Next weekend a March for Marriage for lesbian and gay couples will take place in Dublin. Yesterday a friend asked me if I was going on it, I think she was rather surprised by the snorts of derision that escaped from my mouth.
While I support the rights of people to celebrate their relationships and be recognised by the state and others I have always questioned the rush that same sex couples have taken in seeking marriage rights. I’ve also been stunned by the leaders in this rush coming from Ireland’s second wave feminists. Instead of questioning the roles and expectations created by the institution of marriage many see the exclusion of lesbians and gay men from the institution as a human rights issue. Suddenly marriage became the goal and symbol of success.
Marriage has previously barred women from employment, excluded us from claiming social welfare, participation in FAS schemes, a reason for being paid less, and a host of other rights and entitlements. Those who did not marry were castigated as a drain on the state, as not behaving appropriately, they also do not get the same rights to protection in cases of domestic violence. Marriage was considered permission for rape until the early 90′s.
Is it a case of tax individualisation and the end of the marriage bar making it ok now? On the non legalistic issues that surround marriage regarding women losing their identity and being seen as a couple instead of individuals, of women who don’t marry being seen as less valuable? How have these issues disappeared from feminist debate? And what of the stigma that still exists regarding marital breakdown? This issues are not historic or relics. For many women the pressure to marry remains very real, and now we are seeing a pressure to marry (and I include entering into civil partnership) created in the lesbian and gay community.
The impact of civil partnership and cohabitation legislation inferring rights and responsibilities on relationships is untested and far-reaching. The Department of Social Protection will soon be able to infer that people in same sex relationships living together are co-habiting, sharing incomes and responsible financially for each other whether they want to be or not. Many people may not want that to happen (including because they don’t want to be open to financial abuse or control by a partner) but that’s one legacy of ‘equality’.
We’ve already had the debate on women taking their husband’s name on the Anti-Room and I am aware that for many marriage is a romantic and very meaningful occasion . I wish that my intention not to marry and questioning the clamour would garner as much respect.
Some campaigning for marriage rights use the language of other oppressed groups in their fight - and continue to do so, this saddens me greatly. The exclusion from the right to marry can in no way be compared to the way in which black people were excluded in South Africa.
The impact of civil partnership and marriage rights on the ways in which lesbian and gay lives and relationships are lived is now beginning to be explored internationally. Julie Bindel’s column last week on this is a warning of things to come. Academic articles will no doubt follow. It will be interesting to see how Civil Partnership’s change the ways in which lives are lived and viewed in Ireland.
Will lesbians and gay men who choose not to enter into civil partnerships be seen as ‘loose’, a drain on the state, ‘behaving inappropriately’? Will Paddy Power give me odds on this? I bet not because I predict within 3 years there will be articles and debates appearing about lesbians and gay men who are ‘not the marrying kind’, refusing to commit, castigating them as refuseniks. Civil Partnerships will be seen as status symbols and indicators of success. And the campaign for marriage will continue because the quest for ‘normality’ dressed up as equality will persist.
I’m still mystified as to when Marriage became a feminist goal. Maybe you can explain it to me?
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- Something borrowed (guardian.co.uk)