Tuesday, May 26, 2009

When You’re Desperate

The latest argument against same-sex marriage comes from Sam Shulman at The Weekly Standard. He’s given up on invoking biblical mythology and bigotry and tries to approach it from some sort of social-construct angle in which he believes that gays don’t conform to the norm of marriage because they’re not programmed to accept marriage as the ball-and-chain type of set-up that straight couples have.

The entity known as “gay marriage” only aspires to replicate a very limited, very modern, and very culture-bound version of marriage. Gay advocates have chosen wisely in this. They are replicating what we might call the “romantic marriage,” a kind of marriage that is chosen, determined, and defined by the couple that enters into it. Romantic marriage is now dominant in the West and is becoming slightly more frequent in other parts of the world. But it is a luxury and even here has only existed (except among a few elites) for a couple of centuries–and in only a few countries. The fact is that marriage is part of a much larger institution, which defines the particular shape and character of marriage: the kinship system.

The kinship system is based on the idea that a straight couple will develop a bond with their in-laws and become a part of a larger family: the groom will go hunting with his father-in-law and the new bride will go shopping with her mother-in-law and the family will grow, whereas gay couples are shunned by the extended family and can never produce the grandchildren that are the glue that bonds the family together. Apparently Mr. Schulman has missed out on centuries of mother-in-law jokes (even Shakespeare had them) or he is reinforcing the stereotype that gay family members are still isolated from their family and that their partners are not welcome in the family at all. I don’t know where he does his research, but if it’s purely anecdotal, he’s several generations behind.

His next argument, however, proves that he is truly and desperately grasping at straws when he says that the purpose of straight marriage is to protect women. Really.

The first is the most important: It is that marriage is concerned above all with female sexuality. The very existence of kinship depends on the protection of females from rape, degradation, and concubinage. This is why marriage between men and women has been necessary in virtually every society ever known. Marriage, whatever its particular manifestation in a particular culture or epoch, is essentially about who may and who may not have sexual access to a woman when she becomes an adult, and is also about how her adulthood–and sexual accessibility–is defined.

Wow. Just wow. Like reproductive choice, this conservative argument comes down to what matters most: controlling the woman and her uterus, and domestic violence and spousal abuse happens only when women don’t remember their place. Apparently that’s the most important lesson Mr. Schulman has taken away from his three failed marriages.

In the end he believes that same-sex marriage is just a fad, like pet rocks.

When, in spite of current enthusiasm, gay marriage turns out to disappoint or bore the couples now so eager for its creation, its failure will be utterly irrelevant for gay people. The happiness of gay relationships up to now has had nothing to do with being married or unmarried; nor will they in the future. I suspect that the gay marriage movement will be remembered as a faintly humorous, even embarrassing stage in the liberation saga of the gay minority. The archetypal gay wedding portrait–a pair of middle-aged women or paunchy men looking uncomfortable in rented outfits worn at the wrong time of day–is destined to be hung in the same gallery of dated images of social progress alongside snapshots of flappers defiantly puffing cigarettes and Kodachromes of African Americans wearing dashikis. The freedom of gays to live openly as they please will easily survive the death of gay marriage.

Yes, everybody knows that us queers are just flighty and trendy and when we get bored with it like we did with smoked-glass interior design and South Beach, we’ll move on to something else, like brunching. To quote Woody Allen, I love being reduced to a cultural stereotype.

I realize that Mr. Schulman wants his readers to take him seriously, but it’s so obvious that he’s got nothing other than misogyny and stereotypes of both women and gays. As Pam points out, the arguments he uses are the same that were used to oppose women’s suffrage a century ago and civil rights fifty years after that. Those uppity women and blacks didn’t know their place, and look what happened.

There may be cogent and intellectually honest arguments out there against marriage equality — although I have yet to hear one — but this claptrap sure isn’t one of them.

HT to Sadly, No!