Same-sex marriage in the United States has been for quite some time the focus of attention in terms of LGBT activism in that country. It also has the entire world turning its head whenever a state legalizes it, whenever the Supreme Court discusses it. Today and tomorrow are such days, in which activists around the world are either picketting, marching, making phone calls, staring at their TVs/computer screens in waiting for statements, for results, hopefully favorable ones.
For thousands and thousands of people in California, though, today and tomorrow are life-changers. It is not just a cause that they support: it is their life and their happiness that is in the hands of those judges. Because of the weight of the decisions being made in these two days, millions of people in other states’ livelihood is also at stake. Furthermore, as has been studied over and over again, a course taken in the United States, because of its standing in the global market (of ideas and products alike) is a course likely to be followed by other countries. The whole world is watching.
I cannot stress this enough, though: it is people’s lives that are on the table when you talk about same-sex marriage, anywhere in the world.
You might think I am exaggerating. Some of you may even think: “who cares about an archaic notion such as marriage?” or “marriage is a patriarchal, oppressive institution” or, most valid of all (imho), “fighting for marriage equality is supporting the notion that marriage is the ultimate and most legitimate form of coupledom and that coupledom is the ultimate and most legitimate form of existing in today’s society”. And I agree, I don’t care about the archaic notion of marriage, I also think marriage is instrinsically oppressive and (hetero)sexist and indeed, marriage should not be the norm and standard to which to compare other forms of relationships or families. But that is absolutely not the point.
The way I see it, the struggle to dethrone marriage and the struggle for marriage equality are two parallel ones, not mutually exclusive or in competition with one another. First, because we are talking not just about principles and causes and struggles and good ol’ activism: we are talking about people’s choices, even if we (marriage dethrone-rs, that is) don’t agree with them. And I will beat you to saying “but they are socialized into wanting marriage, that’s why”, because it might be true but kind of irrelevant. I was socialized into liking The Beatles by my mother who would play their albums nonstop, which does not mean that I didn’t later arrive by my own means to the conclusion that they are awesome and I like them too. The second reason why the two struggles are parallel and not competing is because you cannot have the first without first having the latter, I believe. It is like skipping a step in the ladder for actual, full equality of all humans regardless of their sexual/romantic choices and modes of association.
Marriage, whether we like it or not, the most validated relationship status (which is key in society’s evaluation of us and others, the State’s evaluation of us and of our own self-evaluation), the only one that is sanctioned by the State and the one that all other forms of association “look up to” (in terms of legal, social, economic and political benefits, that is) and compare themselves to. It is the 10 on the scale of 1 to legit. Not having the right to marry means you are less legit as a couple, and therefore as an individual. It means you are less citizen, less human being, less everything. As a pivotal institution in society, having access to it means having access to all that being a human being in a particular place can have access to. It means society accepts you and sees you as important and legitimate and equal to everyone else.
One only has to look at the name of the law the Supreme Court is discussing tomorrow to see how degrading the illegal status of same-sex marriage is: Defense of Marriage Act. To me, it sounds like the precious sanctity and purity of marriage has to be defended against the abomination of outside forces such as homosexuality. It comes down to that, really; it is saying: “you are unworthy of such an institution, you are unworthy of equal treatment and you are unworthy of the same kind of citizenship that we have”. I will not even talk about the divorce rate, statistics on cheating, on domestic violence or on sexual abuse within heterosexual marriages. You can look those up and question how sacred and pure and worthy of “defending” heterosexual marriage is. I am not even arguing homosexual marriage would do a lot better on those stats (which I have many reasons to believe), I am merely saying that there is probably little difference, little to no abomination that same-sex marriage can bring to the general pool of ugliness that marriage in general already is.
Furthermore, who exactly is being called “unworthy”? According to various surveys throughout the years (at least in Canada and the United States, but there is little reason to think the trend is not in the same direction in other countries), more and more people self-report as being somewhere along the scale which is not 100% heterosexual. This means, for one, if you are casting a vote (or buying a product that casts a vote for you) against same-sex marriage, regardless of where in the world you are from, you are almost sure to be casting a vote against people you know, people you care about. Your ballot is actively telling your neighbor, your cousin, your teacher, your fireman, your son, your soldier: “you are less worthy of rights than me”.
I want to share this TED Talk (I could share a thousand TED talks, really), because it speaks to exactly this. It is as relevant now as it was 20 years ago, as it will be for quite some time, until we stop categorizing arbitrarily and picking and choosing who is worthier than who based on ridiculous and private things such as what genitals does the person in the neighbor’s bed has. Because it boils down to that, folks: you are casting a vote saying your choice of genitalia to bring home is better than everyone else’s. To me, that’s just arrongant, condescending, ridiculous and kind of none of our business at all.
Anyhoo, the awesome TED Talk:
I want you guys to think about this because sometimes we think about laws being discussed and we may sort of support them but not really cause they sound so far away, specially if we don’t live in the States or do not vote there, and specially if we do not identify as LGBTQ*.
They are not far away, though. First, in today’s global society, every place that passes a law (or repeals a ban) in favor of same-sex marriage, it encourages other countries to do the same, it fuels activists worldwide, it makes a case that judges elsewhere can look at. Second, politicians are elected by us, which means they can be pressured by us too. Third, corporations are sustained by us, which means they can be pressured, by our wallets, to push for one or other law.
Fourth, and going back to my mention of the feminist dilemma to support marriage equality or not, consider this: a challenge to traditional marriage is a challenge to traditional marriage. What I mean by this is that by challenging the heterosexism of marriage as an institution, other challenges are in order, such as gender roles within a marriage, economic and social responsibilities, division of labour, etc. Taking one layer of oppression of the giant oppressive pile that is marriage, is a start. Even if it is true that the only legal way to protect and validate your family and your love should not be marriage, while it is, let us make sure we all can access it.
Let us all make sure we are concious of who we are voting against, or who we are not moving an inch for. Wherever you’re reading this from, there is very likely a group of people considered less worthy of basic civil rights, basic human rights even. There are people challenging that worthiness. Learn about it, so that this piece of big news in the Supreme Court does not end there. Look at the pictures in the ‘Self Evident Truths’ and see if they’re really less worthy than you, if you can really be the judge of that, if you can really point to a radical difference in their faces to yours, to your family’s. If you can really stay still while people like you are being told, on a daily basis, that their existence in their own homes is not legitimate.
I know I can’t. I can’t look any one person in the eye and say that they matter less than me. I can’t draw a line between ‘more important’ and ‘less important’ than me.
An itty-bit more on the debate of marriage equality (there is PLENTY):
Live Blog: Supreme Court Weighs Gay Marriage – Washington Wire
Defense of Marriage Act – Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
LZ Granderson: The myth of the gay agenda
Feminism and the Same-sex Marriage Debate
Decoupling Marriage and Procreation
And to answer the question of who decides who’s worthy: we all decide. We all have the power to decide. As I said before, we elect the politicians, we keep the businesses going, we tune in to the media. That is how we vote, that is how we say that we are all worthy, or none of us are.