Image: Yinon Zinger
It’s been almost exactly a year since same sex marriage was legalised. So it’s probably worth examining the underlying desires of homosexual couples who want to place themselves within the institution of marriage. I am for marriage equality and I don’t see how people who aren’t can ever imagine themselves being on the right side of history. The 45% of sitting Tory MPs who voted against the bill will, in my view, go down in history alongside supporters of slavery, witch-burners and people who like Steve Aoki, as, at best, misguided bigots. What interests me more is the desire of the homosexual community to enter into these structures.
Monogamy is, if you think about it, a strange form of love. The implicit contract is that you will have sex with and love only each other (supposedly in the case of marriage) for the rest of your lives. This is not expected in any other area of life – imagine having a child or a dog and then feeling you couldn’t have another because your love allocation was already taken up.
Cultural theorists have tried to explain the pervasiveness of monogamy as a societal structure, pointing in most cases to the need to ‘know’ the biological identity of children and thus ensuring lines of succession and inheritance. Obviously this presumes that the couple is going to have children that are biologically related to them. This is, of course, not important for gay couples (or even heterosexual couple who don’t want kids). So, the question remains: why bother?
While it seems almost too obvious to mention, the sexist origins of monogamy bear examination. Marriage literally transfers the woman from property of the father to property of the groom – a process marked through the changing of surnames. Daily Mail comment sections might claim that this is a ‘nice’ tradition (just like burning a man every autumn), but the reality is that its just a misogynist institution, and no matter how far we go from its origin, it will always retain the stink of sexism.
To take an idea from Dawkins (a smoking gun in many ways – but lets keep it to his forte of biology) monogamy seems to be one of what he calls ‘memes’ (this was in 1976, so I’m not talking about Doge or ‘Good Guy Greg’): cultural patterns and structures continued through human civilization that continue to confer a ‘normal’ status on the people who were willing to accept them. The social and legal advantages of marriage are therefore obvious; you can pass for, or at least become, ‘normal’ by being married or at least monogamous couple in a legal sense with inheritance rights, tax breaks etc..
Socially, and perhaps more importantly, was the move away of the likening of the homosexual to the ‘deviant’, as had been the project of the 2000+ years since sodomy became a recognised divergence from this still unexamined concept of normal. ‘Homonormativity’, as Lisa Duggan theorised it, is the desire to integrate into a straight culture, by the gay (but inevitably upper middle class) community.
The work of Lisa Cholodenko is an excellent example of this. While The Kids Are All Right has been seen by a lot of people and is firmly part of cultural consciousness, her earlier (Sundance darling) work is still a little more esoteric. In High Art she explored the possibility of alternatives to monogamy, in direct opposition to heteronormativity (a fancy Gender Studies way of saying ‘wife, husband and kids’) in a polymorphous and fluid relationship that does not compromise the connection of a romantic pair, but leaves space within it for extensions and permutations. Kids, meanwhile, shows homosexual monogamy as a fragile structure venerable to interference by an outside world.
So maybe for the next legal revolution we should outlaw marriage for everyone, on the grounds that anyone entering into the framework must, in fact, not love their partner as they feel a need to codify it within a socio-legal framework. Yeah, let’s do that.
NB: the writer of this piece has been a monogamous for many years and fully recognises his hypocrisy