Marriage and relationships

Last week the Supreme Court of United States took on decision-making around Proposition 8 and DOMA. The commentary sparked within communities last week was torn-both over the issue of gay marriage itself and the issue of the Human Rights Campaign (HRC) being equated with the marriage quality push.

I read a lot of wonderful commentary about the marriage movement and the politics of queer assimilation through marriage. I also read a lot of wonderful commentary about how we’re choosing to define issues of importance within the queer community and what we’re overlooking: youth, homelessness, jobs, addiction and depression, domestic and sexual violence. Where are they on our LGBTQ agenda? And what money are we putting toward supporting them?

Generally, I find myself torn in the mist of this conversation. As a formally married queer woman (who was married to another woman), I do believe in the opportunity for all people to be protected equally under federal laws. DOMA, as well as the current cultural construction of marital relationships, does not allow for that equal protection.

Personally, I also believe in the importance of the ceremony that brings family, community, and those being married together to celebrate an official commitment to each other and to those families and communities. The ceremony (what we would equate with a wedding) is oft conflated with a marriage.

In my experience, this conflation of wedding and marriage, combined with the social construction of relationships within a dominant cultural hegemony of power, heterosexism, and sexism sets us up; all of us.

The current discourse around marriage within the queer and straight communities is focused on who gets the right to be married. We are talking about what “marriage is”- whether we’re coming at it from a marriage is “…the joining of a man and a woman”, “…an institution that grants access to federal protections and benefits” , or “…marriage is a union between two loving people” slant.

What I’m struggling with in the midst of this debate is the lack of conversation about relationships. Earlier I noted that I am formally married. After almost 6 years of being together (almost three of which being married) my wife and I divorced. We divorced because things went awry and we didn’t know that they were going awry until it was too late. We divorced because we had a lack of modeling. We lacked a “how to guide”: how to be in a relationship with each other, how to sustain a relationship with each other, and how to ask for help and support when we needed it-without fear, shame and resistance.

In this patriarchal, capitalist society we still define the roles of men and women along very gendered lines. As such, we also define the paradigm of relationships and marriage along those roles. So what does it mean to be queer women or queer men in a relationship? Hell, what is it mean to be a man and a woman in a relationship together? In a society in which we have historically given and continue to give cis-gendered, white men privilege and everybody else “underneath” them less privilege, what does it mean to construct a relationship within the context of differential privileges?

Our social system, for centuries, has been set up to give one person in the relationship more power than the other. In modern society, we’re finding that both parties need to have equal involvement regarding work, caring for children, taking care of the house, etc. But we still see the trends within heterosexual marriage of male partners spending less time with children, working more hours and being primary bread winners, and taking on less responsibility in the household. Women, on the other hand, are either trying to do it all or “opting” to back out of the workplace. Some antifeminist feminists will say that second wave feminism gave women the choice to be mothers. I disagree because we’re still within the contract of a system that propagates inequality by demanding women be caregivers and ridiculing men who try to take on that role.

So, back to queer folk and marriage… Yes, I think the current paradigm around marriage is unequal. It was frustrating to me that as a married person I did not receive equal benefits because I couldn’t file as a married person on a federal level. It was frustrating that my partner’s healthcare when applied to me was seen as additional income and taxed heavily. So I couldn’t buy into her healthcare; it was not affordable. We were penalized and that is wrong. That we still would need to hire lawyers and draft paperwork citing the rights we prescribed to each other to make decisions around health care and to create access within cases of healthcare emergencies outside of our “marriage equality state” is unacceptable. So yes, I think we need to do something about marriage.

But, I also think we need to do something about relationships. Our current system, our society, is not helping people create healthy, strong, equal relationships. I’m all for marriage equality but I’m more for equality in marriage. Or rather, for equality in relationships.

So how do we deconstruct this patriarchal, capitalist, cis-gendered, heterosexist paradigm in which partners are empowered to have power over one another? Is it the pure existence of queer relationships that’s going to help us on do that paradigm? Or are we, existing and still stuck in the same patriarchal, capitalist society, going to fall victim to working within the same paradigm? Because, in reality, we’re buying into that paradigm with the fight for gay marriage.

I don’t know that I have the answers. I have a lot of questions. And I’m interested in what you think about relationships, about queerness, about civil rights and marriage equality…

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