Wednesday, June 12, 2013

Regnerus: Same-Sex Marriage Will Change Hetero Marriage

Fresh off his speaking gig at the anti-equality Ruth Institute, Mark Regnerus has written a bizarre opinion piece over at The Witherspoon Institute's online Public Discourse forum.

Just as a reminder, The Witherspoon Institute is the conservative think tank that opposes same-sex marriage and recruited and funded Regnerus to run the notorious New Family Structures Study, which purports to study "gay and lesbian families." (Spoiler alert: sketchiness ensued).

In his recent Public Discourse piece, Regnerus begins:
"Will same-sex marriage cause harm to opposite-sex marriage? It’s one of the most enduring questions surrounding state and national legal decisions about marriage."
Now here it's good to remember that Regnerus is a relative New Guy when it comes to writing publicly about same-sex marriage, having only become somewhat of a household name after publishing his widely-critiqued study a little over a year ago.

So, first note the phrase "opposite-sex marriage." The phrases "different-sex marriage" or "other-sex marriage" seem to be more accurate and therefore apt than "opposite-sex marriage," as men and women as a whole aren't actually categorical, essential opposites.

That topic is beyond the scope of what I want to talk about today, so my point here is that throwing around the phrase "opposite-sex marriage" often suggests to me that maybe a person hasn't thought super critically about gender issues, that they're unthinkingly parroting a common phrase, and/or that they believe in often- religiously-based "gender complementarism" and that "Men are from Mars, Women are from Venus" sort of mythology.

Secondly, he goes on to immediately claim, of his question:
"But the question itself is empirically unanswerable any time soon."
Of course, he then goes on to immediately "hypothesize" an answer to this purported unanswerable question.

Indeed, the very title of his piece (which he may or may not have been responsible for), is "Yes, Marriage Will Change - And Here's How."  Ker-pow! As though, wow, no one's ever predicted that, hey, you know what? That whole same-sex marriage thing? It will likely change "opposite-sex" marriage for the worse.

Third, he proceeds to, for some reason, support his conclusion by (a) citing statistics that he claims show that lesbian relationships break up more frequently than gay male and heterosexual ones (by citing a non-random sample, one lesbian's anecdote, and referencing a couple of reports he doesn't link to), (b) to reference purported "lesbian bed death" and then gay male non-monogamy, and (c) to claim that acceptance and popularization of same-sex marriage has put men in charge of the marriage and sex markets... um.... somehow? (Instead of "same-sex marriage" giving men power in sex and relationships, maybe Regnerus actually meant "rape culture, patriarchy, and sexism"? Damn you, autocorrect?)

Alas, he ends:
"This, I predict, will be same-sex marriage’s signature effect on the institution—the institutionalization of [gay male] monogamish as an acceptable marital trait. No, gay men can’t cause straight men to cheat. Instead, the legitimacy newly accorded their marital unions spells opportunity for men everywhere to bend the boundaries."
Um.... again.... somehow? He doesn't really spell out how the relationship agreements that a relatively small percentage of the overall population engage in will have more of an effect on the majority than vice versa.  He says some stuff about how men these days are pressuring women into anal sex, because gay men have made the practice popular. So, um. There's that, I guess?

The overall piece, and Regnerus' arguments within it, are disjointed and somewhat desperate-seeming. It's a "throw scary-looking opinions and numbers at people and see what sticks" approach to making the legalization of same-sex marriage look like a Really Bad Idea. But, well, I like to make predictions too, and I predict that it's going to be funny as hell to read pieces like this in about 20 years. Have fun staying on the anti-equality bandwagon, bro!

On the "disjointed" and "desperate" point, while Regnerus partially fixes his gaze on lesbian relationships, which is different than the usual anti-gay approach of fixating solely on gay men, it's not clear what his purpose even is in talking about lesbians at all, given gay men's supposed disproportionately powerful influence on sexual norms than lesbians'.

