For many, marriage equality is a no-brainer. Gay and lesbian individuals should be treated like straight individuals. They deserve the same rights — the right to marry. Marriage equality, according to queer theory, isn’t as easy as picking out a wedding cake or walking down the aisle to your partner. In this précis, I intend to summarize my findings of the queer critiques of marriage in various scholarly journal articles and book chapter. Each resource differs in publication date in relation to the legalization of same-sex marriage and sub-topic, yet one theme persits: the legalization of same-sex marriage is not a black-and-white issue.
Marriage has long been criticized by queer theorists as an institutionalized imposition of social standards for sexuality, relationships, and kinship structures. Those who defy the heterosexual family structure (previously gay and lesbian couples) cannot access the various privileges of marriage, which include health and legal benefits. In order to obtain these basic rights, proponents of gay marriage adopted a “liberal assimilationist strategy” to push the idea that LGBTQ individuals are no different than heterosexual individuals (Courtenay).
Critiques of the mainstream, marriage-oriented LGBTQ rights agenda diverge in focus. One argument against same-sex marriage is that the institution exists for the sole purpose of sexual reproduction of “people who are by nature complementary;” with legalized marriage comes the destruction of the meaningfulness in marriage (Lopez). Queer critiques lack from this kind of perspective — a gay man who considers marriage as a right reserved for a man and a woman on the grounds of procreation.
Another aspect of the queer critique of marriage in need of further investigation is the relation to the feminist marriage critique. One argument specifically focuses on the clash between the feminist and gay rights agendas for marriage equality. Feminists maintain support for sexual reproductive choice and sexual freedom, but adamantly resist the institution of marriage. Inequality and gender role expectations breed within the institution. Marriage also exists as a hotbed for abuse, only increasing the struggle for those who wish to detangle themselves from it. Instead of supporting marriage equality, efforts should be made to abolish marriage itself and to secure the marital health benefits and rights for everyone.
Most arguments against same-sex marriage centered on the critique of the marriage institution as a perpetrator of privilege and further societal marginalization for non-conforming relationships. Like the feminist perspective, rights should be secured for everyone while “the generic logic of equality and the rhetoric of assimilation” is challenged (Conrad). Mainstream marriage equality focus literally kills the LGTBQ community by taking funds and shifting focus away from other pressing issues. Even those who consider the legalization of same-sex marriage as a victory agree that it’s time to think more broadly. Forget marriage, we want universal rights.
Card, Claudia. “Gay Divorce: Thoughts on the Legal Regulation of Marriage.” Hypatia, vol. 22 no. 1, 2007, p. 24-38. Project MUSE muse.jhu.edu/article/206321.
The late Claudia Card was the Emma Goldman (WARF) Professor of Philosophy at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. In this journal article, Card develops an argument against the legalization of same-sex marriage from the standpoint that the institution of marriage is evil. Marriage equality is not only an issue of recognition but one of regulation, in which there also exists the issue of the “unjust distribution of benefits” for those married and not married (25). Card recognizes that the denial of marriage means the denial of rights while also acknowledging the abuse that can easily occur within marriages, making marriage a truly life or death issue. Focus on marriage equality, Card deliberates, should then transfer to the abolishment of the marriage institution and other pressing issues, such as universal health care.
Chávez, Karma R. “Marriage Equals Death … Seriously.” GLQ: A Journal of Lesbian and Gay Studies, vol. 18, no. 2–3, June 2012, pp. 419–21, doi:10.1215/10642684-1472998.
Karma R. Chávez, an Associate Professor of Mexican American & Latina/o Studies at the University of Texas at Austin and rhetoric critic, critiques the “mainstream LGBT rights agenda” in this journal article (419). Chávez introduces the ideas of the Against Equality Collective and its respective publication. The Against Equality Collective evaluates the marriage-oriented agenda as a dominating force, currently taking funds away from activists working on important community needs. In this way, marriage is literally killing the community (queer and trans people in need). Chávez briefly focuses on Yasmin Nair, the author of the introduction for the Against Equality book, and her idea that marriage presents queer people a choice to either conform or die. Focus then shifts to the other essays and critiques and their respective authors in the Against Equality publication for the remainder of the article, specifically the recurring themes of resistance of the state and intersectional advocacy. Chávez ends the article by explaining the importance of Against Equality and its reception by her students.
Conrad, Ryan. “CHAPTER SIX: Damn Right We’re Here to Destroy Marriage!” Counterpoints, vol. 437, 2014, pp. 105–120., www.jstor.org/stable/42981934.
In this journal article, Ryan Conrad, postdoctoral fellow in Film Studies at York University and published author, deconstructs the gay marriage debate by detailing the work of Against Equality, of which Conrad is a co-founder. Conrad begins by explaining same-sex marriage advocacy as assimilative and pushing the conforming message that “we are just like you” (105). In contrast, Against Equality takes a non-conforming apporach in demanding societal value for all types of families and basic rights for everyone, regardless of marital status. Marriage equality distracts from the larger need for structural changes and “social and economic justice” (115). Despite death threats to Conrad and Against Equality co-founder, Yasmin Nair, and accusations of impeding the movement, “the generic logic of equality and the rhetoric of assimilation” must be challenged (114).
