Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Marriage, Equality, and Segregation Part I

In the lexicon of the same-sex marriage debate, those who favor extending legal marriage to same-sex couples generally use the phrase marriage equality to represent legal marriage for same-sex couples. Yet, in one of the more bizarre arguments against marriage equality, internet "marriage defender" On Lawn uses the phrase to mean something else entirely. On his blog, which he runs with several other doods imbued with "marriage defense" monomania, On Lawn uses the phrase "marriage equality" to mean only man-woman marriage, or, as he puts it: "the expectation of equal participation of each gender in each marriage."

This "stealing back" of pro-equality language is reminiscent of anti-gay Christians who seek to "reclaim" the rainbow. Ultimately, these linguistic battles, like the bigger one about the word "marriage," are about symbols, who "owns" them, and who gets to say how others do and do not use them. Whereas "marriage defenders" want marriage to mean one thing and one thing only for all people everywhere, marriage equality advocates generally want society to acknowledge the reality that marriage means different things to different people. Yet, in On Lawn's case, while he couches his concept of marriage in an appealing word like "equality," it is actually the anti-thesis of equality.

To explore this further, let's observe how he takes his "marriage equality" argument to an absurd extension. Based on his belief that marriage requires "equal participation of each gender," he concludes that a same-sex marriage is just like a racially-segregated school, because in both institutions segregation is occurring. Men who marry other men, he claims, are discriminatory just like how whites who attend whites-only schools are. In his own words:

"Just as school integration is meant to re-enforce racial equality, this integration program re-enforces gender equality. This program, of course, is marriage.

Racial equality would take a step backwards if we try to set up all-white schools with the same recognition as integrated schools.... Is establishing gender segregation (as the same choice as integration) a step forwards or a step backwards? Its clearly a step backwards. Its digress, not progress."

And, more blatantly:

"An all-male marriage is a pollution of equality much like an all-white school is a pollution of equality. I support [a gay person's] freedom of association, but to call your relationship (which is intolerant of the other gender) a marriage is simply to deny marriage its capacity to ensure equal recognition of rights for all involved in how we birth and raise children.

Children deserve a mother and father. They deserve primarily their real mother and father preparing even before having a child to be loving, mutually tolerant and respecting spouses and care givers for their potential children."

Marriage "re-enforces gender equality"? When I read claims like that I wonder if some "marriage defenders" know anything at all about the history of marriage and, in particular, of that past pesky practice of coverture. Someone who claims that the purpose of man-woman marriage is to "re-enforce gender equality" is about the last person in the world I would trust to give me accurate information about marriage, its history, or equality.

On Lawn's arguments are poor, to be sure. But they are worth addressing as in his desperate reasoning, we see an interesting demonizing of gays. Social conservatives love pitting minorities against each other, and especially after Proposition 8, they really love them some Gays v. Blacks action. Because really, what else is more resonating in this world than conservative, heterosexual, white, non-feminist, anti-gay, married guys opining upon how to best resolve issues of racial and gender inequality? And, when they demonstrate concern about the LGBT rights movement's supposed misappropriation of the black civil rights struggle, it's always like, whoa, thanks for being such consistent allies to progressive causes, fellas.

But I digress.

What is most lacking about On Lawn's analogy is that he doesn't actually give us many dots to connect in his argument. It is very superficial. While a heterosexual marriage, for instance, contains both a man and a woman, he fails to explain in any detail whatsoever how that composition "re-enforces gender equality." I think he is confusing the word "gender" for "sex" and the word "equality" for "representation." Yes, Captain Obvious, a heterosexual marriage contains both a male and female, but please explain in any modicum of specificity how that representation "re-enforces gender equality."

Speaking of those details that are so often alluded to but never actually, well, detailed, let's look at one of the key ideological underpinnings of "marriage defense." Similar to many "marriage defenders," On Lawn's "defense" of marriage is generally grounded in the ideology of so-called "gender complementarity." Variations of this ideology exist, but it is pretty well-summarized in Marilyn Musgrave's (in)famous quote in support of the Federal Marriage Amendment (see also this article for Musgrave's quote and overview of "gender complementarity"):

"The self-evident differences and complementary design of men and women are part of [God's] created order. We were created as male and female and for this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be joined with his wife, and the two shall become one in the mystical spiritual and physical union we call 'marriage.'"

Musgrave's sentiment has a warm, squishy fuzzy-wuzzy appeal, but her statement reveals its own shortcoming. Namely, other than the fact that (most) boys have a penis and (most) girls have a vagina, it's hardly "self-evident" as to what those "differences" between males and females actually entail.

And, well, adherents of this ideology are usually hard-pressed to identify the specific characteristics that are inherent in all women (or all men) and why or how these psychological and/or physical characteristics could not possibly be represented in those of the "opposite" sex. Nor can they adequately specify what those actual non-anatomical "unique contributions" are that a man brings to marriage and parenthood that a woman could not possibly bring, and vice versa. Nor do they make it clear if all men and all women possess these "unique contributions," or explain what specifically is so inherently good about the man-woman combo that makes that composition necessary in every single marriage and set of parents.

