The Supreme Court is expected to rule on two landmark cases impacting same-sex couples this week and their ability to marry (I am loathe to call it same-sex marriage or gay marriage because it’s just marriage, no different than anyone else’s marriage; the people in it just happen to be of the same sex).
So I was talking about it with my friend “S” recently. She’s against marriage for same-sex couples. Well, OK, I thought — even though the vast majority of Americans support it, many do not for whatever their reasons. And while she’s certainly entitled to her own opinion, I was surprised nonetheless. “S” is a lesbian.
Why would a lesbian be against marriage equality? Marriage limits choices, she says, and of course she’s right. She is confounded why marriage has become the rallying cry for same-sex couples.
She is not the first to question that; earlier this year, I read an intriguing essay by legal scholar Katherine Franke in the anthology, Marriage at the Crossroads Law, Policy, and the Brave New World of Twenty-First-Century Families, comparing the experience of African-American slaves who, once freed after the Civil War, also became free to marry — but “free” is a relative word. Franke, like “S,” acknowledges that marriage constrains freedom; she, too, questions why the right to marry — versus issues like employment and educational opportunities or political participation — has been seen as the only way to gain equality and dignity for both groups.
Another surprising thing “S” told me was that, as a lesbian, she has been unable to speak openly about it in the LGBT community. It’s like being bullied into silence, she says. How dare she be against marriage for gays and lesbians!?!
While there are a few who are vocal, like Against Equality, there is “a generation of upper-middle-class white lesbians and gays” who are “already enamored by the idea of marriage,” says Laurie Essig, a professor of sociology at Middlebury College, in the Salon article Will marriage change gay love? Essig, too, has her doubts about it:
“What annoys me is that no one, not even queers, can imagine anything other than marriage as a model for organizing our desires. In the past, we queers have had to beg, cheat, steal and lie in order to create our families. But it’s exactly this lack of state and societal recognition that gave us the freedom to organize our lives according to desire rather than convention.”
Organizing lives according to desire rather than convention is exactly why Susan Pease Gadoua and I are writing The New I Do: Reshaping Marriage for Cynics, Commitaphobes and Connubial DIYers (which has a publisher, Seal Press, and is set for a fall 2014 publication date — yay!)
I can’t see anyone being denied marriage just because of whom they love, so “S” and I disagree. But I do believe marriage needs to be tweaked to allow all of us — gays and heteros — the freedom to live according to our desires. Do you?
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