A sort of friendship recognised by the police

Having had to apologise twice in the last week for comments that were patronising or condescending, I’m quite sensitive at the moment about the manner in which I express my views.  At the same time, the campaign for Equal Marriage is hotting up in Scotland, and I don’t really approve.  Its not the Equal stuff that bothers me, its the marriage bit.

In one respect, I feel like I should really keep my mouth shut.  I have friends who have been discriminated against the whole of their lives because of their sexuality, which is why the campaign for equal marriage exists, but at the same time, same sex partners do now enjoy legal entitlements that they were unable to until very recently.  And in all honesty – that is my problem.  I feel like by losing the LGBT movement to marriage we are losing a valuable ally.  Marriage is more than a bit of paper.  The campaigners see that, that’s why they are fighting for it.  But look carefully at what you wish for.

Marriage has a specific set of legal requirements and a more fluid set of social assumptions.  The legal framework sets out the parameters in which you are obliged to conduct your marriage (it must be consummated; must take parental responsibility for any children sired, until 1991 must consent to sexual intercourse, may not marry another), but it is the social assumptions that dominate.

The ring signifies the marriage state.  Soppy wedding sites and of course jewelers will tell you

Wedding rings embody the continuous flow of love, a circle that symbolizes eternity where there is no beginning and no end

…but what is it really?  What is its meaning?

Very few people will have not have checked the wedding finger of someone else.  The most obvious reason is of course to find out if someone you would like to have a relationship with already has one with another, but there are far, far more reasons than that.  In business a finger will be checked for propensity for having or having had children.  This will occur with both men and women, but with very different intentions.  For women it questions whether they will take time off for pregancy or childcare responsibilities; for men whether they have a family to financially support.  In a social situation, a finger will be checked to ascertain the background of the person, do they have a stable home-life, a support structure, interdependent living space?

Marriage is a buy in to a specific set of assumptions – it signifies an acceptance that marriage is a more desirable state than non-marriage, that the ideal relationship is lifelong and exclusive, that seeking a permanent and lifelong partner is the aim of anyone without one.  And this affects relationships beyond marriage.  Within social security legislation there is the status of quasi-marriage (living together as husband and wife) where in some circumstances unmarried partners can be treated less individually and with more assumptions made about their relationship than people who have chosen to get married; within social and business engagements there is the presumption of a significant other, and the social assumption that anyone without a significant other must be seeking one.

And this is where I feel the LGBT movement have let me down.  By refusing and challenging the one of the assumptions of marriage – that people wish a relationship with people of the opposite sex, and refusing to enter such a relationship, it questions the whole assumption that marriage is a desirable aim or goal; by seeking marriage equality it tacitly endorses that goal and requests the right to buy-in to it.

At one level I am unaffected whether people can marry people of the same sex or not.  I have no desire to get married to either sex; I have no desire to get married at all, but while marriage rates are falling across the Western World and marriage is increasingly becoming a preserve of the middle-class, I find the endorsement of marriage as a desirable state which is being promoted through the Equal Marriage campaign distasteful.  Marriage has little to do with love, sexuality or romance and everything to do with social structures.  It is an institution created to bound relationships and bind people to one another in a specific socially approved manner.

Marriage although an international institution is legally enacted in different ways across the world.  In some parts, adultery is a criminal offense, in some parts polygamy is quite legal; in some parts same-sex marriage is legal while in others child marriage is legal.  There are equally different social assumptions made about marriage in different parts of the world – from residency, economic relationships other kin relationships.  Mainly based in religious ideology, endorsed through the medium of the nation state,  the relationships that people choose to have are restricted, bounded and constrained.

I wish a world where people are free to choose their own relationships: social sexual and emotional.  Where relationships are not measured against an ideal promoted by church or state. Where people are treated as individuals and there is free association of those individuals based on their desires rather than legalistic frameworks.  As long as marriage exists, all other forms of relationships between unrelated people are measured against it and found lacking.

As RL Stephenson said “Matrimony is…a sort of friendship recognised by the police” …and who wants their friendships policed.

