Opinion – Anne Russell
I thought I better throw the qualifier in the headline, to avoid sounding like I was pals with Richard Prosser. Unlike many LGBT people, I have not yet suffered for my sexual orientation. My immediate family has always been supportive, and I have …
Why I, a Left-Wing Bisexual Woman, Don’t Support Gay Marriage
December 9, 2011
I thought I better throw the qualifier in the headline, to avoid sounding like I was pals with Richard Prosser.
Unlike many LGBT people, I have not yet suffered for my sexual orientation. My immediate family has always been supportive, and I have not encountered any serious bullying. I have the privilege of almost ignoring my sexuality: for me, bisexuality is a personal characteristic scarcely more interesting or abnormal than my having green eyes. It surprises me when people see it otherwise.
I realize that, stupidly enough, others are not afforded such luxuries. Many LGBT people still experience huge institutional and social discrimination to a degree which baffles me–filthy-minded liberal that I am, I would be happy if everyone chilled out and had (consensual) sex with whoever they liked. As we do not live in my slut utopia, though, I will march for LGBT rights wherever necessary.
The activist in me is troubled, however, at the forms of protest LGBT rights have been taking recently. In particular, I speak of the gay marriage debate. In a case of very strange bedfellows I can almost agree with Gerry Brownlee in letter if not spirit: “The question is why…a group of people who have said for so long that they want to be recognised as different…are now saying they want to be treated the same as other people.”
Comedian Liz Feldman said “It’s very dear to me, the issue of gay marriage. Or, as I like to call it: ‘Marriage’. You know, because I had lunch this afternoon, no gay lunch. I parked my car; I didn’t gay park it.” Funny and all, but there are two parts of the phrase “gay marriage”, and it is possible to support one word without the other. Only one of these words represents an uncontrollable part of one’s identity. It is ludicrous to not support ‘gay’; non-heterosexuality is here to stay—in fact it never left. But marriage is something else.
Unfortunately, most of the gay marriage debate is centred on the gay-or non-gayness of the institution. My cousin Deborah Russell argues that it is unfair for the state to dictate how individuals run their personal lives. Unusually and admirably, she also includes a polyamorous qualifier: “As for marriage for lesbian and gay and other non-traditional couples, or trios, or whatever, what is available for one New Zealander must be available for another.” While I obviously agree with Russell’s LGBT and non-monogamy support, I don’t particularly care for making marriage available for all. I will not agitate against it, for course, but I cannot promote it.
What I can’t fathom is this: why in this day and age is there such a fuss, by both LGBT and straight people, about getting married? What purpose does marriage serve now? We would do well to remember that marriage was once a contract to legally trade women as property. Later on it served to allow couples to have sex without the neighbours threatening to pray for them. The institution does not exactly have a proud legacy.
Most New Zealanders have accepted that lifetime monogamy is not a reachable or even a desirable reality. Many opt for serial monogamy, where one’s partners are separated in time and space. In my personal life I have taken the next step, where they are only separated in space; consensual polyamory offers me a joyous abundance of sexual and emotional possibilities. Indeed, many people undertake nonconsensual polyamory unconsciously, via cheating. Yet despite there being more visible and acceptable sexual lifestyles than you can shake a stick at, many non-religious people still want to recite vows of being together “as long as we both shall live”. It bemuses me.
I do understand that such desires have deep historical roots, a fact which is unfortunately absent from most defences of LGBT marriage. If we want to have an intelligent debate on marriage, we must look at it in context of our entire society. Love may be a personal matter that the state has no place in regulating, but the personal is political. Blazingly smart author Nina Power, in her book One-Dimensional Woman, added that it is also economic. Power is disgusted at the lack of systematic thought in modern feminism, and I apply that disgust to this current strain of queer activism.
Let us examine what I spoke of before: marriage as a legal contract trading women as property, which is essentially a capitalist arrangement. Whether we like it or not, this long history has shaped how many of us conduct our relationships, even if we don’t directly cement these relationships by getting married. As I have argued elsewhere, the idea of marrying a ‘soulmate’ has some roots in the capitalist logic of resource scarcity—we are only allowed one lover apiece. Moreover, many seem to believe that being in a romantic relationship gives you rights to control the other person’s behaviour. It is a matter of possession—we speak of others ‘stealing’ our partner, and ‘wanting them all to ourselves’. The partner is private property!
Even the rhetoric of ‘choice’ surrounding gay marriage is dubious. When I walk into a supermarket, there are eight brands of bottled water I can ‘choose’ between. This basic human need has been dressed up eight different ways and sold back to us. Marriage has put love in a bottle with a shiny label on it and sold it back to us as somehow better, more refreshing than other expressions of love. Choose to buy this bottle and the world will think you’re a good person, that you genuinely enjoy water. Maybe, but I’d rather let it flow naturally from its source, unimpeded by institutions of any kind. The bottle gives the water a weird plasticky tang anyway.
The literal meaning of the word corrupt is ‘utterly broken’ or separated. Corruption comes when human is separated from human, when human is separated from nature, when politicians are separated from constituents, when corporations are separated from customers. Capitalism is corrupt because it relentlessly packages and taxonomises everything.
To my mind, viewing sex and romance as separate from other human interactions is corrupt. Our sex lives, like everything else, are informed by society as a whole—pornography and prostitution are modes of work like any other, changing over different social and economic contexts. Marriage treats sex and romance as the most important parts of one’s life, but this is not always so. I have been willing to undergo difficulties with some non-sexual friends that I have not tolerated in my sexual relationships. Sex does not have to ‘change everything’.
We must be careful to not conflate the benefits associated with marriage with marriage itself. Nothing is intrinsic to marriage but marriage; not sex, not love, not commitment, not children nor a family. Things like adoption or visitation rights should not even be seen as intrinsic to romantic relationships or blood relations. It is possible that I could more reliably commit to raising children with my sister, or some of my best friends, than I could with people I was having sex with, male or female. But would I ever legally commit to loving my best friends? I doubt it. Why involve the law in love? I thought LGBT activists were meant to be fighting against that, which is why the current agitation for marriage confuses and maddens me.
When the LGBT movement gathered force in the latter half of the 20th century, it burst a gaping hole through the shiny ideal of the heterosexual nuclear family. It stood forth in all its deviant glory and proclaimed that there were other ways of living. If it wants to retain any integrity as a progressive movement, it must continue to offer such alternatives. I would be delighted if the LGBT movement really was ‘destroying the family’, something which in its current state is a socially, economically and environmentally unsustainable way of living. But when we sign up for the same sinking ships as the het community we lose the game—it is no measure of health to be well-adjusted to a sick society.
Einstein defined insanity as doing the same thing over and over again expecting different results. Our society has persisted in following the ideals of lifetime marriage and monogamy for centuries: emotional dissatisfaction, possession complexes, adultery and consequent bitter divorces have been frequent results. God knows why the LGBT community thinks it would be any different for them!
I guess my answer to Liz Feldman runs thusly: “I don’t support gay marriage, or as I like to call it: ‘marriage’. You know, because I dislike the idea of soldiers, not gay soldiers, and I fight against capitalism, not gay capitalism.”
EDIT: In response to some criticisms of this article, I wanted to make it very clear that if I were in Parliament and a gay marriage bill came up I would vote in favour of it. This article was more intended to argue why I do not support the institution of marriage as a whole.