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Things I Dislike About (Other People’s) Marriage

November 30, 2010

(Via Pam’s House Blend)

It’s a good piece of equality propaganda. It’s funny, it’s slickly produced and high quality, and just having the message out there constantly helps keep the tide moving in the right direction.

But watching it also reminds me why the critiques of marriage as an institution are so often correct.* I’m not anti-marriage. I’m in one, and I like it. But much of the video is a reminder (and it’s not clear whether intentionally so) that “marriage” often isn’t a set of rights and rituals that go with a particular relationship that folks construct to work for them. Too often it’s an off-the-shelf solution that people climb into, even knowing that it doesn’t suit their needs.

Some of that stuff just sounds wretched, doesn’t it? The whole “I just need to find the guy” thing? The cringe-inducing mom abstinence speech? (And I know parents, even otherwise sensible and not fundamentalist parents, are giving that speech today — to their daughters and not their sons — because they can’t or won’t grapple with what they really ought to say. But it rankles.)

If marriage is a one-size-fits-all arrangement, it isn’t going to fit a lot of people very well. Of course, the narrowest kinds won’t fit many queer or poly or kinky folks, but more than that, it won’t fit most folks. Every relationship is its own thing, and the more flexibility people have to make it fit their lives and loves, the more people will be happy in them. To move forward, marriage must expand outward.

But then, social institutions often have regimenting and guiding and defining as a purpose. If marriage means whatever people need it to mean, will it cease to have all the cultural meaning that the video exposes?

Yes, and I’m good with that. Folks who agree with me that marriage equality is a moral imperative often ridicule the tacit suggestion that marriage equality will change what marriage is for cis het folks; we often reduce that to a claim that the privileged don’t want to share their special good housekeeping seal of approval. But just between you and me, there’s more to it. If marriage is flexible enough to fit how many of my queer and poly and kinky friends want to live their personal lives, then it will be a different institution, more flexible and more a la carte and more like a domestic partnership or a civil union. This married cis het guy welcomes that.

*I’ve read several good queer critiques that have informed my thinking, but I don’t know where to find them now. Links welcome in comments.

One Comment leave one →
  1. November 30, 2010 11:58 pm

    Some posts:

    Marriage bugs me most because it’s both the government being allowed to say who is and isnt’ allowed in our families and also privileges sexual relationships over all others. US Immigration still lists a marriage as invalid if it hasn’t been consummated. What if the person(s) you want to spend the rest of the life iwth and the person(s) you have sex with don’t overlap? What about people who don’t want to have sex with anyone, but still want to spend the rest of their life with someone?
    And I also don’t like how it works out because I’ve seen way too many people who are stuck in a bad marriage and can’t get out for whatever reason- financial, kids (I know a woman with disabilities who’d risk losing her kids because the courts could rule her “unfit”, leaving her to live with a man she’s afraid of), and it’s generally the most vulnerable people who are hurt the worst by this. As usual. That makes me really uncomfortable about it.

    Folks who agree with me that marriage equality is a moral imperative often ridicule the tacit suggestion that marriage equality will change what marriage is for cis het folks;

    Trans non-het folks been able to get married for quite awhile (and cis non-het folks to trans folks)- yet no cis het folks cared. Marriage as an institution didn’t crumble and family values have yet to go up in smoke.

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