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7 comments
M
M

Although I am against marriage I don't feel comfortable in denying that choice to people. Though once everyone has that option I would urge them not to use it. It just can't get behind the 'we know best argument' when it comes to non heterosexuals campaigning for the right to marry. Also; "in some parts same-sex marriage is legal while in others child marriage is legal" I'm not happy with these two being in the same category and think a bit more thought could have been given before posting.

el
el

I see marriage as signing a very important legal document, which has power in court, at hospital, in case of divorce gives rights too. If you want to buy a flat together, raise kids together and one of you suddenly dies, it's the easiest and surest way to protect your rights. That children are yours too and shouldn't go to the orphanage, f.e. That as a soldier's widow you should get some financial help. That you will have power to see a partner in coma, and not relatives s/he hated. It's creating a family and it isn't dying. Coontz wrote books about the huge changes the institution of marriage experienced through centuries, marriage doesn't have to mean all those social assumptions you talk about. Without it you have to rent a lawyer to sign numerous agreements and still won't get the rights married couples have, as gay & lesbian couples painfully felt on themselves. Besides, not all people are decent and when there is inter-dependence in a relationship (want him to pay child support for kids, want to prevent somebody getting away with throwing you out of a flat and giving zero for all money you invested in hisher flat, etc), you want laws to protect you. Without legalistic frameworks you're on your own and if w/o much money or a good lawyer as a friend, good luck... Imo marriage in one or another form will always be, as long as people want to raise kids. Many toxic assumptions are being changed already, it's a long process, but it doesn't mean marriage for people who want it isn't valid, good, etc.

mhairi
mhairi

But marriage is one of the reasons why those rights are denied to other relationships. It is considered that if you want rights associated with your relationship then you get married. Without marriage, aquiring those rights, regardless of the relationship that you are in becomes more democratic. Child support is dependent on parental rights and responsibilities not on marriage and marriage doesnt protect you from being thrown out of your home.

mhairi
mhairi

Meh - suppose. One friend did suggest to me, that as soon as they got the right to marriage the next campaign should be to persuade L/G bods not to go there! I just feel that they are lending support to the institution by campaigning for it - look - there is this lovely thing that we are being denied and we demand the right to it, rather than critiquing it and challenging it. Marriage is becoming narrower and more traditional - mainly middle class people get married and don't get me started on the whole yeurchyness (and wasted expense) of weddings. The more discord there can be between the ideal of marriage and real people's lives the better afaic, then people will have a variety of role models who dont feel obligated to follow a relationship pattern that is weighed down with social expectations, but to create their own.

Lisa Millbank
Lisa Millbank

Don't get me wrong, I basically agree with you about the politics. You should have seen what happened when I spoke out against the Don't Ask, Don't Tell repeal. :P

Lisa Millbank
Lisa Millbank

I think that most folks have a right to do what they need to do to relieve the shittiness of marginalisation. For a lot of LGBT folks, they feel that is "fighting for marriage". It only really bothers me when people relieve that shittiness by lending energy to other oppressions. I think that fighting for marriage is doing that to some extent, because marriage is a misogynist institution. So to some extent, fighting for marriage is a misogynist inclination. Which shouldn't be a surprise - most people, including most LGBT people, are either misogynist or have internalised misogyny, and campaigning for marriage is one of the many ways that misogyny is expressed. And it's a pressure commonly placed on marginalised folk that we have to be perfect, whereas relatively unoppressed folk don't - they'll often be lauded for the slightest improvements in their behaviour even when they're acting like a massive chode in all sorts of other ways. So I'd lay it out as follows: All men have a responsibility to challenge marriage... ... in ways outlined by the feminist movement, because women should be in charge here That includes gay, bisexual and trans* men... ... but maybe the responsibility falls on them a little less heavily than on cishet men That said, being outside of the marriage structure can really be helpful when trying to understand it and work out how to challenge it Looked at in that way, LGBT folk have the opportunity, but not the responsibility, to challenge marriage. And I think we should keep in mind that, in significantly greater numbers than cishet folk, we actually are taking up that opportunity.

Lisa Millbank
Lisa Millbank

... And as soon as I clicked to post this comment, I wanted to go back and claw my eyes out, because of course I've just lazily slapped "T" and "B" onto the end of "LG" without making clear the subtleties. Similar-sex marriage, where the sexes are similar in the eyes of the state, does of course have some utility for many trans people's relationships. And it also benefits many bi folks. But the communities fighting for it are primarily gay male and lesbian communities, though the gay male community seems to be far, far more involved. I should have made that clear in my original comment.

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