AM I EVER GONNA HEAR THOSE WEDDING KNELLS? or MR. MURPHY, YOUR MARRIAGE HEARSE IS HERE...
I've ranted on this subject at tedious length in the past. However, I was foaming at the mouth from theory then. Now that it would appear it might become a reality, the concept has to be addressed in all its white-gowned and black-tuxed terror, head-on. :-)
I will begin with a shocking confession. I DID write to my bachelored member of Parliament (let's call him Peter Milliken) asking him to support the gay marriage bill. I had been entreated to at every turn, and I gave it a good deal of mulling. After all, my old political tendency (International Socialists) was arguing for a principled position in favour of legal recognition despite the cases made by both Alexandra Kollontai and Emma Goldman about the problematic nature of matrimony under capitalism, and I would not want to disappoint my erstwhile comrades (well, not some of them, anyway :) ).
In any case, I had to look at who I was aligning myself with by silence as the discourse and legislation increased in volume and fervour. Having witnessed the unfortunate results of conservative feminists and sex-phobic preachers supporting the Butler decision on porn, I realized that, once things had reached the stage of proposed sweeping changes, I could no longer say 'not my kind of thing or issue', because it was likely to harm people I cared about if this legislation was not brought to consideration.
However, this is not to say I have no reservations, and I still think there are unfortunate qualifiers that will undercut it (I will try to stick to legal/cultural factors as they currently exist, at least for a while, as opposed to my usual free-wheeling anti-social stance...).
Let us start with road blocks that would affect me if I managed to get my Arne (or, Marx forbid, some other quiet eccentric I might want to make an honest fella out of) into a tux (or a large, long white dress) and down the aisle. Let us suppose we swore out the license, perhaps because we did the bear test and the ursine died, inclining us to marry to give the future Antichrist a stable home environment, and went through with it.
Texas, where Arne lives (and where I would likely relocate), does not recognize same-sex marriages (I wonder about the legality of that, as it recognizes hetero marriages that are carried out elsewhere, but it has met with the approval of the Supreme Jackass Court...apropos of nothing, it was under the Clinton administration that the Defence of Marriage Act was passed to permit states to make this determination...so don't start with the Bush bashing (it's strange to hear me say that - but let us be fair...)). Those of you who follow the news (I know, that requires both tacitly supporting corporate agendas, either in print or broadcast, and having nerves of steel and a brain of razor sharpness to withstand and filter...) may remember a couple being told it could not file a joint customs form after being married in Canada and trying to enter the States, as the US did not acknowledge same sex matrimony (just once, I wish an official could say 'THE GOVERNMENT or A MONEYED, RIGHT-WING VOCAL MINORITY does not recognize...' instead of saying 'The USA', as there is evidence that average citizens don't have that problem, at least not the majority...but the illusion of participatory democracy requires that sophistry (I refrain in the name of brevity from discussing rigged elections in the recent past) ).
I sometimes think every male-female couple should have to prove its marriage by document and deed, as I believe that, if would-be immigrants who marry and are viewed as doing so to get into the country are obliged to leap through hoops and answer invasive questions, then no less paperwork and demonstrated bond should be required of man and wife. Now, imagine the trafficking in plastic wedding rings, MSATs (Marital Sex Aptitude Tests) and forged matrimonial records THAT might produce.
If you had forgotten to bring your marriage certificate (because, under mauve alert, you would have to PROVE you are contributing to the stability of Western culture by engaging in holy matrimony), would sexual acts, passive aggressive carping or the trotting out of ways you have changed your spouse since your union prove you are not brother and sister? Oh, but surely even miserable sinners could fake THAT!
However, though the notion of making heteros uncomfortable and oppressed appeals to the twisted faggot in me, I realize it's neither likely nor desirable. We need to make the law, um, serve justice and equality (yes, I know, idealist to the queercore...).
And now to savage marriage beyond recognition... After all, as a sodomite, I should be committing indignities to SOMETHING - it's only foul, er, fair.