The general assumption seems to be that if there's both a male body and a female body, then That's Good Enough. And if there are one or two or fifty females (or males), then that's Not Enough. To heck with all of those other questions and details. It's all surface details and dichotomous thinking to the "gender complementary" crowd.

For, rather than acknowledging the observed reality that both sex and gender exist along a gradation, and that men and women are similar on most psychological variables, the ideology of "gender complementarity" demands that we shut our eyes and pretend that the nature of man[sic]kind is instead dual and discrete. Disregarding the fact that the relatively high degree of fatherhood involvement is a Western middle-class norm rather than a universal truth for all cultures everywhere, modern-day adherents to the theory of "gender complementarity" demand that all marriages require a husband (oh yes, and a wife) and that all children deserve a father (oh yeah, and a mother too) and that's just How Things Are In The World.

Men and women, they say, are complementary and/or opposites! And many of us know that this is where things gets really interesting. Where men are constructed as strong, active, and inherently fit to lead, women are constructed as Not That. That is, women (while kind, nurturing, and warm) are also weak, passive, and inherently fit to submit. Together, the inherent strengths and weaknesses of men and women combine into a complementary whole. It juts so happens that the "inherent" characteristics of "Man" work to operate as a giant pre-emptive affirmative action program for his (and not hers) domination of the public sphere.

Now, it's not clear what aspects of the gender complementary ideology On Lawn accepts and rejects, as he mostly just repeats over and over again how marriage requires a man and a woman (See above, re: lack of details) or posts links to scientific studies with no commentary of his own as though a study about how boy rats wrinkle their noses differently than girl rats magically proves That On Lawn Is Right About Everything! Generally, one will find that advocates of this theory, like Marilyn Musgrave, just believe it to be so self-evidently true to All People Everywhere that it really merits little discussion, questioning, or analysis. So, among many adherents of this ideology, I am confident that my summary of their theory would not at all be a controversial representation of their beliefs. They would be more likely to say "Yes, and how could you possible think any of this wrong?"

It only becomes controversial when others, such as myself, reveal this ideology for what it is: An ideology of Inherent Male Domination. When confronted with this inconvenient truth, adherents will either (a) unabashedly agree that they are indeed saying that men are inherently superior and fit to dominate women, (b) claim that a critic just doesn't understand the great mysssssssstery of an "equal hierarchical relationship," or (c) accuse the critic of creating a straw argument and then, without addressing the criticism, run from the room in a huff, more appalled that someone just acknowledged him (or her, but probably him) as a sexist than he is at actually being one.

Keeping that in mind, let's explore the extendy fun of "gender complementarity."

As we have seen above, sex difference implies sex hierarchy. The more exaggerated the differences between categories of people, the more exaggerated the hierarchy between these categories of people. Within a simplistic ideology that asserts that All Men Are X, Y, and Z, and All Women Are A, B, and C, "gender complementarists" create a ranking system that looks very "commonsensical" on the surface but that, in reality, leaves no room for individual difference.

Two, the theory gets super interesting when "gender complementarists" extend their ideology beyond the private sphere and into the public sphere as well. Whereas many "gender complementarists" believe that it is of the utmost importance for a marriage to "integrate" the male and female, some demand an almost completely male homosocial atmosphere in the public sphere based on the idea that "Woman's" two roles in life are wife and mother. Men, however, can be husbands, fathers, architects, garbage men, doctors, teachers, convenience store workers, politicians, police officers, oh yeah and head of the household too.

"Equal" sex representation in marriage is of the utmost importance, they say, BUT it is not at all important or even desirable in other areas of life. Some of the most homophobic, anti-feminist men are bizarrely all about the bromance (as long as it's properly channeled of course); so much so that a woman lurking in certain forums can leave with the distinct impression that she has accidentally stumbled upon a metaphorical homosexual bathhouse. So many dicks are vying for other male attention and approval that it's clear who really matters in the public sphere to some dudes.

In short "gender complementarity" is an ideology of male domination and supremacy. "Marriage defense" is just one of its practical applications.

Same-sex marriage inevitably disrupts the theory of innate male supremacy by arguing that marriage does not, after all, require the "integration" of the male and female because male and female, while still different and important categories, are not as different, important, and hierarchical(!) as "common sense" dictates.

It is that idea, more than any other- even the ickiness of the buttsex- that frightens "marriage defense" males more than anything else. Even if many heterosexual marriages these days are quite equitable, same-sex marriage is the single most blatant symbol society can send that marriage does not require hierarchy. As an institution, marriage can exist without framing the individuals of each dyad as better/worse, strong/weak, and dominant/submissive. Rather than perpetuate discrimination, the symbol of same-sex marriage audaciously breaks down sex and gender hierarchy.

That's why, when On Lawn accuses lesbians and gay men of discriminating against those of the other sex, all I can muster up is a "Yes, that's what we 'homosexuals' tend to do when it comes to our intimate, romantic relationships. Annnnnd...?" Discrimination is a scary word because it connotes invidiousness, and I have hunch that that's why On Lawn uses it. However, in order to break up this already-too-long post, I will leave that point of contention for tomorrow- where the theme will be "equivocation" and On Lawn's use of it.

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