Before i start, let me say this, though: I don’t object to people celebrating their love for each other. In fact, i’d like to see more celebrations: Friends celebrating their friendships; people celebrating major life-milestones, such as graduation or a change in path; just plain celebrating being alive, actually! I do object that many people think that the only way they can celebrate their love is within an institution that discriminates against those outside of it. There is nothing progressive about that.
While marriage is hailed and celebrated as a way for two people to demonstrate their love for each other, it does way more than that. It ties these two people into an institution that is historically very sexist (and racist and heteronormative). That sexism is still very much alive in the traditions around the wedding, including that the man proposes to the woman (or the more male partner to the more female one), the woman is given away by her father (that used to be a transfer of property, geesh, do we really want to keep that tradition alive?!?), etc.
After the wedding, most people fall into traditional gender roles even when both partners intended to live more equally (this shows up in time-studies that show that women still do most of the housework even when both partners are working full-time). This suggests that there is something to Claudia Card‘s contention that marriage creates a dynamic that makes such a move toward traditional behavior more likely. She goes further, though, pointing out that marriage can become a trap for a woman in a society that is marked by sexism. It is still difficult for a woman to leave an abusive husband because of stigma associated with it – and, more importantly, judges who don’t believe women’s claims of abuse. Even when a woman can get out, she is faced with economic disadvantages because women tend to earn less than men. Post-divorce, men tend to thrive at least financially whereas women end up less well-off.
And then there is the bright red dividing line, as Nancy Polikoff calls the line that separates those of us who are unmarried from those of us who are married. That line establishes the discrimination that has real social and economic consequences for unmarried people. There are over 1000 benefits that the US federal government bestows on married people that single people don’t have access to. That is discrimination. This discrimination does not end with same-sex marriage because that only moves the dividing line. To end the discrimination, we need to fight to remove it!
Given all this (and i could go on and add more details), i scratch my head when people involved in political activism that challenges other institutions are delighted to get married. If you think corporate control of our food system needs to end, for example, why is an institution that controls how we relate to others unquestionable? If you are fighting for the right to visit a person you love, why does that right need to come via marriage, thus leaving out people who love each other who aren’t married? Let’s design our relationships the way we want to and fight for our rights to those benefits that marriage bestows no matter how our relationships are configured (for a thoughtful example of how to do this, take a look at this report). Only then will a celebration of love be truly a celebration because it would not leave anybody out in the rain.