When Obama recently announced that he believes gay couples should be able to marry, I noticed a lot of posts on facebook, some congratulating Obama on his acceptance, others pointing out the fact that Obama’s personal position still leaves the issue of gay marriage up to each State, thereby avoiding the federal/constitutional right to marriage equality. Unfortunately, most of the information I received about this debate has been online (facebook, twitter, Huffington Post) so I didn’t have in-person discussions due to living a busy life but being able to take advantage of down time to use social networking.
I have felt my body tighten and shake, my surroundings spinning as I attempted to listen to the repressed feelings I have about the institution of marriage, which led me to a burning question about whether marriage is an oppressive institution or whether it is capable of liberating oppressed people. I didn’t begin by focusing on specifically gay marriage. I simply thought about marriage in general the same way I have thought about sexuality in general to better understand being queer. My mind went back to high school, back to “Abstinence is the only way 100 percent effective” lectures and the Sex Ed quiz that forced me to define sex as “when a penis penetrates a vagina.” My mind went back to the ownership of children in a nuclear family structure, the police patrolling the hallways at my high school and the probation office across the hallway from the guidance counseling office, the lockdown drills, the shopping centers on every corner, the boarded up buildings, the hoarded apartment wafting raw sewage, the insane feeling of being alone, of being “kept,” institutionalized.
In the last year and half, for the first time in my life, I have been introduced to radical politics. In Sexuality and Socialism, Sherry Wolf writes, “Capitalism depends on privatized reproduction to raise the next generation of workers at little expense to itself.” Basically, our experiences growing up are dictated by capitalism taking advantage of our families to privately care for us, which in many cases leaves gaping emotional wounds, so much so that marriage continues to rub salt against the intensity of this suffering. However, Sherry Wolf also notes that “the fight for equal marriage rights is for much-needed material benefits– healthcare, social security, inheritance, and the other rights and benefits of marriage that working-class people want and need.” Clearly, marriage equality is crucial for working class GLBT people to have these economic and social advantages.
My heart in no way wants to negate the necessity of marriage equality; however, I ask that in this debate we not leave out the necessity of grieving for how the institution of marriage has been oppressive, and that we acknowledge not all people are equal within the institution of marriage: children are effectively owned, women on average have lower wages than men and are expected to do more unpaid domestic labor, other forms of social organization are repressed due to the stress of privatizing care, and many people are left deserted and isolated as a result of speaking up about sexual and emotional abuse.
To me, marriage is a nightmare of wooden nobs where I hang my body part-by-part, where the historical ownership of women, slaves, and children, weighs so heavy on my chest I can hardly breathe. My body is desperately trying to learn how to balance my need for love and affection with the trauma of the past. I believe marriage is capable of being a form of liberation but it will not provide full liberation so long as it is the tool of a capitalist system that continually appropriates liberation techniques rather than allowing us to truly redefine our potential for non-hierarchical social order.