My critique of marriage, and of the gay movement's recent obsession with it, is about large cultural shifts, it is about history, it is about the direction in which we choose to move as a society. I take a long view. I believe in my heart that we might be better off moving away from, not toward, marriage as the relationship privileged by the state.
I tend to pass over stories about people being barred from their sick partner's bedside at the hospital, or people who lose their homes upon the death of a partner after living in it their whole adult lives because they have no legal relationship to their deceased spouse, or people who cannot collect their dead partner's pension, or who lose custody of their children, and on and on.
But Friday night, watching the live feed from the New York statehouse as Republican after Republican stated that his reason for changing his mind and voting to extend the institution of marriage to homosexual couples was that, after thought and research and soul-searching, he found it to be the only right and decent thing to do, I found myself involuntarily putting aside my cynicism and disdain and thinking about all the tears of relief that must have been falling at that moment, the heartrending joy being felt by all the people who had been waiting desperately for this because it would change their lives tangibly, measurably for the better in 30 days.
My dear friend, T, with whom I've pondered sexual politics for nearly 25 years, has asked me many times to consider that, though marriage may not be perfect, it is a step toward basic respect in our society toward gay and other gender-deviant people, so that even if marriage is flawed it is worth obtaining access to. Get marriage first, then tear it down.
Whereas, I feel that in order to rally everyone, gay and straight, 'round the cause, we've had to downplay or ignore everything that is discriminatory, oppressive, reactionary, sentimental, hollow, and false about marriage and the wedding fairy tale, but that those negative aspects won't go away. They'll only come back to bite us in the ass because we've managed to convince ourselves that marriage will bring bliss and prosperity for the rest of our lives.
Of course homosexual couples should not be discriminated against, but that doesn't mean marriage is the holy grail of homosexual rights. And by fighting so hard for it, by giving it so much significance, we reinforce its status and entrench it further, even the bad stuff. Especially the bad stuff.
But T's words have come to mind over and over again recently as I've watched a critique of marriage begin to bubble tentatively to the surface in the New York Times. Maybe he's right. Katherine M. Franke's op-ed piece, "Marriage is a Mixed Blessing," is surely timid, but nevertheless important in that any suggestion that marriage might not be the answer to all our dreams has been rare to non-existent in the big media outlets. And in Sunday's magazine section, Mark Oppenheimer rolls out -- and perceptively and sensitively critiques and challenges -- Dan Savage's concept of "monogamish." Subversive stuff.
Gays interrogating marriage is red meat for Maggie Gallagher and her band of prudes, bigots, and Christians, which I would guess is why it has been for the most part absent from mainstream "liberal" media outlets that support gay marriage (like the Times) until now when New York is seen as a watershed and gay marriage seems inevitable. Get marriage first, then tear it down. (The reason it is ignored by "conservative" outlets like Fox News is that it doesn't even compute. They see gay marriage as the leftist cause of all leftist causes, so the notion of gay marriage being challenged from the left can't even get into their tiny brains.)
I'm willing to admit there's a small measure of conservatism, a belief in the value of enduring love creating stable families, somewhere deep in my soul. Maybe it's a little closer to the surface these days because I love a man I can see sharing the rest of my life with and he loves me. But, despite the joy I felt last Friday night watching politicians show real courage and empathy (imagine!) in the New York State Senate, I'm firm in my view that the campaign for same-sex marriage is essentially (in the original sense of the word, meaning "at its core") conservative (in the original sense of the word, meaning "upholding tradition").
For those with lingering doubts as to whether New York's marriage bill is a victory by, about, and for conservatives and conservatism, we have had, like a hot wind blowing all over the blogosphere and print media, a week-long collective sigh of relief from conservative commentators, gay and straight.
It's no surprise that Andrew Sullivan is exhultant since he practically invented the gay marriage movement. But David Frum?
And here's the always repellant John Aravosis of Americablog upholding the venerable Jesse Helms tradition of shitting all over someone else's party. (C'mon, we convinced straight people to let us get married by telling them we're just like them, so can you please just for once act straight?)
Tigger, the beautiful redhead in the thong and top hat, is a big star on the burlesque circuit, a dear friend of mine, and a tireless agitator for gay marriage. There's nothing "faux" about his marriage. That's his devoted husband he's marching with.