The Problems With Marriage Equality…But Why We Should Still Fight for it

Currently, my girlfriend and I cannot get married. Not that we’re planning our Pinterest pages or anything, but the point is: same-sex marriage is illegal in Australia. Recently a friend shared this video, an ad in support of the “Yes” vote for the upcoming Irish referendum on same-sex marriage:

What struck me most was the emphasis on “family” made in the video created by BeLong To youth services, underscored by the tagline “Bring Your Family With You.” I was torn by this message. While the idea of parents and extended family coming out in support of their lesbian, gay and bisexual relatives is moving (albeit unrealistic for many), it also reinforces the idea that this fight is centrally about maintaining the primacy of the blood-related family in society, which only extends itself via legal marriage.

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From Paris is Burning

This idea of family is far from the reality in many queer communities, where kinship ties are made with many non-blood relatives, especially for those who are thrown out of home when they come out. This different conception of “family” in the queer community is illustrated most clearly in the 1989 documentary ‘Paris is Burning.’ Created by Jeannie Livingstone, the film reveals an underground world in New York of “drag balls” where young (often homeless) African American and Hispanic youth find belonging, joining different ball “families” who compete and perform. Ask anyone who has found belonging in LGBTIQ spaces, and I’m sure they’ll tell you that family often means much more than who your genetic relatives are or who you are legally bound to.

Some people have used unique ways such as combining handfasting with traditional marriage, to represent polyamorous union

Some people have used unique ways such as combining handfasting with traditional marriage, to represent polyamorous union

It is also important to note that within queer communities sexual and emotional partnerships are not always so clearly between two people. Campaigns for marriage equality generally seek to change the legal definition of marriage from that between “a man and a woman” to “same-sex” marriage but still for a partnership of two. This does not reflect the reality of many queer people’s lives, who may be in polyamorous relationships or who might enjoy other partnership dynamics not reflected by a dualistic definition. Add to this the fact that many transgender and intersex people are often left out of proposed “same-sex” marriage bills, and you can see that the fight for marriage equality sometimes refers to a very narrow idea of partnership and family that is in conflict with many queer people’s experiences.

1509307_675883508915_2761431560733048872_nI raise all of these points to highlight the very important fact that “marriage equality” often does not reflect the kind of relations that currently occur in queer communities, nor the central needs of these communities, and to that end is not the “final” frontier of LGBTIQ rights. However, this does not mean that marriage equality is not worth fighting for.

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Some in the queer community argue that marriage is assimilation

Every time my girlfriend and I go to a wedding we are reminded that we do not enjoy the same legal rights as our heterosexual friends because of our sexuality. Here the ban on same-sex marriage acts as a symbol of difference and exclusion. Some in the queer community argue that difference is good, and should be celebrated: assimilation is not the way. Although it’s all well and good to embrace difference, it’s quite another story when you have the law labelling you as different. Some have also suggested that gay marriage creates a situation where there are “good” (married) gays and “bad” (unmarried) ones. However, we can already see that unmarried versus married straight people are sometimes treated differently in society, which highlights that the problem here is how we value marriage altogether, not whether some people should be allowed to marry. Often I forget that I’m in a “same-sex” relationship until I get reminded by society; discrimination on the basis of having a loving relationship with someone seems utterly ridiculous.

marriage-equality-supporters-washingtonThe fact that you are legally obliged to read out the definition of marriage as “between a man and a woman” at weddings in Australia also causes our sympathetic straight friends much guilt, consternation and dismay. Often celebrants read out the law, and then at the bride and groom’s request make commentary on their rejection of the definition. While some do this quickly and quietly, the best way I have seen this dealt with is to labour on the point. When straight couples get up at weddings and say “this law is outrageous!” I think this makes the point better than “abstaining” from marriage altogether.

1_123125_122946_2081208_2087895_030903_wedding.gif.CROP.original-originalMany feminists in the West have fought against the insular and restrictive aspects of the institution of marriage since the 1960s. The gains of this have been changes to social understandings of marriage, where women are no longer seen as the property of their husbands, and where divorce is a legitimate option for those in unhappy or dangerous partnerships. While the institution of marriage is not perfect, and indeed is an institution where the law comes into the intimate sphere of a relationship, it is arguably not what it used to be. Except that is still between “a man and a woman” (in Australia at least).

20081117_lovedontdiscrim_560x375Of the weddings I have been to, what I have seen is a celebration of people in love, making a public declaration in front of their friends and family (however that is defined). Sure, queer people can still have parties that mimic this, but while discriminatory laws are in place there is ever the reminder that inequality between heterosexual and homosexual people is legally sanctioned in this country.

