Sunday, February 23, 2014

Marriage Equality?

Everyone should have the right to get married. If I decide someday I want to enter into holy matrimony (patrimony?) with a man, it's not something that should be open to debate or controversy. I'm definitely not planning to do it regardless of who I decide to share my life with, but I recognize have a lot of life left. My opinions are often changeable. You never know. I could need to exercise my right to be shackled to a ring. If I do decide to go through with it, as a liberal, I need to acknowledge something important.

Marriage is a socially conservative institution.

That's right, folks. The thing that's being fought for in (as of this writing) 33 states is limiting love instead of allowing it. This will raise a few eyebrows so let me be clear: I have a right to get married to whomever I choose and about two thirds of the country is violating that right. However by entering into a marriage, or fighting for it as the Ideal Expression of Love(tm) I am endorsing its standard and normalizing its practice. While it's folly to define it, love is not nearly so linear that it comes with a neat tidy, culturally-heterosexual endpoint.

I say culturally-heterosexual, because queer people have most recently built relationship structures that aren't dependent on monogamy, employ consensual unequal power exchange, or are limited by sexual puritanism. While it's true that these things were developed out of necessity because straight-style courtship wasn't and still isn't accepted, they're pretty damn awesome and they are certainly not 'lesser'. They're an expression of humanity's basic right, not to get married, but to love and to love in a way that makes it happy. Or, to put like my straight romantically conservative roommate, "Be Hippies, 'n shit."

So whenever left wing activists say that gay marriage isn't going to lead to polygamy, I groan internally. I'm not advocating for radical mormon harems and creepy patriarchal institutions that force women into a culture of servitude. But maybe a man, a woman, and another man are in a triad. What if they want to express devotion to each other? How will they go about doing that? And if they do why isn't their devotion recognized by the government? What if I want to run the government but I'm in a BDSM relationship and I have a Sir? Will my candidacy be laughed out? What if my wife and I are honest swingers? Why does Bill Clinton get to cheat while our honesty is castigated?

So why is the one person to one person, monogamous, lifelong union so valued? Marx would say that it's for primarily economic reasons. Women after all were considered to be property for a long time in western and some eastern cultures. While I'm not a big Marx fan, I agree that it's probably a holdover from times when people had dowries. Even though they don't (at least not  commonly in America) the implications are still there, even if Third Wave Feminism has eroded a lot of them: women need one man, and men need one woman. With same-sex advocacy that's changed of, course but it's still a contract. People belong to their 'soulmates' instead of to themselves, even if they don't necessarily feel comfortable doing so.

This last is important. Unequal power exchange, that is being a Dom (of all flavors) or a sub (of all flavors), is consensual. Marriage, even though ideally the power exchange is 'equal', is not consensual. Society expects you to to give yourself, forever, to your betrothed and doesn't inform you that there are other choices. You have to be informed to give consent. What if you want to belong to yourself? What if you don't want the responsibility of having someone belong to you? Yes, it's true that I'm intentionally using rhetoric that calls to mind business practices, but the fact the rhetoric is still in usage should be telling enough. Marriage contract, Wedding vows, having someone complete you...all this is problematic and, to my mind, deeply limiting on what love can and should be. Here's what love can and should: any arrangement that makes you and your lover(s) happy.

Furthermore, these aren't new ideas. I mentioned Hippies and they did lay the groundwork for a lot of these ideals but honestly a lot of these were developed before the word 'marriage' had the connotations that it does today. Nor has it gone ignored. There are places like Unmarried Equality that try to tackle the variability of love from an legal standpoint and books like The Ethical Slut that try to do so from a social one. Check them out.

So yes, you have the right to get married. You have always had that right regardless of whether or not the government wants to recognize it. Should you get federal benefits for getting married however? Tax breaks.  No. I don't think so. Governments should not get to decide what love is for you. Sorry married friends, but if people don't get tax breaks for poly, kinky or any sort of 'alternate' arrangements then you shouldn't either.

In conclusion, be honest how you want to love. Love uniquely, love ardently, and love unashamed.

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