Bruce Benderson writes a thoughtful albeit shortsighted article about Marriage, or more specifically, how his book, Against Marriage, isn’t a political statement against Marriage Equality. Indeed, the poor guy has already taken a few lumps and found himself in some heated battles, which should be no surprise given how big a deal the current struggle for Marriage Equality is across the US as well as globally. I’d go so far as to call his article naive, but he is not a stupid person, nora stranger to deep thinking. He ought to know better, really. But I guess he doesn’t, so I’d like to share my perspective on what’s wrong with his point of view regarding Marriage in general, and same-sex marriage in specific. He writes:

On November 5, 2008, same-sex marriage in California was reversed by the vote for Proposition 8, an amendment to the state constitution making same-sex unions illegal. Propostion 8 would be reversed by the U.S. Supreme Court five years later; but the summer following Proposition 8, our media was full of images of outraged gay or lesbian couples. On TV I saw one lesbian couple in their 90s bitterly complaining that they were being kept from “celebrating our love.” Did they really need to prove their love to each other by a legalized commitment ceremony after 50 years together? I wondered.

This seems like a rational thought to be sure, except that purpose of Civil Marriage isn’t to prove a couple’s love. Consider a different story from today’s headlines:

Pa. asks judge to dismiss lesbian widow’s inheritance suit

As a gay man, living in Pennsylvania, this story strikes a cord with me and explains a large part of why my partner and I were recently legally married in New Jersey. The crux of the story is this:

Barbara Baus file suit against the state last October sued the commonwealth after receiving a nearly $11,000 inheritance tax bill following the her wife’s death from leukemia. She and Catherine Burgi-Rio were married in Connecticut in 2011.

In Pennsylvania, spouses are not subject to inheritance tax, but the state charged Baus a 15 percent inheritance tax because it does not recognize her same-sex marriage.

My partner and I are both listed on the deed to the house, but unless our marriage is recognized, if one of were to die, the other would have to pay inheritance tax on the house which is the property of both of us.

The purpose of Civil Marriage has really nothing to do with “Love” even if it is why people choose to get married. Rather, Marriage Equality is about affording to all committed couples the same legal rights, responsibilities and privileges.

Benderson’s issue isn’t with Marriage Equality at all, but rather with the very notion of the Institution of Marriage:

Researching my book turned me off to marriage in general. Lurking under the bland banner of “marriage-for-all” is the specter of nuclear family values, with all their connotations of intolerance, xenophobia and child protection schemes. Marriage today is as full of religious strategies, political goals and power imbalances as it ever was and remains the mainstay of conservative thinkers. Its story is that of one of the most unstable institutions ever touted as the cement of civilization.

In many ways, I’m not really in disagreement with him. Marriage as an institution is a messy mix of stuff to be sure. Both my partner and I shared a dislike for Marriage, seeing it as a dinosaur of a patriarchal institution counter to the very nature of the Gay Liberation Movement begun almost 50 years ago. But within all of that mess, is a civil/legal recognition of “family” which can and does go far beyond “nuclear family.” In the legal protections provided are those which protect two adult partners as well as any children they raise, and this is not insignificant. Benderson seems oblivious to this reality. Or intentionally blind? His notion of what marriage is so limiting and based no more in reality, than he accuses others:

I asked my audience why those left out of the marriage equation, such as gays and lesbians, hadn’t struggled instead to expand the rights of domestic partnership, rather that “walking around in a deluded dream state wearing synthetic satins and rented tuxedos.”

Benderson is the deluded one, if he honestly sees Marriage as being all about a ceremony or the clothing accouterments of said ceremony. As long as the laws of our country and our judicial system recognize couples with a marriage license as more privileged than other committed couples, domestic partnerships will never create Equality. If they would, I could wholly agree with him, but they don’t and really can’t.

I do think there is tremendous value for a real historian to look back and dissect the path that has taken us from a movement for liberation and “free love” to a movement which seems to value the legitimacy of a marriage license as more important that anything else. Why has such a trajectory come to be? I suggest there are two basic reasons which are not mutually exclusive, and need whole posts of their own to explain adequately, but I’ll list them now and write about them later. First, is the logical progression that has grown because of the freedom for gays and lesbians to live relatively free and independent lives. When individuals can choose to live independently, choose who to date and experience falling in love and making committed lives together, the need to protect their assets, and their created family is a natural progression. Second, is the impact of the AIDS pandemic which for all practical purposes choked the life out of any notion of sexual liberation. Without sexual liberation, we are all lonelier and we seek companionship seeing it in a more traditional way, like Marriage.

Even if it was not his intent, by writing against Marriage, he is inadvertently writing against Equality, and Benderson shouldn’t be surprised if he faces great and vocal disagreement.

via Why Im Against Marriage | Bruce Benderson.

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