Indecision about Gay Marriage

My class, Queer Theory, that I have to take to get my Gender Studies degree by the end of this four year period, has made me indecisive. Actually, not the class, but this book The Trouble with Normal: Sex, Politics, and the Ethics of Queer Life by Michael Warner, has made me start rethinking my vote for Gay Marriage. It has made me rethink the motives of the HRC, my role as a queer person, and the role of the gay liberation movement. Warner’s argument is easy to agree with, Warner is easy to agree with and extremely convincing to me.

Warner, through out his book, shows to me how marriage takes out the queerness of relationships and normalizes the queer population and I wonder, is this bad? Warner makes a distinction between the split of the queer movement in terms of separatists and assimilationists. The separatists are the ones who seem to claim difference from the normal world and the assimilationist, the one who wants to appear normal, to be read a normal, and to submerge like an immigrant, into heterosexual culture.

To sum it up, which this site does well:

“In “The Trouble With Normal: Sex, Politics and the Ethics of Queer Life,” Warner turns the tables on his critics, offering both a sharp-witted defense of “sexual autonomy” and a prescription for “sexual ethics” that rests on the real experience of individuals rather than the imagined wisdom of the group. In four overlapping essays, Warner lambastes the current course of gay activism, arguing that the drive to marriage and the illusion of normality are founded on a phony morality that will only further stigmatize the queer community at large. In rushing to embrace the marriage vow, Warner asserts, and condemning anyone who challenges their vision of normality as a threat to public health, America’s gay media pundits have betrayed the movement that first gave them the freedom to speak, divorcing sex from sexuality and pleading for acceptance at the expense of their purported constituents.” (http://www.salon.com/books/feature/1999/12/08/warner/print.html)

Michael Warner poses many interesting arguments, some of which I may not be able to articulate completely here, because I am still developing my own opinion of his work, one of which is that gay men should not marry and that queer persons should not marry. Warner takes sort of a libertarian look at the way Marriage is constructed because of how it the rights and privileges given to a couple (now, mostly heterosexual) once they marry are well over 1,000 and constitute rights that range from health care, property rights, and taxes. He states that individuals and couples should be given these rights even without marrying. In saying this, it seems as if he is being Foucauldian in implying the existence of bio-power, the regulation that populations have over bodies. The government is extremely regulatory over the way we treat our bodies. Nutrition, gyms, public sex rules, sodomy rules, minor laws, criminality of sexual acts, the medicalization of bodies, etc is all evidence of this. To prove this Warner uses the example of in New York, how in the late 90’s Guiliani made rules, legislations, some type of regulation, around sex shops.

In supporting his view against Marriage, Michael Warner largely disputes Andrew Sullivan, who, it seems, if he met on the street, he would either have a screaming match, a debate with, or punch in the face. Also, Warner concentrates on “the politics of shame” which sex in the United States is centered around. Mostly, he claims, because sex as pleasure is claimed as sinful by moralists. Warner epitomizes the desire for empowering queer sex, any sex outside of the missionary position sex between a male and a female, and only that.

To further explain Warner’s view:

“It does not seem possible to think of oneself as normal without thinking that some other kind of person is pathological,” Warner observes. Yet normality itself is a hallucination, a mixture of statistics, concealment and received “common sense,” bearing none but a comparative and usually intimidating relation to any individual’s actual life. Heterosexuals, too, are imprisoned by the illusion, and nothing scares them more, Warner thinks, than a discovery of the full range and possibility of sexual expression. The demand for marriage rights will inevitably increase hostility to gays and lesbians, because straight married couples know they enjoy a protected position conferred by no other social institution: “They want marriage to remain a privilege, a mark that they are special.” In that sense, marriage isn’t “normal” at all.” (http://www.salon.com/books/feature/1999/12/08/warner/print.html)

This point, that marriage is special, makes it not “normal” at all is the high point. So, what is normal, or is everything queer? This book left me in a dizzy spell, but also empowered because I know someone out there, like me, believes that the United States is not caught in homophobia, but sex phobia, which fuels homophobia. Im not sure if the legalization of Marriage, like Warner, would help or harm more, though I feel as if, being a Californian resident, that if I vote for Gay Marriage this November, I may be perpetuated a larger problem, a larger stigma, and more separation within the queer community.

This book leaves me with questions that hopefully, I can answer within the next few months and if not, I might spend the rest of my life wondering about the effects of normalizing the queer.

Further Resources

To read on about the quotes stated above and about the book go to this site: http://www.salon.com/books/feature/1999/12/08/warner/print.html

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1 Comment

Filed under glbtq, history, personal, politics

One response to “Indecision about Gay Marriage

  1. WFSSV

    Hi, D. I inadvertently posted this comment on your “About” page. You may delete it there. Here it is again.

    Hi, D. I applaud your ambition in starting this site. As background, I am male, straight, 62 years old and a practicing Tibetan Buddhist. I’d like to comment on gay marriage. Consider that government going back to the Old Testament was not involved in marriage. It was strictly a religious matter. I was raised a Catholic and marriage was/is considered one of the sacred sacraments (along with Baptism, Confirmation, etc). Historically, in England, for example, because of the intertwining of the state and the Church of England, there was a nexus between religion and government vis-a-vis marriage but it was primarily in the context of enabling the tenets of English common law. To get the first real regulatory connection between the state and marriage, one has to cross the Atlantic to the U.S. where the first civil laws (at the state/commonwealth level) put in place were designed to prohibit marriages between whites and blacks. Many of these laws remained on the book until well into the 20th century. So the notion that somehow there is a long and historical connection between the state and marriage is a myth. As mentioned, I am a Buddhist. In Buddhism there is no marriage per se. A couple (MM, MF, FF, whatever) simply pledge their love, commitment and devotion to one another. There is an event but it’s more a celebration than a required ceremony. If the couple wishes to (and can) have the government sanction their union in order to gain basic rights such as hospital visitation privileges, that’s a separate issue. For these reasons, I have never understood the issue of gay marriage. As intimated above, the question should not revolve around the appropriateness of the union but rather the question: Why is the government involved at all? Why can’t the government simply require a “registration” process for couples of any ilk whose only purpose would be to guarantee all the rights that should accrue to any couple and do so without the connotation of marriage as an institution between a man and a woman. End of comment. I hope you’re well. BTW, any time you wish to discuss Buddhism, you have my email.

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