10809965_494942430647416_1137332444_nThe fight for marriage equality is not the end of the road for LGBTIQ rights, not by a long shot. But it is an important stone in the path to justice, and winning equal marriage in Australia would remove one roadblock that we keep getting stuck on. So let’s fight to open up this path, not stopping at marriage, and along the way take everyone with us in the fight against entrenched discrimination.

ABC of Marriage Equality

IMG_0354Today in my hometown of Canberra, a “Marriage Equality” bill was passed in the ACT Legislative Assembly (the local government). Though it made it through, the bill faces a big challenge as it comes up against our federal government, who it is fair to say, are a bit conservative. With the expectation of a High Court challenge, the ACT government made a few amendments to the bill yesterday, which limits recognition to “same-sex” identifying couples, excluding those who identify as “X”, that is, neither male nor female. So, while emotions of joy and pride are riding high for some, there is still a concerning question of exclusion. Plus there is always the old conundrum…Of course we should have marriage equality! But should we have marriage? So, as we consider the alphabet soup of love, sex and gender, here’s an ABC of my thoughts on this issue…

A is for Abbott: such a conservative twat3tjgzm

B is for bride + bride: what’s so wrong with that?

C is for Canberra: hooray for taking a stand

D is for danger: but who counts in this demand?

E is for equality: for most, thereabout

F is for fighting: some wins, but some doubt…

G is for good times: gay marriage for all!

H is for hang on: we have some amendments y’alltumblr_luat2i2iP01qahipuo1_500

I is for ignored: who’s left outside this debate?

J is for justice: the law will determine your fate

K is for kinky: no wacky weddings my dear!

L is for love: as long as it’s “normal”, not queer

M is for meaning: life-time commitment, a ring

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N is for no thanks: marriage is not everyone’s thing

O is for option: limiting marriage? – A blunder

P is for poly: if I have more than one love, I wonder?

Q is for queer: reject all the norms!

R is for romance: sometimes undone by forms

sad-cat-S is for “same-sex”: choose one, or no access?

T is for trans*: no recognition? Call this progress?

U is for undecided: I do believe in love and Cupid

V is for votes: I fear it’s the economy, stupid!

W is for wedding: rainbow cake fo sho

X is for X gender: Canberra says no

Y is for yay: I’m really pleased, every step bit by bit!

Z is for zilch: big flaws for sure, which is just a bit shit

Great Expectations: Holding Hands and Heterosexual Privilege

Privilege FlowerAs someone who has for the most part been involved in “straight” relationships (despite identifying as bisexual/pansexual), the question of heterosexual privilege is something that troubles me often. When I’ve been in relationships with women, I have without a doubt felt more “legitimate” in identifying as queer, even though I realise the problem inherent in this thought process. The pressing political need for recognition has also been more salient during these times. Turns out walking through the mall holding hands with your girlfriend garners a lot of gawking. I never experienced any danger of any kind but I have many friends who recount feeling unsafe because of their queerness in public spaces.

polyamorous quintet or just friends?

polyamorous quintet or just friends?

“Straight” hand-holding gleans no such double takes. In fact, people assume that you are coupled up even if you’re not holding hands. This is opposed to the girl-on-girl scenario wherein if you escape blatant discrimination it’s probably just because people think “hmmnn…maybe they’re just really close friends?”

The list of privileges for the straight hand-holders seems obvious (see this post from Queers United for the full gamut of heterosexual privileges to mull over). For one thing, there’s recognition of the relationship, but there’s also no real danger of encountering social-norm policing about said relationship manifesting as violence of any kind, physical or psychic.

However, the problem of the notion of heterosexual privilege is that it ascribes heterosexuality to heterosexual-seeming couples, thereby risking erasure of the queer complexities unknown about the relationship being judged. Unless you wear your kink, polyamory, bi-proclivities or otherwise on your sleeve, the man-and-woman-holding-hands scenario is going to be lumped into the category of normative heterosexuality. This point isn’t to deny that material and social privileges exist for the heterosexual-seemers, but it undoubtedly contributes to a problematic social notion that sexuality can easily be defined by the categories of straight and gay (with in-betweeners oscillating between the two poles).

The sea-monkey family: heteronormative, or queer as f***?

The sea-monkey family: heteronormative, or queer as f***?

Part of this problem is the assumed erasure of past experiences and desires in relation to the person you are currently holding hands with. How often do we hear the story of someone coming “out of the closet” after years of a “fake” heterosexual marriage? These kind of narratives reinforce the notion that desires should conform to one spectrum of the hetero-homo pole, in such a way that all temporality is reconfigured in light of one’s current sexual trajectory. That is not to say that the labels and identities that people align themselves with don’t matter – they should be respected. But next time I catch myself in some hetero-hand holding, I’ll try and remember who I was, am and might be… and in doing so resist the tempting oversimplification that happens when I see other possible dyads, triads, partners and complex kinship relations hanging out in public spaces.

