25 May 2009

The strangest screed against gay marriage I've ever seen

A little while back, Amanda at Pandagon said something profound about the deepest roots of opposition to marriage equality:

This is part of the reason that same-sex marriage is such a major league threat to conservatives.  Same-sex weddings don’t have the person with power and the person whose status was elevated by being chosen.  So you’re stuck with celebrating their love, and that’s going to have an influence on how straight weddings are understood.

I thought it was profound, but I really hadn't considered just how utterly correct she really was until I came upon this screed from a writer named Sam Schulman.  At the outset, he acknowledges, in a backward kind of way, that the only arguments against same-sex marriage are based in either religious fundamentalism or general bigotry, neither of which have any place in deciding or allotting rights in a free society.  So he embarks on the noble task of making an argument against marriage equality based in neither of those things, and oh wow, it's strange.  You see, the real reason gay marriage is bad is because, um...well, because straight marriage is miserably bound up in the patriarchy and keeps women in their place, and, like, gays can't be part of that!  Seriously, it's weird.  Brad at Sadly, No! has already parsed this piece up one side and down the other, and you should read that in its entirety, but I'll highlight a couple of the atrocities, and you can read the rest for yourself.

Schulman argues that the REAL reason gay marriage is bad is because it's not part of the "kinship system," which has nothing to do with love, and really, it sucks, my god, it sucks, but it's also "majestic," and...

Reason #1:

The first is the most important: It is that marriage is concerned above all with female sexuality. The very existence of kinship depends on the protection of females from rape, degradation, and concubinage. This is why marriage between men and women has been necessary in virtually every society ever known. Marriage, whatever its particular manifestation in a particular culture or epoch, is essentially about who may and who may not have sexual access to a woman when she becomes an adult, and is also about how her adulthood--and sexual accessibility--is defined. 

Uhm.  Because the last thing we want is women themselves deciding who has sexual access to her.  Must.  Have.  Patriarchal.  System.  To.  Guard.  Vaginas!  He continues:

This most profound aspect of marriage--protecting and controlling the sexuality of the child-bearing sex--is its only true reason for being, and it has no equivalent in same-sex marriage.

Like, he's not even pretending this screed isn't anti-woman at its core.  Usually base misogyny is covered by euphemisms, but not this guy!

Reason #2:

...kinship modifies marriage by imposing a set of rules that determines not only whom one may marry (someone from the right clan or family, of the right age, with proper abilities, wealth, or an adjoining vineyard), but, more important, whom one may not marry. Incest prohibition and other kinship rules that dictate one's few permissible and many impermissible sweethearts are part of traditional marriage. Gay marriage is blissfully free of these constraints. There is no particular reason to ban sexual intercourse between brothers, a father and a son of consenting age, or mother and daughter.

Uhm, what?  First of all, no one's arguing that parents and children should have romantic relationships...in fact, the center of the argument is that any two consenting adults should be able to enter into marriage.  We, as a society, understand (or at least liberals do) that children are too young and immature to be considered "consenting," and so we protect them.  But basically he's saying that in gay marriage, your parents can't force you to marry the boring guy with the big "vineyard," instead of the saucy red-headed girl next door, who has no big vineyard.  Again, what?  Also, he says that gay marriage is "blissfully free" of these constraints.  It's a recurring theme in this article:  hetero marriage, with all its constraints, really sucks, and why should gays get to have all the fun marriages?

Reason #3 is just an extended riff about how gay marriage takes all the healthy, gutwrenching shame out of sex, and really, boo that, because if straight men and women have to deal with sexual shame, then the whole class does too, so nyah.

Reason #4 is where the weirdness reaches its climax:

Fourth, marriage defines the end of childhood, sets a boundary between generations within the same family and between families, and establishes the rules in any given society for crossing those boundaries. Marriage usually takes place at the beginning of adulthood; it changes the status of bride and groom from child in the birth family to adult in a new family. ... Even in modern romantic marriages, a groom becomes the hunting or business partner of his father-in-law and a member of his clubs; a bride becomes an ally of her mother-in-law in controlling her husband. There can, of course, be warm relations between families and their children's same-sex partners, but these come about because of liking, sympathy, and the inherent kindness of many people. A wedding between same-sex lovers does not create the fact (or even the feeling) of kinship between a man and his husband's family; a woman and her wife's kin. It will be nothing like the new kinship structure that a marriage imposes willy-nilly on two families who would otherwise loathe each other.

First of all, who says gay marriage doesn't bind families together?  Does this man have lots of experience with gay couples to draw this strange conclusion?  And secondly, what is with this myth, prevalent among social conservatives, that, along with controlling womens' wandering vaginas, men have to be controlled or tamed as well?  They seem not to grasp the concept that men, as sentient adults, should bear the responsibility, on their own, for acting as respectable adults, faithful to their partners, etc.  

He's starting to wrap it up now:

These four aspects of marriage are not rights, but obligations. They are marriage's "a priori" because marriage is a part of the kinship system, and kinship depends on the protection, organization, and often the exploitation of female sexuality vis-à-vis males.

Again, with the misogyny affixed firmly to his sleeve.

Few men would ever bother to enter into a romantic heterosexual marriage--much less three, as I have done--were it not for the iron grip of necessity that falls upon us when we are unwise enough to fall in love with a woman other than our mom. 

Weird Oedipal reference, and also this guy's been married three times.  We have an authority on our hands, folks.

Anyway, to sum up, marriage is Teh Suck, women's vaginas need to be regulated, men are beasts who wouldn't treat women nicely if they didn't have to, authoritative patriarchy is necessary for propping up straight men's fragile egos, and what the hell does gay marriage have to do with any of this again?  Oh:

So if the failure of gay marriage will not affect gay people, who will it hurt? Only everybody else.

As kinship fails to be relevant to gays, it will become fashionable to discredit it for everyone. The irrelevance of marriage to gay people will create a series of perfectly reasonable, perfectly unanswerable questions: If gays can aim at marriage, yet do without it equally well, who are we to demand it of one another? Who are women to demand it of men? Who are parents to demand it of their children's lovers--or to prohibit their children from taking lovers until parents decide arbitrarily they are "mature" or "ready"?


Right.  So basically, he reaches a conclusion similar to Amanda's at the top of this post:  that the existence of marriage equality will, for some couples, filter into the mainstream, and we'll finally be able to start disposing of some of the antiquated, misogynistic and medieval aspects of chattel marriage that still exist in our culture, and start moving to a place where people truly get married because they want to marry each other, not to fulfill some sort of patriarchal societal expectation.

The difference is that people like Amanda and me see this as a good thing.  Writers like Schulman see a more egalitarian future and tremble in fear that if the jig is up, and women start to really figure out that they don't need men to make their decisions for them, then where will that leave him?

I don't know, his fourth marriage?   

Update:  Tbogg has weighed in, with a post titled "I will keep your vagina safe and warm."  You should definitely read that, too.  He's one of my favorites for a good reason.




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