Marriage is Like a Country Club…
May 20, 2009 11:00 am Posted in Lifestyle
[We'd like to take this opportunity to welcome our favorite love, sex and relationship blogger - Lena Chen - to the CollegeCandy team. Lena is smart, funny, and her perspective on all things relationship is incredibly thought provoking. We're so pumped to have her here, so be sure to let us know in the comments what sorts of things you'd like Lena to discuss!]
Marriage isn’t a right; it’s a privilege. Depending on the time, place, and partner, getting married could be harder than getting into Harvard, if not downright impossible. As recently as fifty years ago, miscegenation laws would have forbid me from marrying my boyfriend (or any man not my race) in certain areas of the United States. Before that, the legal and social benefits to getting married were denied to minorities, immigrants, and the poor for centuries. Marriage is, for lack of a better analogy, membership into the biggest country club in the world.
For me, getting married would be a personal endorsement of some of the worst societal norms in existence.
The supposed “right” to marry has never been much of a right at all, and our understanding of marriage as a basic liberty is unique to contemporary times. Thanks to my predisposition for heterosexuality, it’s a liberty I could easily exercise, but I’d much rather march in a rally than down an aisle, because I find it difficult to take part in a practice that is denied to others (plenty of them my friends). Even with the best of intentions, I can’t imagine that my own wedding will serve any purpose but to reinforce existing norms, such as the idea that a relationship is only valuable if recognized by a third-party institution.
It’s ironic, then, that I consider marriage equality an extremely important political issue, and the only one to which I’ve devoted significant time and money. Why should a feminist support the inclusion of queer people in what is historically a sexist institution? Besides the “separate but equal” disaster that civil unions would create, I think same-sex marriage might just be the only way to save marriage as an institution.
Critics of marriage equality often claim that it will lead to the demise of traditional marriage, while supporters insist that nothing will change by allowing queer people to marry. Though I share little else in common with them, I agree with the former group. It’s disingenuous, or at the very least, naive, to suggest that legalizing same-sex marriage won’t threaten traditional marriage. It absolutely will, and I hope it does. Traditional marriage is an institution that has historically treated women as property and men as property owners. It has fueled our culture’s obsession with virginity and female purity, while justifying the rape of child brides and the battering of women who dare to not serve their husbands. A half-century’s worth of gender equality under Western law neither creates equality in practice nor does it negate thousands of years of subjugation.
Recognizing same-sex relationships may very well be the only thing that can keep marriage a relevant social institution. Same-sex marriage subverts the gender roles that have dominated marriage — and by extension, society — for the great majority of human history. Every gay marriage is a statement against antiquated roles and practices we’ve come to take for granted. (Who, for example, walks down the aisle in a gay wedding ceremony?) Marriage is far more appealing a notion when I think of queer couples getting hitched without white dresses and gendered proposals. Accepting gay marriage also means rejecting one of the most enduring aspects of traditional marriage: its exclusivity. No longer would marriage be a privilege of the appropriately heterosexual.
I’m not holding my breath, but if this long-suffering institution changes, then perhaps my opinion of it will too. Because frankly, I wish I could get married. I wish I could don a white wedding gown without having to think about its sexually repressive implications as much as I wish I lived in a society without prerequisites for legal recognition of romantic relationships. Unfortunately, that isn’t this society, at least not yet. Perhaps we’ll never get there in my lifetime, but if that’s the case, then to paraphrase Groucho Marx, I wouldn’t want to join a club that would have me as a member anyway.