Because life ends at marriage?

Everyone loves a good wedding (BBC’s Pride and Prejudice)

I went to the movies this evening and saw what was a funny but pretty middle of the road comedy. I don’t want to give away any spoilers, but let’s just say it was your normal Hollywood light entertainment piece (*talking bear cough*). The film was actually quite enjoyable, but had the most predictable and un-funny ending ever. You guessed it, a wedding.

I left the theatre wondering why it is that we don’t seem to be able to get past this neat little plot device. Maybe it’s just the easiest way to spell out “all’s well that ends well”. After all, Shakespeare’s comedies always finished with giant group weddings and frivolity. But you’d think that in this era of increasing divorce rates, surely we’d be imagining some alternate models for spelling out happiness? Much like the beloved Bechdel test, I feel like we need a rating system for romantic comedies that don’t equate true love with a wedding fest.

But then, when I tried to think of romantic comedies that did (or didn’t) end in weddings, I could only think of the most obvious ones – The Wedding Singer, Four Weddings and a Funeral, My Best Friend’s Wedding, Bridesmaids

From Miranda July’s ‘The Future’

Then I came across this excellent list of romcoms that are not your typical Hollywood fare but have done well nonetheless, and there’s not that much weddingery in sight. Films listed include Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless MindVicki Cristina BarcelonaBefore Sunset… But what’s interesting about many of the pics on this list is that the “happy factor” at the end is debatable. Most of them have a sense of hope mixed with bittersweet realism and often just plain old sadness and loss.

In the end I say give me emotional realism over fantasy wedding bonanzas any day. I’d rather leave the cinema feeling a little heartbroken, than walk away and forget the film in much the same way that one passes apple juice- quickly and with little to digest.

Gender and advertising- mainstream marketing or pure propaganda?

The issue of representing marginalised groups in advertising is not new. After all, one only has to consider that cultural diversity in Western adverts is a relatively new phenomenon. But over the Christmas break (after reading quite a number of women’s magazines) I got to thinking about the way in which (at worst) gender and sexual diversity is vastly under-represented in the media, and (at best) representations that are made stick out as un-integrated attempts at tapping into the pink dollar (for example, you may have seen this infamous French McDonald’s ad).

This issue became very apparent to me after reading one of my nothing-else-to-do glossies (InStyle), which featured a NIVEA campaign called 100 years of love all about “celebrating the Australian families, friends and couples who’ve entrusted their skin to NIVEA for a lifetime of care” (cue sentimental music). The ad included an Indian family, a group of middle aged women friends, and a thirty-something couple (whose photo was accompanied by the tag line “NIVEA Loves Couples”).

…compared to a typical DIVA one

The NIVEA loves couples ad..

On closer inspection, NIVEA has in the past, run a “very successful” campaign to target a specifically gay audience. So it got me wondering- while the 100 years of love campaign is yet another reinforcement of heteronormative ideas of love and family, it also presumably says something about the particular market that buys InStyle- so I’m assuming (if NIVEA has done their research) this is predominately straight women.

Funnily enough one of my other summer mags- the UK’s DIVA magazine, dedicated to all things lesbian and bisexual- only featured ads depicting or related to woman-on-woman action. This is hardly surprising as I imagine that the readership of DIVA is made up of women with non-straight inclinations. But while it’s all well and good to expect that advertising holds a mirror up to the market, I long for the day when that means that campaigns using the words family and love involve increasingly diverse representations of sexuality and gender so much so that no one blinks an eye (much like I didn’t pay attention to the fact that the family represented in the NIVEA campaign was Indian until I sat down to write this post). If not, I think that this marks magazines like InStyle as exclusively straight. I wonder if this is ok, given that DIVA isn’t for straight girls- but then again DIVA puts it’s position front and centre, whereas InStyle surreptitiously masquerades as just another “normal” women’s magazine.

While I could go on for hours about the issue of the commercialisation of “gay” (and the Velvet Mafia, etc), instead, in the spirit of groups such as the Gay & Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation (GLAAD) that give out awards each year to companies that offer positive portrayals of LGBT in advertising, here’s my pick of the number one best and worst representations made in 2011-

The spread from the Vogue edition

BEST: Goes to The 2011 September edition of Vogue magazine (USA) which featured several advertisements relating to gay and lesbian issues- which comes as no suprise given editor Anna Wintour’s outspoken support for gay marriage. The most exciting part of this edition for me was the style section on weddings which featured a lesbian couple dressed in white and an invitation that included the brides’ names as Clarissa and Sarah- without any specific mention to gay marriage.

