Marriage Manifesto

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My friend Troy is awesome. He is not only gay (sexual orientation) but queer (social identity) and after the four panelists had spoken in the Brokeback session at Sunstone (see the intro and the excerpt), I asked him to come up and make a comment, in part because he knew all four women on the panel, and in part because I knew he'd deliver both a queer-positive and a woman-positive message. He gets it: he understands the patriarchy is the basic problem, and claims that one reason he's such a decent, enlightened person is because he has listened to the women in his life. He also doesn't take the "oh, I'm gay and it's such a source of heartache" approach to homosexuality--he acknowledges that people go through that stage, but at some point, he says, embrace your gayness! Love yourself for who you are! Be positive about all the fabulous aspects of gayness, instead of trying to retain as many elements of straightness as you possibly can.

Troy does a radio show in Salt Lake called Now Queer This. He's working a documentary about some brouhaha in southern Utah over legislation to define a marriage as existing only between one man and one woman. He has filmed orthodox Mormons, gays, and polygamists as part of the movie.

Troy gets this as well: alternative marriage is alternative marriage, and so he supports the decriminalization of polygamy. Independent polygamists get it too: many support legalization of gay marriage between consenting adults because they realize that it will pave the way for decriminalization of polygamy among consenting adults. (Which many in the gay community find distressing.) My family, which is well stocked with Mormon Republican lawyers and judges who find both gay marriage and polygamy revolting (one is counter to god's will, and the other is entirely god's will, but not something anyone with any self esteem and a real love for her spouse would ever do if she could possibly avoid it), understand that point as well--and they're really afraid.

And all that is why, at dinner a couple of days after Sunstone ended, Troy and I began discussing how we rather hoped the issue of alternative marriage was forced in Utah, that some federal ruling made both gay marriage AND polygamy legal, not only because it would be legally consistent, but because it would be really, really fun to watch the brethren of the church squirm as they tried to decide what to do about the legacy of polygamy, this horrible embarrassment that is rejected by the church as a practice but embraced as a doctrine.

Unfortunately our position enraged Annabelle, a Mormon feminist who joined us for dinner. Annabelle is devoutly opposed to religious polygyny, as she calls the Mormon flavor of polygamy. She felt that the legalization of polygamy would ensure the repression of women.

Troy and I argued otherwise: make it legal! Shine the light of day on the whole sordid business, and make it less sordid. Insist that all plural marriages be recognized by the legal system, so that any marriage that appears to be coercive, or to involve someone who is underage, can be stopped, and the men in such cases prosecuted.

Which is a way of saying that I fully support the right of all consenting adults to marry whomever they want.

If a gay woman wants to marry a straight man and he wants to marry her, I support their legal right to do so.

If two straight men want to marry one straight woman and she wants to marry them both, I support their legal right to do so.

If two bi-sexual women want to each other, as well as two bi-sexual men who have also married each other, so that all four are married to each of the other three, I support their legal right to do so.

What I don't support--and I believe that both religious polygyny and the rhetoric of Ben Christensen (and very likely his actual marriage) are examples of this--is the invocation of religion, God's will and God's favor in support of marriages that privilege the desires and demands of men over those of women.

And since there's no way to legislate against that particular dimension, I'm left with discussing why I think such patriarchal marriages are back-asswards, foolish and destructive, even though I feel quite strongly that as long as they involve adults of relatively sound mind, they should be legal.

So, Ben et al, there you have it, just as you requested: I acknowledge your right to do as you want, and I support your legal right to marry whomever you want, to work out your sex life as you see fit, and to have as many children as your marriage can produce.

Now please acknowledge my right to find your choices in this regard every bit as foolish, naive, and pigheaded as those of someone who chooses to eat nothing but celery, lettuce, rice cakes, diet soda and laxatives, and is always defending her right to be anorexic.

Acknowledge as well my right to critique a piece published in a magazine I've subscribed to and published in for years, and to call attention to bad logic, poor writing and limited thinking when I see it.

Ben has already acknowledged that he was foolish not to imagine that there could be a feminist critique of his position--not that he acknowledged the validity of my critique, just that he should not have assumed no such critique would ever happen.

It ain't much, but considering the source, it's a start.

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Independent polygamists get it too: many support legalization of gay marriage between consenting adults because they realize that it will pave the way for decriminalization of polygamy among consenting adults.

Rick Santorum, may he long and quietly enjoy his retirement, also got this. He used to really creep me out when discussing gay marriage. He favored legislation defining marriage as between one man and one woman and often argued that without this legal definition, there would be no way to legally prevent men from having sex with dogs. Never mind the "eww" factor for just a minute (though it did strike me as odd that zoophilia was the example Santorum always seemed to use), nor the apparent non sequitur (marrying someone is not the same as having sex with them), he did have a point: the slippery slope would lead to Armageddon because different kinds of marriage could change the social and legal functions of marriage.

Thanks for the eloquent and illuminating post.

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This page contains a single entry by Holly published on November 8, 2006 10:25 AM.

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