Now, forgive me (as if the sort of person likely to be offended by this WOULD), but, if marriage is so 'natural', why does it need defense? If marriage is so desirable, why do fully half of all marriages conclude with both parties screaming to GET OUT OF IT!? I've yet to get a satisying answer to THAT one. If we inverts, constituting somewhere between 0.1% and 10% of the population, have the power to topple the tree of Holy Union, there must be a lot of swishy termites, I feel obliged to speculate - and a lot of homemade axes wielded by renegade hetero land developers who aren't willing to wait for permits. ;o)
Opponents of same sex marriage often cite that both the Church and human society have always condoned only opposite sex marriage. First of all, marriage as we know it is a fairly recent phenomenon in the human condition - it is hardly a given, either in terms of the official combination itself or in the attitudes currently attributed to its construction.
For those who pimp love and devotion, but then marry carefully for maximum tax benefit, it is important to point out that marriage emerged as a means of making sure that your property and money carried on down the line. Chivalric tradition contended that, though Love might exist, it was never within a marriage. The lack of desire to strangle your spouse was probably strove for, but sentiment and lust were likely not weighted greatly.
Once such concepts as mercantilism and 'the family name' evolved, there was a clear advantage to tying the producer of heirs to you, in order to carry on the grand traditions.
There is some evidence marriage was not common among peasants and serfs, though there are not many primary documents surviving from the era, and virtually NONE from below the ruling or clergy class. What property did they own - so what purpose in establishing a patrilineal descent? (Consider THIS in light of the fact that most homosexual unions will not be producing children, and file it away for reference on adoption...).
And now to get back to same sex marriage never happening historically. The late John Boswell, in such books as Christianity, Social Tolerance and Homosexuality discovered evidence that the early Christian Church may have performed such unions. There are documents surviving of actual liturgy that reveal a union ceremony existing, in which both parties were men, from the 10th and 11th centuries. In fact, in remote regions of the Ukraine, there is documentation suggesting it survivied until the early 19th century, at least once with two women. Now, what is MORE contentious is whether these were marriages or blessing/recognition of a partnership that could not be ignored, but the fact remains SOMETHING happened in churches along these lines (and the proof is in the Vatican!). In light of the fact that the early Church used to have pagan temples in the back to lure people in, this is hardly surprising - the Church Eternal and Unchanging indeed!
Now, one couple on a local e-mail forum to which I subscribe has gone on about how it is going to adopt children now as part of its marriage.
There is one problem with that, though I confess I do not know whether the legislation to be introduced in Canada will incorporate this (nor, I think, does anyone yet). Those European jurisdictions which have legalized same-sex marriage and unions have, to the best of my knowledge, specifically forbade couple adoption of children as part of this process - I certainly know Denmark has, based on information from my permanent fiance. :)
Of course, one could adopt children as a single person today, and there ARE incidents of couples being permitted to adopt, though often as a sort of 'last possible option, and only if all the child molesters and serial killers are busy' case - BUT there is no legal protection, which puts one on shaky grounds. Of course, given the conveniently forgotten nature of law at key moments (no matter how much reformists will tell me that I am being paranoid, there are such things as nothwithstanding clauses, emergency powers and so on WITHIN THE FRAMEWORK, and there are numerous historical examples of the State ignoring the rule of law with impunity - for one, look into whether Canadian Prime Minister Brian Mulroney recalled Parliament to have it vote on declaration of war during the Gulf Oil Grab in 1991...to make it brief, no, he did not, and it is REQUIRED under the law...believe me, I checked - even under the War Measures Act, which was not invoked, there has to be a token appearance, in which it really could not say 'no'...), such protection would not necessarily be worth the paper on which it would be written in metaphorical pencil, but it is simply not there. One would be better off, from a legal point of view, with one partner adopting and the other being 'uncle' or 'aunt' in the law's eyes...though some idiot will then talk about an immoral environment of loose living and a lack of permanent bond, classic Catch-22 logic at its 'best' (you see, this is where I'd almost argue for marriage out of sheer perversity - 'YOU WANT US TO BE JUST LIKE YOU? WELL, LOOK INTO THE MIRROR, BABY!! UGLY, AIN'T IT? OH, NOW YOU WANT US TO LIVE IN SIN AGAIN!? TOO LATE!').