In fact, as an actual lesbian, and a civil union'ed one at that, it is extremely odd to me to be talked about in a context of the forum of a conservative, anti-equality "think tank" for kind of no reason at all other than to list Bad Things About Lesbians, rather than having our ideas and arguments engaged with in a more fair, representative manner.

For, when talking about lesbian relationships, Regnerus takes the approach of citing a handful of more radical queer scholars and thinkers, like Judith Stacey, making statements that might sound scary to a conservative, reactionary crowd. His citations, therefore, read to me mostly as cheap point-scoring "gotchas." For instance, he describes Stacey:
"The elevated breakup rate among lesbian couples has been an open secret for a long while. Even NYU sociologist Judith Stacey—no fan of marriage in general—noted it back in 2000 in small, nonrandom studies of upper-middle-class, educated white lesbian parents, demographic factors historically associated with stability rather than dissolution."
Oooooh, an "open secret"! Wow, a link to the Heritage Foundation citing one-liners from a Judith Stacey talk! And ahhhhhhh, Stacey is "no fan of marriage in general" (which has to do with what now? Oh right, we are to presume she's a Very Bad Person now!)

Regnerus' approach does not seem especially targeted to a skeptical, progressive, pro-equality, or LGBT audience.  I'm to believe Mark Regnerus has his finger on the pulse of lesbian relationships better than, say, actual lesbians do? Sure.

Yet, with the phrase "open secret," Regnerus frames himself as an anthropologist of sorts, as though he's super "in the know" about what lesbian relationships are really like, as he assumes a mansplaining air of merely translating this information to a largely ignorant audience that, unlike him, doesn't yet know the "open secrets" of lesbian couples or indeed the entire set of real goals of the Queer Agenda.

Further, Regnerus' main point is that it's the alleged Great Power of gay male relationship- and not lesbian ones- that, in the end, are going to change heterosexual people's marriage and sex norms. So including lesbians in his article only to list the purported shortcomings of lesbian relationships seems to be a distracting sneer, and fodder for the anti-gay audience who already believes in the supremacy of heterosexual relationships.  It's like, hey, here's this bad thing about lesbians, and this thing too. And pssst, did you guys know this, as well? 

Besides, if Regnerus understood the relevant legal issues involved, he'd know that from a legal standpoint, the fact that some lesbians break up and don't have sex as much as some other couples is not a legitimate reason to deny all lesbian couples marriage rights.  

One final note. Within the article, Regnerus claims:
"Sex is a common 'love language' for men, pop psychologists are quick to assert. It should be noted, too, that egalitarian couples tend to report less frequent sex—and women report lower sexual satisfaction—than couples who exhibit 'more traditional household arrangements.' Perhaps sameness and fairness, however represented, have their unintended consequences."
The file he tries to link to which purports to be evidence for this claim, unfortunately, "cannot be found" (whoooops). Nonetheless, it's a telling Traditional Marriage admission.

Inequality is hot! Sexy! Especially for the ladies! (I guess we'll just take this dude's word for it. After all, it is a man speaking). Here I'll just end by noting that the traditional marriage crowd tends to skew toward opposing, and indeed greatly disapproving of, consensual sexual activities in which participants engage in roles that portray and suggest inequality.  In which case, some of them try to suddenly act all pseudo-feminist and What About the Wimmenz (See also when Sarah Palin or Michelle Bachmann is attacked, and anti-feminists are opportunistic feminists for like 3 seconds).

I'm thinking of the recent hubub in which a group of conservative men essentially had a convo amongst themselves about purported "uncivilized" and "degrading" S/M sexual activities that a woman chose to engage in.  Seems lots of guys can handle gender inequality in their religions, marriages, society, families, and politics because Men Are From Mars And Women Are From Venus, but when a woman explicitly chooses to portray it in her sex life, "inequality" suddenly gets very threatening to them.

Related: My Thoughts on the New Conversation

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