that the AIDS crisis of the 1980s receded from public view. Some of the more conservative LGBT public intellectuals like Andrew Sullivan, Gabriel Rotello and William Eskridge started writing articles and books extolling the benefits of seeking out the right to marry, selling a perception that it was a path to legal recognition and social legitimacy for same sex relationships. During this time major LGBT organizations stood on the sidelines, while working against Defense of Marriage Acts on the state and federal level it seemed that the day for same-sex marriage would be far in to the future. They were so disinterested in the issue that the case that resulted in Baehr v. Lewin, the groundbreaking ruling by the Supreme Court of Hawaii that established that denying gays and lesbians the right to marry was a form of discrimination, was litigated by the ACLU because the plaintiffs could not find a major LGBT rights organization to litigate it as a test case.
As the gay marriage movement picked steam with Civil Unions in Vermont, marriage in San Francisco and California, major gay rights organizations took up the cause and the proponents of pursuing marriage continued to sell the perception that gay marriage as a one-size-fits-all solution to the question of gay rights. Suddenly the robust debate around the desirability to access the right to marriage was dropped and critics of the strategy were pushed to the margins. But the community has been sold a false perception; it won’t help problems with school bullying, job discrimination, health care discrimination, addiction, youth homelessness or any of the rest of the discrimination and oppression that queer people face. To say that queers have always wanted the right to marry or that all queers want to marry today is a distortion of not only our history but a misrepresentation of our needs as a community. The LGBT movement has swallowed the spider to catch the fly when it comes down to the right to access marriage in that it will access a privilege at the expense of others. That is something I cannot support.
So if not marriage; what is the solution to seeking legal recognition for all relationships on an equal basis? To start, I would advocate abolishing marriage as a privilege granted by the state. People could have private commitments that they could call marriage if they wanted, but it wouldn’t come with a special set of rights and legal responsibilities. People in all committed relationships could be protected by some form of civil partnership, hopefully modeled after something like France’s Pacte Civil de Solidarite (PACS). PACS not only legally recognize romantic relationships, but also honor and protect other plutonic relationships such as care-taker relationships, families of choice and even siblings who own property together. Unfortunately French law still recognizes a tiered system of legal protections, with marriage being the most protected, concubinage the second most protected and PACS being the least. But with tweaking this could be a solution that does not involve legitimizing some relationships over the social and legal status of others and it would offer legal protections to many families which do not currently have any protection such as families of choice, caretaker relationships, or poly relationships.
This way all families can be honored without state enforcement of moral standards or through legally privileging some relationships over others. Same-sex marriage only further legitimizes an exclusionary system and will do nothing to legally protect or recognize other forms of relationship that are now also disenfranchised.