Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Two thoughtful commentaries/critiques about marriage for same-sex couples...and its limitations

So many people have emailed me the blogpost by "Queer Kids of Queer Parents Against Gay Marriage!" that I feel a need to point it out to any of my readers who have yet to see it. The variety of comments following the post suggest the authors have touched quite a nerve. It merited a link in Melissa Harris-Lacewell's post on The Nation website. (I LOVE her on Rachel Maddow!)

Harris-Lacewell succeeds in walking a very fine line. She supports marriage equality for same-sex couples but offers a critique of marriage itself. "Our work," she writes, "must be not just about marriage equality, it should also be about equal marriages, and about equal rights and security for those who opt out of marriage altogether." Identifying herself as a black, feminist, marriage equailty advocate, she writes that movement work "must be staunchly supportive of same-sex marriage, while rejecting the marriage-normative framework that silences the contributions of queer life." It is precisely such contributions that the "queer kids..." blog (above) seek to illuminate.

I also loved learning from Harris-Lacewell's post about a new history of slave marriages that concludes that such marriages were real, even though they were not recognized by law.

Harris-Lacewell's final call echoes the imperative of the Beyond Marriage statement written more than three years ago, as well as the guiding principle of my book.

We must do more than simply integrate new groups into an old system. Let's use this moment to re-imagine marriage and marriage-free options for building families, rearing children, crafting communities, and distributing public goods.

This is precisely the work that the mainstream marriage-equality movement refrains from doing. As Harris-Lacewell points out, the pragmatic political strategy is insisting that allowing same-sex couples to marry will not change marriage. But it's a strategy that comes with too high a price tag, and the voices within and without the gay rights movement seeking to make marriage matter less need to speak out more.


Ken Harvey said...

Fascinating....As a gay pacifist, I find myself similarly torn between supporting a repeal of "Don't Ask, Don't Tell." and not wanting anyone to fight. Still, a am married to my partner -- and we have two children who are happy that we are married. I suppose it's all about opportunity, not a requirement that everyone take advantage (or even accept) that opportunity.


Nancy Polikoff said...

Thanks for your comment. While it IS about opportunity as a matter of equality, there is still much reason to reconsider the rigid legal distinctions between those who are married and those who are not. Our current laws too often disregard a person's actual family and focus solely on whether they are a married couple. In my book I describe why I find this unjust and some ways to address it.

Harry834 said...

Hi Nancy,

I have sometimes wondered if we can have both "marriage" and "civil partnership" as legal options. We don't lose the name of marriage, and both categories are equally available to all sexual orientations and gender identities. We couldn't call this separate but equal, because no one is being barred from either one. We might wonder if both are getting parity in terms of benefits, but we wonder the same thing about the various public and private schools we send our kids (and they are free to go to either, except for the money issue which is another conversation). The solution is not to end the different catergories/schools, but to always keep on their toes to make sure they are equal in benefits.

Might this thinking work?

Nancy Polikoff said...

There's a lot to be said for this approach. Law prof Robin West supports it in her book, Marriage, Sexuality, and Gender. I would want, simultaneously, to reconsider laws that make signing up for a formal status a prerequisite. Sometimes that should not be necessary. Rather, laws should be evaluated based on their purpose. If a survivors benefit, for example, is supposed to compensate someone for the loss of an economic provider, then it should not matter if two people are married or formally partnered. The law should look at whether someone was actually economically dependent on the person who died and include that person as a benefit recipient.

Harry834 said...

Thank you for your thoughtful response. What you say makes real good sense.

Thank you for your advocacy and work.

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