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Who’s Getting Married Anyway?

What is greater than equality?

What is greater than equality?

(Ryan Arnold)- Early this week, the Supreme Court began hearing arguments from both sides of the Prop 8th Parallel. What’s on the table is the freedom for same-sex couples to marry, but the decision of the Supreme Court will unavoidably be a valuation of the love and humanity of same-sex relationships. Hanging in the balance is the right of homosexual love to be recognized as equally valid to heterosexual love.

The lead-up to these hearings has framed the debate as a kind of Thunderdome-ian showdown: a cage match between everyone who has ever donated more than $5 to the Human Rights Campaign, and the entirety of the GOP and its constituency, in which the two will fight to the death and America will finally have a definitive verdict on whether or not the country will disintegrate if gay people get to do the same stuff as straight people. Facebook turned red to support same-sex marriage (although I’m not sure any of the Justices have Facebook accounts), which frames this as a contention not only between right and left, but also between young and old.

The people arguing against same-sex marriage are like that friend who always has banal roommate drama and insists on telling you about it in excruciating detail. You don’t understand why it’s a Thing, why they can’t just tell each other not to leave underwear on the floor, or lock the door if they’re having sex, or whatever. The conflict violates no ethical or legal edict; it doesn’t even harm either party so much as it inconveniences them and how they believe others ought to behave. You want to tell them to grow the fuck up and stop trying to childishly control the people around them.

This is my frustration: the cloud of arguments surrounding same-sex marriage is so hegemonic, so insistent upon being heard again and again, that it obscures all other issues from the spotlight. Yes, everyone should be able to get married. But the legitimacy of love shouldn’t be predicated on whether or not it participates in the institution of marriage. We say that marriage should be “for everyone,” but marriage is not really for everyone – there are queer communities for whom traditional marriage holds no attraction, because of the role of biology implicit therein. There are communities who face much more salient struggles than the impending right to a heterosexual, cisgendered privilege. It’s just not at the top of the list.

The Right says that marriage should be between “a woman and a man”; the Left says it can be between women, men, or women and men. But what does that mean? What about people who do not identify as “man” or “woman” – what about their love? Are trans-men and trans-women included in this equality of marriage? Or is their struggle being made to wait, the way that my dormitory has been wait-listed for desperately needed renovations? Is there an economy of progress – can we only afford so much forward movement at once?

There are elements of classism in play here. If we define marriage as between some combination of “men” or “women,” we are speaking about biological assignments; indeed, one of the loudest arguments against same-sex marriage is that it has no reproductive capacity, and therefore misses the point of “traditional marriage.” For trans* people, it costs money to align biological identity with the performance of a gender. Testosterone and estrogen are expensive, and are commonly viewed by insurance agencies as “elective treatments”; reassignment surgery (which is not the defining moment of the trans* identity) is viewed much the same way. Further, the violence and social backlash incurred by trans* people who cannot afford/do not want medical transformation and therefore do not pass (i.e. are still visibly resemble the sex they were assigned at birth) presses more furiously upon their quality of life than whether or not they will be awarded the trophy of a hetero-mating ritual.

Our discourse on “marriage equality” is not equal because the institution of marriage is not equal: it’s blind to the incongruities between sex and gender, and the consequent social implications. If we are thinking about marriage biologically – which we have been – this clearly hurls some shit toward the proverbial fan. The fanfare of a victory for “same-sex marriage” is a celebration of cisgendered privilege; it reinforces our ideas about gender identity and pushes further into the quiescence of the margins those who do not, or cannot, conform.

We should celebrate our victories – it’s important to be selective in the battles we choose to fight, and it’s important to cheer for our team when we win. I would like to believe that we are all on the same team. However, I also think that we can’t restrict the scope of our collective force to the struggles of some, and not all. What is it about marriage that is valuable? Certainly it’s more than just the fact that heterosexual people can do it, or the legal amenities afforded to couples through marriage. I remember sitting at a table outside of a Mexican restaurant on Christopher and 7th Ave in mid-June 2011. It was the early evening. I was drinking a michelada and waiting for my girlfriend to get off from work. Out of nowhere, a group of people appeared on the sidewalk, cheering and singing, throwing flower petals and confetti. The front of the group carried a large banner that read “JUST MARRIED”; toward the back were two men in terrific suits, holding hands and crying. We all stood and cried and cheered with them.