At this point, I'd like to take off my powdered wig and black robes, and slip into something cuter and more comfortable (perhaps a leather tuxedo or a nice rubber wedding gown), as the little outburst above may be a hint to you I'm about to get personal, subjective and critical.
Let us be honest here. Like everyone else (to the best of my knowledge), I grew up on Earth. In my particular case, I am in North America, surrounded by the marital industry and the messages its official spokespersons (churches, schools, stores, etc.) send out insidiously through every channel available. Therefore, I certainly heard the same propaganda you did.
However, I also had the (dis)advantage of somehow developing a critical mind (this is not to suggest everyone else does not - but mine does not appear to have an off switch).
Therefore, in light of MY experience of marriage, it seemed to be a thing which actually cheapened the value of relationships, as the connection seemed to break down in most instances where I saw the ceremony happen, and with depressing speed (of course I know exceptions, including, to date, the only gay marriage I know of among my peers, which took place on August 18, 1990 - sometimes I wonder if the LACK of legal recognition has lead to that ironic longevity, but it is hardly a question one can ask or expect an answer for from within the framework of the partnership...). Furthermore, based on those of my peers who had parents who stayed together 'for the children', a rapid divorce might have been easier on their psyches. And do not even get me started on my childhood friend whose father managed to get the Pope to annul marriage after marriage after marriage - why does that tiresome old walking corpse feel so opposed to ONE queer union when he seems to hand out forgiveness for haste or attempts to give lust the patina of respectability like so much toilet paper used in rectory bathroom tricking and child molestation?
On the other hand, I had peers whose parents were not married at the time of their conception and/or birth, or who never got married and lived together, and they seemed much happier. I do not suppose it is a scientific survey, either in terms of objectivity or numbers, but it was simply an observation. The family is not necessarily the best environment to grow up in, as it is designed to reproduce social values which may not actually be worth saving, especially for those of us whose choices and/or natures mean we are devalued artificially the moment we are 'kidnapped and sold into slavery' (to use Andy Warhol's depressing yet insightful metaphor for birth and youth).
The irony (or shall we call it dialectic) of education in North America is that it is full of rhetoric about individuality and being your own person. Of course, you are supposed to find your own way to be like everyone else, or, to use a metaphor from Madeleine L'Engle's A WRINKLE IN TIME, you are given a sonnet and then told you can write whatever you wish as long as you hold to its structure. Of course, the flaw in that conceit is that sonnets are supposed to be on certain subjects, just like haikus. What if they do not inspire you?
Of course, some supporters of gay marriage say that they are not going to have a 'traditional marriage'. On a literal level, that would be true, since most straight unions do not consist of two men or two women. However, despite the glitz and spectacle of most heterosexual wedding ceremonies (I do not have enough information on queer counterparts, having attended exactly one celebration, which was held at a pleasant, but hardly gaudy and cathedral-like, reception hall...), there IS more than the surface to be contended with. First of all, let us begin with the usual motivations people state for the desire to have a same-sex marriage.
(1) They want public acknowledgement of their relationship. Fair enough. The closet can kill - though some open lifestyles seem deadly to me as well, especially those involving matching outfits, poodles and being joined at the hip until death do you part (oxygen, PLEASE!). However, would marriage be required for this? I mean, I had a friend some years ago who wondered if his mother knew about him and his boyfriend being a couple, rather than just buddies - without a hint of irony, he mused about what it meant that said parent pushed the two single beds in his room together when the fellow came to visit. I think people would know. As someone in that classic film Boys In The Band said: 'If two men over the age of 35 live together, they are not roommates.'
(2) They want the taxation benefits. Okay, now we're getting closer to the heart of our lovely consumerist culture. I confess I do not know the advantages accrued by official couple status (as I have no intention of ever being 'legal', and could not BE so under the laws of the jurisdiction in which I am seemingly destined to reside one day...). I also know that the law as it is currently written does not allow for a same sex common law couple to file joint tax returns as a couple ( though I suspect that will be changed in light of court rulings), so perhaps my proposal that people just live in sin is impractical in this case. However, I can think of a significant drawback to couple status, and it was the one which caused me to sever my tenuous ties with organizations such as CLGRO (Coalition for Lesbian and Gay Rights in Ontario), due to its support for the scenario I will set out (I believe the group said it was 'only fair'...oh, my, a phrase I did not buy as an excuse when I was a CHILD! The moment anyone says something is 'only fair', ask 'FOR WHOM!?').
