Alex Blaze

Opposing gay marriage for all the wrong reasons

Filed By Alex Blaze | May 24, 2009 1:00 PM | comments

Filed in: Fundie Watch, Marriage Equality, Media
Tags: feminism, kinship, LGBT families, lineage, marriage, Michael Steele, sam schulman, same-sex marriage, sex, vagina, Weekly Standard, women

Via LaFeminista, here's a particularly bizarre article in opposition to same-sex marriage. The writer, who is neither a historian nor social scientist, nor a lawyer, has taken it upon himself to prove that there are reasons to oppose same-sex marriage that aren't related to either religion or homophobia, much like Michael Steele tried to do last week. Except Sam Schulman here ends up making much less sense.

The article is interesting, though, for its glimpse into the conservative id; basically, the main reason same-sex marriage shouldn't happen is that women are property and they need someone to defend their va-jay-jays:

The first is the most important: It is that marriage is concerned above all with female sexuality. The very existence of kinship depends on the protection of females from rape, degradation, and concubinage. This is why marriage between men and women has been necessary in virtually every society ever known. Marriage, whatever its particular manifestation in a particular culture or epoch, is essentially about who may and who may not have sexual access to a woman when she becomes an adult, and is also about how her adulthood--and sexual accessibility--is defined. Again, until quite recently, the woman herself had little or nothing to say about this, while her parents and the community to which they answered had total control. The guardians of a female child or young woman had a duty to protect her virginity until the time came when marriage was permitted or, more frequently, insisted upon. This may seem a grim thing for the young woman--if you think of how the teenaged Natalie Wood was not permitted to go too far with Warren Beatty in Splendor in the Grass. But the duty of virginity can seem like a privilege, even a luxury, if you contrast it with the fate of child-prostitutes in brothels around the world.

It's a "oh really" idea that breaks down on both a factual and a normative level. First, factually:

  1. Rape, degradation, and concubinage of women happen in marriage all the time. Believe it or not, marital rape exists and wasn't even illegal until recently. Married women have as much a right as anyone else to say no to sex, and lots of times their lack of consent is over-ridden.

    Combined with spousal abuse (which is what I'm guessing Schulman meant by "degradation"), marriage itself can be a form of "concubinage."

    Also too, he doesn't really explain how a married woman can't be raped by someone else just because she got married. It's not like that ring comes with a disabling ray that aims for a rapist's penis....

  2. Almost no one waits until marriage for sex, at least in America, and it's been like that for decades. A recent poll found that 91% of Americans had sex before marriage, and that statistic was relevant even for people who were born in the 1940's. So I don't know where he's getting this creepy notion that everyone used to protect the Sanctity of the Vagina until a woman married.

  3. Premarital sex does not condemn a woman to child-prostitution. I think that's what he means in that last sentence where he says that virginity until marriage should be contrasted with "the fate of child-prostitutes in brothels around the world," but, um, in reality, no. No, having sex before marriage doesn't mean a woman is going to be a child prostitute. No.

On a normative level, the idea that someone's sexual autonomy specifically and freedom of choice generally should be put in the hands of Vagina Guardians is repugnant. If this is about valuing women as human beings, then their autonomy should be considered as sacred as any man's. But since what Schulman is talking about is valuing women as property, it's no wonder he's OK with them being treated like a cow or a piece of furniture.

Schulman's second non-homophobic, non-religious reason to oppose same-sex marriage is because same-sex marriage doesn't restrict relationships. I warn you all that this one makes less sense than the Vagina Guardian one:

Second, kinship modifies marriage by imposing a set of rules that determines not only whom one may marry (someone from the right clan or family, of the right age, with proper abilities, wealth, or an adjoining vineyard), but, more important, whom one may not marry. Incest prohibition and other kinship rules that dictate one's few permissible and many impermissible sweethearts are part of traditional marriage. Gay marriage is blissfully free of these constraints. There is no particular reason to ban sexual intercourse between brothers, a father and a son of consenting age, or mother and daughter. There are no questions of ritual pollution: Will a hip Rabbi refuse to marry a Jewish man--even a Cohen--to a Gentile man? Do Irish women avoid Italian women? A same-sex marriage fails utterly to create forbidden relationships.

Yes, yes, yes! That makes sense because heterosexual marriages between Italian and Irish people are illegal! And since sex between fathers and sons is so totally accepted right now!

