Monday, February 12, 2007

This isn't going to work like a bus boycott

Recently on Pandagon, Roxanne requested that her readers suggest fun, simple, affordable wedding reception ideas for her friend Lauren. Unsurprisingly, one commenter, Tara, got offended that Roxanne was inviting others to get excited about a heterosexual wedding when same-sex couples are not legally allowed to marry. Subsequent commenters struck her down with various arguments, though all were sympathetic to the reality that legal marriage is, in its current manifestation, unfairly unavailable only to same-sex couples. The comment that kicked it off:
... ‘Getting married’ is a political act. The institution, and its use to discriminate against sexual others ..., only exists because people — many of whom consider themselves tolerant, even ‘allies’ — still decide to get married and/or perpetuate their being accorded privileges (some physical, some symbolic), even when they know others aren’t being allowed this right. I hope I’m not seen as someone who’s raining on someone else’s parade, but it just seems presumptuous to parade around hetero-privilege. I get offended. [emphasis added]
This isn't a new conversation. But it illustrates that many people target marriage itself, not the people who dictate marriage laws, as the source of the disparity. This is an incredibly ineffective rhetorical approach to the problem of discriminatory laws. The whole point of supporting gay marriage is that we want everyone to be allowed to marry, not that we want fewer people to have access to an institution that grants rights. It's not the bus's fault that Rosa Parks had to sit at the back.

My stupid bus analogy is a good segue for the second component of that comment thread: heteros boycotting marriage is not the equivalent of the Birmingham bus boycotts, and straight couples poo-pooing matrimony are not progressing the gay marriage movement. Effective boycotts work in two ways: first, they deprive the discriminator of money; second, they create enough bad publicity to shame the discriminator into adopting new policies. When southerners boycotted public transportation in solidarity with Rosa Parks, the racist bus company owners actually stood to lose money and gain a lot of negative attention.

Who suffers when straight couples boycott marriage in solidarity with gay couples? Do you think these guys feel the hurt when progressive different-sex couples don't get married? Do these asshats stand to lose anything when straight yuppies stay home instead of tying the knot? Do you think George W. Bush (and every other politician who insists that marriage is "the union of a man and a woman") wakes up in a cold sweat because his straight marriage quota wasn't met that month? Though anti-gay marriage advocates claim that they care very deeply that everyone get married and have babies in a "traditional" family, they actually don't give two shits what a pair of straight liberal kids do with their personal lives. The only people losing out are wedding planners and hotel owners, and they don't carry a lot of political clout.

If boycotting marriage isn't going to spur change, what action can straight couples take if they want to get married and promote the gay marriage cause at the same time? Of course the usual political activities (voting, contacting legislators, blogging) are the best start. But if you insist on making the act of marriage an agent of change, maybe start by stripping your wedding ceremony of patriarchal and heterosexist symbolism. (Damned if I'm walking down any aisle to be "given away" by one man and "reclaimed" by another.) If you believe that marriage should only be a civic, rather than religious, process, maybe your ceremony can reflect this sentiment. Or preform the civic and the spiritual elements of your union separately. Promote marriage for what it should be--the legal joining of two people who love each other--rather than as a tool of discrimination and subjugation of women and homosexuals.


Anonymous said...

"It's not the bus's fault that Rosa Parks had to sit at the back."

Uhh...Societal discrimination occurs because individuals internalize the thinking of dominant groups and perpetuate it in the thinking and their behaviors. Individuals, along with the institutions that structure our society, perpetuate discrimination. Your reasoning is a big old cop out. Also, I think you like the people at Pandagon were ignoring what the commenter was getting at, which is how marginalized she feels when she see heterosexual privilege everywhere.

Rebecca C. Brown said...

Your pulling that quote implies that you DO think it's the bus's fault if Rosa Parks had to sit at the back.

I don't see how the statement that "societal discrimination occurs because individuals internalize the thinking of dominant groups and perpetuate it in the thinking and their behaviors" (a statement with wich I entirely agree) is counter to anything that I wrote in my post. Maybe you're suggesting that, because heterosexual marriage exists, same-sex couples internalize the heteronormativity of marriage and thus don't think of it as an option for them. That's the fault of individuals who create laws, not of the institution of marriage itself. We don't seem to disagree on that.

If the commenter at Pandagon felt marginalized, then the solution is to work with others who also support same-sex marriage to fight for equality, not to chastise heterosexuals for enjoying their legal right to get married. A far-fetched, though I feel apt, analogy would be if disabled people jeered athletes who flaut their non-disabled privilege by being paid to be able-bodied. Or, if a woman gets pregnant, she shouldn't be expected to not be publicly excited about it at work just because of one of her coworkers isn't able to have kids. That's just silly.

There are times when people who are discriminated against are going to feel marginalized, but it's not the responsibility of people who don't discriminate to prevent them from feeling that way. Roxanne at Pandagon supports the cause of gay marriage in every way she can; being mum about hetersexual marriage isn't one of those ways.

If you think marriage should be available to everyone, don't suggest that fewer people should get married.