WORST: Hands down has to be the Libra ad for tampons called “drag it”, which has caused some outrage given it’s equation that having periods = being a “real” woman (and although arguably the title suggests that the person in the video is a drag queen and not a trans woman, the ad still has a particular position about womanhood that I for one find pretty offensive!).

UPDATE: Libra have issued an apology and have stated that the ad will no longer air in New Zealand or Australia. Despite divided opinion in the trans community about the ad (abjectly transphobic vs. a funny and positive representation), the most depressing thing has been seeing the plethora of transphobic responses on the Libra Facebook page.

Christmas traditions: the “modern” family model

I recently read a great piece in by Benjamin Law on the trials and tribulations of Christmas in a post-nuclear (family) world of divorce, sex before marriage and gay partners (you can read Law’s article from the Griffith Review here). It got me thinking about my own experiences of Christmas and the emphasis placed on family for this particular holiday.

From memory I have only experienced  one “proper” family Christmas on my mum’s side, when I was still in primary school. My very limited memories of this involve trifle (good) and fighting (bad), and I’m pretty certain the family gave up after this one rather unpleasant attempt. Growing up solo with my mother, a self described “pagan/wiccan“, meant that Christmas was pretty understated (that is, when we finally started to celebrate it- when I started school I heard that I was missing out on a lot of capitalist present-receiving shenanigans). So Christmas time in our family was more about celebrating the solstice, getting out into the sunshine, onto the beach and hanging out with all of the other coastal orphans and odd bods. Christmas was a blip on the radar in our house, and overlooking the delights of the anti-capitalist traditions my mum was trying to indoctrinate me with, I longed for beliefs in santa and waking up to pillow cases full of presents.

When I started dating in high school however, I realised that I could be adopted into other people’s families and finally revel in traditional Christmas festivities. I’ve done this for many years, and have always been so pleasantly surprised at how welcoming people are to the strangers that happen to be sleeping with a member of their family. Viewing other people’s Christmases finally allowed me to realise that no family really fits the “nuclear” set up after all- while I had wanted to go back to some 1950s family portrait at Christmas time, it turns out that everyone’s households are always a bit more complicated than that.

Soon the whole world will be able to celebrate the joy of Christmas in summer time- happy climate change!

I look forward to the day when extended ideas of family exceed current TV representations, such as seen on Modern Familywhich can’t help but stay in the model of family as meaning parents + children. Whether those parents be “traditional”, divorced or a gay- it’s still a model based on child rearing and stable marriage-like relationships. What I found out from my Christmas-crashing is that families are diverse groupings, often a patchwork of extended kin and partners: ex-es, in-laws, step-persons, friend-lings and orphan-nomads.

So I hope that you all have a safe and merry solstice- I’ll be at the beach with some adopted family if anyone needs me.

Marriage “the end of [gay] history”?

I came across this great ad (that has gone viral) by Australian grassroots protest group GetUp! on the website Lesbian Dad. The ending is very moving, but bittersweet given the recent decision of the Australian Labor Party to allow a conscience vote on gay marriage, rather than incorporating a change of stance on the issue into the core party platform (this means that the bill to reform the Marriage Act is likely to get vetoed by the opposition when it comes to Parliament).

My response to this ad, and to the issue of gay marriage more generally is always one of support for reforms to the current law to remove any discrimination. I do however acknowledge the thoughts of those within GLBTQIQ circles that are vehemently against the concept of gay marriage. And this ad (after bringing tears to my eyes) got me thinking- just how can this issue be negotiated in a way that both removes discrimination based on sexual orientation, but that doesn’t detract from other political action around issues of sex, gender and sexuality. My biggest fear is that gay marriage may already be viewed as an “end of history” moment, where marriage is seen as the final marker of the equality battle. In fact, this article published in The Guardian today welcomes a “post-gay” future.

Damn straight

While many gay and lesbian people may rejoice in the possibility of marriage, many “non-heteronormative” others may find themselves left by the wayside when it comes to collective action (such as marriage within the polyamorous community- though they have noted that gay marriage would be a significant step toward possible poly marriage in the future). But the issue of “assimilation” runs deeper than the ability to win political gains- it’s a matter of the direction in which that change is won. A world in which a conservative ideology of marriage and “family values” is envisioned as the ideal end point for all relationships is concerning, because it overlooks and subsumes difference and different ways of “doing gay”. When Jane Lynch presented How I Met Your Mother star Neil Patrick Harris with the LA Gay and Lesbian Centre award earlier this year, she proclaimed that Harris and his partner had, “created the most stunning gay American family portrait“.

My hope is that with every “win” on the board we can stop and acknowledge the power of the political, and think about the way in which our new “norms” might affect those left behind.