Third non-homophobic, non-religious reason:

Third, marriage changes the nature of sexual relations between a man and a woman. Sexual intercourse between a married couple is licit; sexual intercourse before marriage, or adulterous sex during marriage, is not. Illicit sex is not necessarily a crime, but licit sexual intercourse enjoys a sanction in the moral universe, however we understand it, from which premarital and extramarital copulation is excluded. More important, the illicit or licit nature of heterosexual copulation is transmitted to the child, who is deemed legitimate or illegitimate based on the metaphysical category of its parents' coition.

Discrimination against children based on whether their parents were married at the time of conception, which was common once upon a time in America, is wrong, illegal, and ridiculous.

Nowhere does Schulman go on to describe (a)why straight people are forced to abide by his licit/illicit sex boundary, (b)why gay people aren't/won't, and (c)why such a distinction is good. We already know that plenty of illicit straight sex is going on - even Schulman himself implies he participates in it when he mentions that he was married three times (well, if we're going to use an out-dated definition of illicit sex, then why shouldn't sex in a second marriage count?).

That's not to say that there aren't people who believe that it wouldn't create such a dynamic among same-sex relationships. Schulman continues:

I am not aware of any gay marriage activist who suggests that gay men and women should create a new category of disapproval for their own sexual relationships, after so recently having been freed from the onerous and bigoted legal blight on homosexual acts.

Gabriel Rotello, Michaelangelo Signorile, and Andrew Sullivan, to name just three that popped into my mind, and I know I've heard it elsewhere. I think it would be terrible if it happened, if married gay couples started slut-shaming unmarried gay couples, and something tells me that that's not going to happen. Or I at least have more faith in my fellow queers than to think that they'd start doing that.

But why would it be good if they did? Oh, well, Schulman can't be blamed for not having a point to his meanderings. He does write for the Standard.

And his fourth and final non-homophobic, non-religious reason to oppose same-sex marriage:

Fourth, marriage defines the end of childhood, sets a boundary between generations within the same family and between families, and establishes the rules in any given society for crossing those boundaries. Marriage usually takes place at the beginning of adulthood; it changes the status of bride and groom from child in the birth family to adult in a new family. In many societies, such as village India and Jewish Chicagoland, a new bride becomes no more than an unpaid servant to her mother- and sisters-in-law. Even in modern romantic marriages, a groom becomes the hunting or business partner of his father-in-law and a member of his clubs; a bride becomes an ally of her mother-in-law in controlling her husband. There can, of course, be warm relations between families and their children's same-sex partners, but these come about because of liking, sympathy, and the inherent kindness of many people. A wedding between same-sex lovers does not create the fact (or even the feeling) of kinship between a man and his husband's family; a woman and her wife's kin. It will be nothing like the new kinship structure that a marriage imposes willy-nilly on two families who would otherwise loathe each other.

I'm not going to waste my time responding to this because I have a feeling that Schulman, with each passing reason, was intentionally getting more and more ridiculous as part of an elaborate prank on The Weekly Standard to see if they'd publish scribblings that sound like they're from someone who needs to lie down, drink plenty of fluids, and just wait the trip out. Haha, joke's on the Standard, because they thought he was actually saying something meaningful there!

While Schulman has a little trouble in the "basic logic" and "making sense" departments, he seems pretty OK with being a classically snooty conservative and making fun of the law schools those activist judges went to:

Gay marriage, which can be created by any passel of state supreme court justices with degrees from middling law schools[....]

Mediocre lawyers can create a fiction called gay marriage[....]

This seems more like the conservatism I'm familiar with: really, really snooty and from a parallel universe in which whatever they say magically becomes true. The "middling" law schools the four California justices who ruled in favor of same-sex marriage went to: Stanford, USC, George Washington University, and Stanford.

Not that we should be reinforcing the false and elitist notion that there are only a few, certain good law schools and that all the others only produce crappy attorneys. But it's pretty obvious Schulman didn't even consult Wikipedia to see where they went....

But, well, as good and fun as his non-religious, non-homophobic reasons were, Schulman has to speak to the base a little and say that gay marriage leads to pedophilia and incest:

So if the failure of gay marriage will not affect gay people, who will it hurt? Only everybody else.

As kinship fails to be relevant to gays, it will become fashionable to discredit it for everyone. The irrelevance of marriage to gay people will create a series of perfectly reasonable, perfectly unanswerable questions: If gays can aim at marriage, yet do without it equally well, who are we to demand it of one another? Who are women to demand it of men? Who are parents to demand it of their children's lovers--or to prohibit their children from taking lovers until parents decide arbitrarily they are "mature" or "ready"? By what right can government demand that citizens obey arbitrary and culturally specific kinship rules--rules about incest and the age of consent, rules that limit marriage to twosomes?