Let us suppose that you have a couple in which one party is HIV positive and on disability, and the other party is working. Under current law, the first party could remain on disability and use that to, for example, purchase necessary medications (some drugs used to combat AIDS are not covered by the Ontario Health Insurance Plan (OHIP)), while the second party could use income to survive and cover expenses. If official status were granted to the relationship, that would cease, as, should the second party make enough for both to cling to life under current government compassion, this would result in the disability or welfare payments being stopped, as the second party would make more than that pittance and could support both of them, in the evil eyes of the State.
Thus, the marriage hearse of which William Blake spoke would be parked outside the church on that lovely day...
(3) It's what people do who are in love. Well, not necessarily. Even once we discount the historical roots of marriage, acknowledging that it could be done without an interest in property or power (directly - indirectly, it's very MUCH about these things...), there are a lot of other reasons. Sometimes people marry because one party is pregnant. That is not going to be a factor in same sex marriage. It could happen because of morality issues. Far be it from me to dis others' choices, but merely conforming to a set of societal standards does not seem to be a very good motivation. When people say things like 'society and/or 'they' expect(s) you to do it', several questions come to my mind. Are we not part of society? Do we not get a say in how it is shaped? Who is this insidious 'they'? Is it the same 'they' that wants homeless people to be arrested and wants them to stay out of businesses' restrooms while making public urination illegal in several jurisdictions and attempts to make giving alms against the law as well, while cutting any support the state offers to a trickle (and, in some American states, putting a lifetime limit on all forms of assistance, including permanent disability)? Is this a 'they' one WANTS to heed intently?
I have peers who say they want to reshape marriage and counter its more sexist/classist elements. It is not as though NO progress has been made in this regard - there was a recent time in which a wife could not have a credit card without her husband's permission.
However, my mother STILL writes cards to 'Mr. and Mrs. John Smith' - I've seen one or two letters addressed to Mrs. John Smith, which, given that the person in question is not trans-identified, freaks me out. I believe women became human beings in 1919, and a name of one's own would be nice.
In light of this, how much of an independent identity CAN be forged within marriage, given its societal context (though I confess it would be amusing to see how my mother would contend with either Mr. and Mr. Tim Murphy or Mr. and Mr. Arne Ledet :) )?
There have been examples of marriage between queer individuals (Vita Sackville-West and her husband, and possibly Mr. and Mrs. Virginia Woolf), in a straight context, and there is evidence that such things survived, but at what cost (in the case of Virginia, the tally can be rung up, judging from the movie/book The Hours and biography)? Would a queer marriage be immune from societal expectation, given the conflation between gender and sexual orientation which tiresomely drags on? Would attempting to adapt it result in adoption instead of a demon-childish institution that might not be to one's advantage?
Would Vita and Virginia have had any better luck at it? Gertrude Stein and Alice Toklas seemed to do well, but, by most accounts, they were very strong-willed individuals. It is also important to note that they did NOT get married. My stance against matrimony might be confirmed by the survival of such a relationship. Once the State gives its blessing, it is also free to give its curse, and to impose other strictures upon one. Is it not oppressive ENOUGH!?
Now, in light of my usual tiresome 'What are you rebelling against? WHAT YOU GOT?' rant, I suppose the logical question would be: 'Why did you ask your local Member of Parliament to support gay marriage, then?'
Well, much as Virginia Woolf in her brilliant polemic Three Guineas ultimately opted to send money to a gentleman trying to organize resistance against war, despite her reservations about trying to do so within the existing social structure and systems, I suppose I try and err on the side of optimism. It would be very nice to think that legalizing same-sex marriage might have a lightning bolt effect on the rotted tree of culture. I hardly aspire to creating wild social anarchy in which all would be destroyed, but some fairly radical arboreal surgery is desperately needed. It is also a comforting, if historically unlikely, notion that such a move might result in more freedom and 'rights' for gay folk (it might ease the lives of many a middle-class interior decorator and car mechanic, but I am not certain how much it would benefit the teenaged boy constantly beaten up in class while his teachers tell him that, if he didn't act that way, he wouldn't get treated so badly...or the young girl who is shown the myriad benefits of heterosexual discourse by rape...).
