Marriage is not the only worthy form of family or relationship, and it should not be legally and economically privileged above all others. While we honor those for whom marriage is the most meaningful personal – for some, also a deeply spiritual – choice, we believe that many other kinds of kinship relationship, households, and families must also be accorded recognition.
As a single by choice, I feel fully respected by such a statement, unlike some of the pro-marriage arguments, which seem to suggest that somehow marriage is the only valid form of relating. This includes, sadly, some of the claims in the Center for Inquiry’s position paper on same-sex marriage, such as the suggestion that marriage is the best way for “promoting stable relationships.” This is denying that there are many stable relationships outside of marriage! As Polikoff argues, marriage is the wrong policy for many, possibly all, societal problems. For example, marriage does not get children out of poverty. Education does. Also, many feminists still think marriage is ultimately a patriarchal institution, especially given its history. We should not be forced to marry simply to obtain certain rights and benefits, such as the right to visit a friend in the hospital or to ensure that our estate goes to a person who was important in our lives or to get health care coverage. Marriage is the wrong solution.
Right-wing strategists do not merely oppose same-sex marriage as a stand-alone issue. The entire legal framework of civil rights for all people is under assault by the Right, coded not only in terms of sexuality, but also in terms of race, gender, class, and citizenship status. The Right’s anti-LGBT position is only a small part of a much broader conservative agenda of coercive, patriarchal marriage promotion that plays out in any number of civic arenas in a variety of ways – all of which disproportionately impact poor, immigrant, and people-of-color communities. The purpose is not only to enforce narrow, heterosexist definitions of marriage and coerce conformity, but also to slash to the bone governmental funding for a wide array of family programs, including childcare, healthcare and reproductive services, and nutrition, and transfer responsibility for financial survival to families themselves.
Slowly but surely, the Wrong is dismantling benefits that LGBT activists hope to secure through same-sex marriage. Another reason, why marriage is the wrong solution.
So many of us long for communities in which there is systemic affirmation, valuing, and nurturing of difference, and in which conformity to a narrow and restricting vision is never demanded as the price of admission to caring civil society. Our vision is the creation of communities in which we are encouraged to explore the widest range of non-exploitive, non-abusive possibilities in love, gender, desire and sex – and in the creation of new forms of constructed families without fear that this searching will potentially forfeit for us our right to be honored and valued within our communities and in the wider world.
Oh, this is just beautiful! An emphasis on the nuclear family, and matrimania in particular, has undermined communities because the relationship to one person has been elevated above all other relationships. By moving beyond marriage, we can counteract this dangerous trend and build inclusive communities.
The Principles at the Heart of Our Vision
We, the undersigned, suggest that strategies rooted in the following principles are urgently needed:
- Recognition and respect for our chosen relationships, in their many forms
- Legal recognition for a wide range of relationships, households, and families, and for the children in all of those households and families, including same-sex marriage, domestic partner benefits, second-parent adoptions, and others
- The means to care for one another and those we love
- The separation of benefits and recognition from marital status, citizenship status, and the requirement that “legitimate” relationships be conjugal
- Separation of church and state in all matters, including regulation and recognition of relationships, households, and families
- Access for all to vital government support programs, including but not limited to: affordable and adequate health care, affordable housing, a secure and enhanced Social Security system, genuine disaster recovery assistance, welfare for the poor
- Freedom from a narrow definition of our sexual lives and gender choices, identities, and expression
- Recognition of interdependence as a civic principle and practical affirmation of the importance of joining with others who also face opposition to their household and family compositions, including old people, immigrant communities, single parents, battered women, prisoners and former prisoners, people with disabilities, and poor people
- We must ensure that our strategies do not help create or strengthen the legal framework for gutting domestic partnerships (LGBT and heterosexual) for those who prefer this or another option to marriage, reciprocal beneficiary agreements, and more. Our movement strategies must never secure privilege for some while at the same time foreclosing options for many. Our strategies should expand the current terms of debate, not reinforce them.
I have modified the last two points slightly to broaden them beyond the specific LGBT focus of the Statement, which is intended for “LGBT and allied activists.” I think they apply just as much to organizations such as the Center for Inquiry, for example, which gives some lip-service to other forms of relationship (p. 27-8), the bulk of its Position Paper excludes non-marital relationships.
It is clear that moving beyond marriage does not undermine the right to marriage for same-sex and different-sex couples. Instead it calls for a disentangling of that right from the legal benefits that come with marriage that are often not addressing the underlying societal issues.
At a time when the conservative movement is generating an agenda of fear, retrenchment, and opposition to the very idea of a caring society, we need to claim the deepest possibilities for interdependent social relationships and human expression. We must dare to dream the world that we need, the world that has room for us all, even as we also do the painstaking work of crafting the practical strategies that will address the realities of our daily lives. […] Now, more than ever, is the time to continue to find new ways of defending all our families, and to fight to make same-sex marriage just one option on a menu of choices that people have about the way they construct their lives.
This is such an encouraging vision! Too bad it seems to get lost in the way too loud pro-marriage rhetoric that sees marriage as the panacea it is not.