And Republicans wonder why their party fails to appear relevant. Obviously Schulman is living in some alternate universe in which the US is not defined so much as a nation, but is more a loose collection of clans and families where women who don't have a Vagina Guardian are in real danger of losing property value being hurt, where everyone waits until marriage to have sex and then is always monogamous, and where heterosexual marriage is required for the merging of "families who would otherwise loathe each other" and "creation of a new lineage." Kinda like Medieval times, but with more conservative wankery and far less sex.

Even Schulman himself doesn't actually live in that alternate universe - he has divorced at least twice and married three times. His clan-based view of marriage and society, with its clear lineages, as he calls them, don't even apply to his own life. He's already living in what he calls "romantic marriage," marriage that people choose to enter and exit because it'll make them happy, a form of marriage he maligns and derides.

When the party is looking for fresh thinking, and when that thinking isn't even relevant in the thinker's own life, then should they really be wondering why no one can take them seriously anymore?

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After having read this article, I don't know whether to laugh or cry. I never thought that such people still existed. Guarding the vagina? Abstinence until marriage? Marriage implies monogamy? My head is spinning.

Brad Bailey | May 24, 2009 4:57 PM

Alex, I think it's perfectly reasonable, when determining whether to open the institution of marriage up to homosexuals, that conservatives look at how and why the institution came about in the first place.

Schulman's first point states that the original purpose of marriage was to protect and control access to a woman's body. If this was the societal construct of the time, I can certainly understand why it was in place. It was the best solution our forebears could come up with at the time. And of course you're right in arguing that such thinking is totally out of place in today's world.

As I understand it, marriage was originally endorsed by the state for procreation purposes. A healthy population meant more warriors to defend against that nation's enemies. Again, that was a perfectly sensible argument at the time, but it doesn't hold water today.

I agree with you that Schulman's talking points become ever more bizarre and convoluted, so I won't waste space discussing them. But I also believe that such conversations about why marriage as an institution is in place, and why and to what extent it affects our modern world, are crucial in determining the acceptance of SSM by a majority of U.S. citizens in years to come.

I agree that it's perfectly reasonable for conservatives (or anyone) to wonder about the history of marriage. But, as I mentioned up top, Schulman is not a historian and doesn't bring up any historic evidence to back up his claims. He just sort of throws random ideas about how people back then acted and what they were thinking a la Jean-Jacques Rousseau, as if everything were so self-evident that we couldn't possibly disagree. Which is funny, because the way he describes reality is so far off where the rest of us are living that I find it hard to imagine that many people could agree with him if they thought for two seconds about what he said.

He dismisses right off the bat the validity of what he calls "romantic marriage" (not much to do with art of the romantic age but to him is marriage people enter because they're in love). He says that under those terms, gays meet the conditions.

Which, when you think about it, is the system we should be discussing. He makes it seem as if there's something wrong with people deciding who they want to marry so that they can improve their own lives and develop their own families that work for them, but that's pretty much been the legal definition of marriage since the Supreme Court (I don't remember the case) banned laws that discriminate based on sex in marriage. People mostly see marriage nowadays as something that you choose to participate in with a person you choose.

The history of marriage is an interesting conversation, but more apropos is discussing same-sex marriage in the legal and cultural understanding of marriage that we have today... and the legal and cultural understanding of marriage that we want to promote.

I've procreated, my ex left with the Biker-Womyn; can I be a Lesbian and get married now?
I am post menopausal(surgical) so no problems with procreation issues.

To put it succinctly;
What a lot of blathering misogynistic nonsense!
Protect my vagina?
Perhaps he should start thinking about protecting his jewels, I have a suspicion that a man who needs to enact his weltenschauung into law might have some potency issues...

Don Sherfick Don Sherfick | May 25, 2009 9:31 AM

Elsewhere in his ramblings, Schulman says:

"Gay marriage may reside outside the kinship system, but it has all the wedding-planning, nest-building fun of marriage but none of its rules or obligations (except the duties that all lovers have toward one another). Gay spouses have none of our guilt about sex-before-marriage. They have no tedious obligations towards in-laws, need never worry about Oedipus or Electra, won't have to face a menacing set of brothers or aunts should they betray their spouse. But without these obligations--why marry? Gay marriage is as good as no marriage at all."

Which has lead critic Isaac Chotiner, writing in the New Republic, to sense that Schulman has never met a gay person.