I realised during an enthusiastic debate on Twitter yesterday with @amicus_AU and @chronicfemme on the question of marriage equality, that apparently both ends of the continuum fear that same-sex marriage will result in an apocalypse for their cause. Marriage conservatives fear equality will bring about the death of marriage in an inexplicable metaphysical erosion of heterosexual values, while some in the queer community fear it will bring about the death of queer, as queer couples reject the radical demand to abolish state-sanctioned commitments altogether, and instead seek acceptance within the heteronormative paradigm of marriage.
The marriage equality debate inevitably becomes conflated with the debate about the institution of marriage, which is unfortunate, to my mind. They are two separate and equally important issues, and neither is done justice when they are intertwined.
Nobody wants the state in their bedroom. It is not the state’s business whom one chooses to marry, or live in a de facto relationship with. At the same time, when such arrangements break down, there must be protections in place for the wellbeing of vulnerable parties, usually women and children under current arrangements, who are likely to come off second best in serious matters such as property settlements, child support, access to a parent and all the other miserable detritus that commonly litters the personal landscape when things go wrong.
Humans being what we are, and being even more what we are in times of relationship breakdown, many of us cannot be trusted to behave reasonably when we are in the grip of extreme emotion provoked by the collapse of hope and future and the losses involved. We need laws at these times, and state-sanctioned relationships provide us with these laws.
If the argument is for no state involvement at all then we cannot argue for recognised de facto relationships either, as these are also governed by the state at times of breakdown, though not in precisely the same way as is marriage.
If it is heteronormative for queer couples to marry, is it also heteronormative for them to be covered by the protections offered to de factos?
Are queers arguing against marriage equality actually arguing that creating a couple is heteronormative? This is to my mind an interesting argument, and one that takes us into the fascinating territory of theories of constructed desires, et al, however, in practice as a society we have to contend with coupledom and its consequences for the vulnerable being currently rather more in our faces than theories of desire, and requiring our urgent practical attention.
Which is not to say people shouldn’t think about these things if that is our inclination, and radically interrogate entrenched norms.
I’m at a loss to imagine a system of relationship in which the state is not involved. It cannot be left up to individuals to fairly sort out the messes that occur when intimate relationships break down. Therefore, it is absolutely unjust for that protection to be denied to couples other than the heterosexual. There is simply no valid argument to deny marriage equality: every human being is entitled to the same protections, regardless of sexual orientation.
If you don’t “believe” in the state having anything to do with your relationship, don’t call upon its laws to protect you if your relationship breaks down. Find a radical new paradigm, rather than simply calling for our current arrangements to be abolished. I haven’t heard or read any discussion of viable alternatives that can achieve what state intervention achieves when marriages and de facto relationships collapse, and people have to salvage what they can of their lives and the lives of any children involved.
As for the supernaturally destructive powers invested in marriage equality by opponents of all kinds: if your ideology is so fragile that people loving each other in the manner they choose is going to destroy it, maybe it’s time to find a new ideology?