I think what moved me so greatly has less to do with the politics of their marriage, and more to do with witnessing the brave and naked spectacle of love. We should throw tickertape-fucking parades for love: gender, sexuality, and wedding bands have ultimately little to do with the “equality” of the intended message. Our mission should be to invite everyone to this love-fest, not just the cis-men and -women who have the economic and social capital to get a place in the pantheon of marriage.

To conclude on a related note, I would like to wish a happy almost-one-year anniversary to Jan Arnold and Cindi Bennett. I love you both very much.

About Ryan Arnold

This isn't shoegaze - this is suicide.

5 comments on “Who’s Getting Married Anyway?

  1. Daniel Diner
    March 27, 2013

    I feel uneasy whenever anyone uses the term ‘same-sex marriage.’ First because it implies that there exists some separate form of ‘straight marriage’ that it lies in contrast to, but more so because narrowing LGBT lobby resources to fight for just the rights of cisgendered gay couples to marry one another does seem to throw anyone who doesn’t fit into the gender binary under the bus. It’s rather like the early “female suffragists” who neglected to also join the fight for the right of African Americans to vote.
    I like to use ‘marriage equality,’ and to define my position as one that is against any form of gender discrimination when it comes to civil marriage. And I also think that most liberals, even though they do use the terms ‘gay-‘ and ‘same-sex marriage,’ would actually agree with our goals. I don’t expect that Hollingsworth v. Perry will achieve full equality, but even a ruling that fails to depart from cisgendered normatively would push the federal marriage mindset into the right direction.

  2. Matt DeButts
    March 27, 2013

    Great post, as usual, Ryan. I’m sympathetic to the thrust of your argument here, namely, that chest-thumping about “marriage equality” excludes major groups from the game. I think that consideration ought to be kept in mind before we declare “mission accomplished”, hang up the skates, take home the trophy et al. cliched victory metaphors.

    That being said, it’s very easy to lament the slow expansion of rights — let us not forget the “marginal” human beings who do not fit into the gender binary — and in so doing obscure the massive strides that are being made today. A more cliched way of phrasing this is “making the perfect the enemy of the good.” Gay marriage is a huuuuuge step forward in only five years! This is, I think, worth celebrating.

    So I guess to answer your question: “Is there an economy of progress – can we only afford so much forward movement at once?” I would say, well, “yes.” That’s because — and here’s the standard J.S. Mill liberalist argument — people disagree on where exactly “forward” is going. The voters may need time to realize that a trans-person will not eat their children. I won’t begrudge them that time, so long as its reasonable. We are (rightfully) undoing a fuck-ton of anti-gay human history right now…forgive me if I’d like to pause and marvel for a moment before moving onto the next cause celebre. As you say, the spectacle of love is a beautiful thing.

  3. adignorantium
    March 27, 2013

    A victory for some of us is essentially a victory for us all.
    At no time would marriage for LGBT couple more desperately needed than during the height of the AIDS crisis, when partners of the recently deceased found themselves unexpectedly forced out of their homes.

    Never stop fighting for the rights of “non-cis” members of our community. But please remember that equality can not be reached in a vacuum.

    Like Daniel Diner, I too prefer the term “Marriage Equality” because it includes all of us.
    Stay strong, and keep up the good fight. :)

  4. Bongani Ndlovu
    March 27, 2013


    You aptly restate and reinvigorate points that have animated discussions around the topic of same-sex marriage for years in the gay community (if one exists at all in the singular). Numerous gay couples, ordinary and active rights’ advocates, even resist the idea of marriage altogether as it bears the risk of expanding and normalizing a terribly hegemonic tradition. Some have also argued by some that seeking the right to marry and the potential success thereof would invariably stigmatize the voluntary decision to remain legally single. The list of critiques is endless and this is easy to understand since broad identity markers such as “gay” fail to capture to diversity of beliefs, values and life choices of their constituents.

    Victory is a relative term and often (if not always) implies a defeat elsewhere. While this is important to bear in mind, let’s not trivialize the potential positive consequences for the large number of Americans who stand to gain happiness from having the right to marry. And let’s be so troubled by our Liberal Arts’ education to the extent that we forget to acknowledge that each step towards social justice, no matter how small, sets the stage for other similar steps. Same-sex marriage today, pervasive marriage equality in the not so distant future.

    Thank you, all the same, for a sobering and engaging article.

  5. Pingback: Santorum, Arkes, and Platforms for Hate | AC VOICE

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This entry was posted on March 27, 2013 by in Politics, Queer, Uncategorized and tagged , , , , , , .

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