And, as a vestige of my days as a rabid Marxist (I have had the shots, though, fortunately, there have been some lingering side-effects), I should bring up the concept of 'critical but unconditional support'. In other words, I lend my efforts and voice to causes that I think might have a transformative or reformative effect on capitalist society, even if I question some of the ideologies and motivations of those movements, and also think it might be too little, if not too late. Oppressed nations should have the right to self-determination, even if there are some serious issues with the determinations made, which one would vigorously debate the substance of; however, the basic concept strikes one as a good idea that engenders solidarity and mass movements, ideally. Similarly, it is clearly an issue of some resonance with a goodly number of queer folk, and it has resulted in a mass movement of sorts, if only one based on seeking recognition from a leery State. Incidents such as the border crossing debacle only demonstrate the desperation and, frankly, childishness of a government structure that is out of touch with public opinion (not that 'public opinion' should be the only parameter - life really should not be a popularity contest, and the notion that 'majority rules' was made abundantly hollow by the 2000 election and far more examples than I have time to go into here (can anyone say 'Goods and Services Tax' or 'Poll Tax'?)). As battle lines form around this issue, it is possible that the clash between the marriage lobby and the 'get to the back of the bus, cocksucker' front may result in a more radical alternative between the two.
And, on a less didactic note, it should be added that I am, and always have been, a romantic. It actually breaks my heart to see friends split up or (and I know this seems to fly in the face of my earlier rhetoric) marriages fail (I mean, if you are GOING to do such a thing, and it is supposed to have a lasting effect, it IS sad when it falls apart - there are people involved, not just an institution that gives me pause - and I generally like people...).
As I have said in the past in relation to the obvious inquiries that are bound to come up when you've been linked to the same person for nigh on six years, I would be quite happy to live with my boy for the rest of my life. I would not even be opposed to certain life-easing legislation (readers, please! I am likely to live in Texas, for Marx's sake!!). However, I just do not have a good feeling about marriage - I did not as a child, long before I had any notion that the whole heterosexual package was not for my consumption (now THAT just sounds wrong...and I might add that, when I was about six, I remember looking at a family picture and suddenly having the revelation there wasn't going to be one like that for me in the future...it was a suprisingly cool, rational moment, that still startles me to recall it even now...). Maybe it has to do with seeing a few marriages end in great rancour (though, oddly, there have only been TWO divorces in my immediate family...despite the endless ranting about how children of the 70s grew up with divorce, homosexuality and disco all around them, I pretty much saw relationships stumbling along together, oppressive breederfests and Johnny Cash/Olivia Newton John/Anne Murray...) - or perhaps it is because I am not certain I want the respect of a culture that used to make endless fun of me for reading, crying and asking questions of its inviolable tenets (yes, it's personal, baby, and, yes, I carry grudges until their handles break or they start to cut into my fingers - and sometimes I don't let go even then...).
I am not, in the final analysis, totally certain of why marriage bothers me, but I do know that sitting side by side with my sweetheart in the evening, or snuggled in his arms, or walking down the street thinking 'This is my boy, and you can't have him, and he loves ME - yes, ME!' makes me feel very happy indeed (I believe we were discussing childishness).
However, I do know that some people do want that sense of societal approval, and who am I to say they cannot have it? By remaining silently non-committal (in a legislature-related sense - anyone who has spoken to me on this subject knows I am, and possibly should BE, committed...) as long as I have, I was certainly putting a tacit identity to myself, and it bore an uncanny resemblance to the likes of Pat Robertson and George W. Bush. Therefore, I am putting in my three guineas 'for' marriage, and I hope to see a return on my investment, if not necessarily a direct payment out from the State when that input 'matures'.
However, I leave you with these words of wisdom to contemplate:
"Consummation makes a grumble, and the sound that I have found - BAN MARRIAGE!" HIDDEN CAMERAS, 2003 (by Joel Gibb, from the LP/CD 'Smell of My Own', on Evil Evil/Rough Trade Records)