DAUM, COURTENAY W. “Marriage Equality: Assimilationist Victory or Pluralist Defeat?” LGBTQ Politics: A Critical Reader, edited by Marla Brettschneider et al., NYU Press, New York, 2017, pp. 353–373. JSTOR, www.jstor.org/stable/j.ctt1pwt8jh.26.
Courtenay W. Daum is a Professor in the Political Science Department, Affiliate Faculty with the Center for Women’s Studies and Gender Research, and Associate Faculty in the Department of Ethnic Studies at Colorado State University. In this book chapter, Daum considers the arguments and influential civil rights cases from the perspective of liberal and queer activists regarding marriage equality. Proponents for gay marriage pushed a “liberal assimilationist strategy,” arguing that gay and lesbian individuals deserve the same rights as heterosexual individuals, which found its way into the landmark case, Obergefell v. Hodges (362). A consequence of this, queer theorists point out, is the marginalization of those who don’t marry, not to mention members of the community who cannot marry or come out as gay and lesbian due to restrictions of race, class, and culture. Another consequence takes form in the privileging of certain types of families “with two married parents over other familial organizations and relationships as well as nonnuclear family arrangements” (368). Daum concludes by calling for attention to the “diverse interests and individuals within the LGBTQ community,” as well as institutional reformation (371).
Ferguson, Ann. “Gay Marriage: An American and Feminist Dilemma.” Hypatia, vol. 22 no. 1, 2007, p. 39-57. Project MUSE muse.jhu.edu/article/206326.
In this journal article, Ann Ferguson, Professor Emerita of Philosophy and Women’s Studies at the University of Massachusetts Amherst, investigates the consequences of the legalization of same-sex marriage from an American and feminist perspective. Ferguson firstly sets up the American family ideal as a “ heterosexual, gender-role-differentiated family structure” (49). Same-sex marriage, amongst other family dynamics, pose an undermining threat to the traditional kinship structure. Ferguson shares her own experience as a “bisexual lesbian” woman with kinship formation and breakdown (from conservative family expectations). Here, a connection between feminists and gay and lesbian people emerges in their portrayals as selfish, pleasure-seeking disruptors of the institutionalized and perpetuated “traditional heterosexual family” (48). Feminists, however, remain divided on whether or not to support marriage equality. The “rights to reproductive choice and sexual freedom” have long been supported by feminists, but the inequalities within the institution of marriage cannot go ignored (40). Ferguson suggests an alliance between feminists and gay and lesbian people to support marriage as a choice for everyone, staights and gays alike, while defending kinship structures from the “normative prohibitions by the state” (54).
LaSala, Michael C. “Too Many Eggs in the Wrong Basket: A Queer Critique of the Same-Sex Marriage Movement.” Social Work, vol. 52, no. 2, 2007, pp. 181–183. JSTOR, www.jstor.org/stable/23721172.
In this journal article, Michael C. LaSala, an Associate Professor at the School of Social Work at Rutgers University and published author, applies a queer theorist lens to the legal fight for same-sex marriage. LaSala first details the health and legal benefits obtained in marriage. Posed, subsequently, is the question of why these privileges are attached to the institution of marriage? Queer theorists have long criticized marriage as a social standard for sexuality and relationships, providing rewards (benefits) to those who abide by it. LaSala supports this view while also making a call to action for LGBT activists and social workers to advocate the benefits received in marriage for everyone, regardless of whether they’re married or not. Activism should worry less about the same-sex marriage basket and more about the equity and “freedom of sexual expression” basket (182).
Lopez, Manuel A. “The Case Against Gay Marriage.” The Good Society, vol. 14, no. 1, Dec. 2005, pp. 1–6. Project MUSE, doi:10.1353/gso.2005.0033.
Manuel A. Lopez, a contributing to author The Good Society, evaluates the reasons for marriage and the ramifications of the legalization of same-sex marriage from an institutional angle. Advocates of same-sex marriage argue for equal rights while others take a more conservative marital stance: marriage is “good for individuals and society,” so why should same-sex couples be prevented from marrying (3)? Lopez builds his argument against same-sex marriage by insisting marriage is for “people who are by nature complementary” in a sexual reproduction aspect (4). Though Lopez disagrees with the conservative claim that marriage would transform into “just another contract,” allowing for same-sex marriage would make marriage less meaningful and make room for polygamy (4).
Stewart-Winter, Timothy. “After Marriage Equality, What?” Dissent, vol. 62 no. 4, 2015, p. 35-38. Project MUSE, doi:10.1353/dss.2015.0078.
Timothy Stewart-Winter, an Associate Professor of American Studies, Women’s and Gender Studies, and History at Rutgers University and awarded author, discusses the next steps for LGBT activism following the achievement of marriage equality in this journal article. Legal victories and the general achievements for the movement, both in the United States and abroad, pre-set the three key goals which the LGBT rights agenda needs to pivot towards. Stewart-Winter also provides background for the marriage equality movement in the feminist struggle for social and legal equality in marriage and the demand for maritial provisions such as healthcare. Same-sex marriage represents the basic recognition of humanity. But, what’s next? The three key points outlined as the next phase of the movement are: health care access, help and visibility for the most vulnerable, and “LGBT equality abroad” (37). Victory exists in marriage equality, but the next steps must be taken.