The Institution of Marriage


President Obama recently announced his support for gay marriage. And so there was much rejoicing among the Statist Left.


While I think Obama’s declaration in support of gay marriage should be applauded, it should be noted that it was conditional support. He included an important caveat, one more bit of meaningless tacking-to-the-center-ism, which renders most of his support confused if not downright inane. From an article on the statement:

The president stressed that this is a personal position, and that he still supports the concept of states deciding the issue on their own.

In other words, he articulated that gay marriage was a personal decision, one that should be left to the states. Now, I can appreciate that it may be tactically preferred to win the battle for equality at the state level, but as a statement of principle this is simply nonsense. By definition, a “personal decision” is something decided, well, personally. To leave such a decision in the hands of your neighbors and legislators deprives such a decision of the singular quality of being personal. Alternatively, one may consider that Obama doesn’t consider there to be a meaningful distinction between the individual and the state. That makes his position make more sense logically speaking, but it moves his statement from the well-meaning but mildly inane to the downright insidious. So, pick your poison.

It’s also worth noting that, given his belief that gay marriage is an institution to be allowed or banned by government, he most certainly doesn’t (publicly) consider said institution to be a right. Rights, essentially by definition, cannot be denied to people in the normal course of affairs (we may deny a person certain rights if they commit a crime, I would imagine it’s not Obama’s suggestion that we should consider being-gay-while-in-North-Carolina to be a legitimate crime) and Obama seemingly has no taste for suggesting that gay marriage should fall under the conditions of an inalienable right. Again, in some sense this is fine (it’s still more than any other president has ever supported, to be sure), but it’s a rather fundamental error to suggest that Obama supports the right of gay marriage.

Both those things said, Obama deserves some kudos. Cynicism about the politics aside, this declaration from Obama still represents a kind of bellwether for the American public, and a step forward in leaving behind – perhaps shrieking most of the way – the kind of repugnant and backwards thinking that has dominated the American discourse until quite recently.

For myself, I simply hope one day not just for a president who will affirmatively support equality for an institution, but call for the destruction of the institution itself.* The move for marriage equality is, in some ways, pernicious and suspect. Andrew Sullivan and other conservative gay marriage advocates have articulated it perfectly (in his support of gay marriage), by calling for marriage equality as a way to get more people to buy into the predominant social paradigm. But, friends, I come to bury that paradigm, not praise it. I long for a time when the struggle for freedom tackles the essentially shackling nature of marriage as normative, rather than the folk tradition for certain people of that bent and interest, as it should properly be considered.

*I’m being slightly cutesy here, essentially conflating the use of “institution” to mean both a political institution and a social institution. I favor the destruction of marriage as an institution in both cases, leaving it as a folk ritual for those who personally want to imbue the arrangement with some weight, but without any greater social power.

In other words, marriage should be neither a government sanction nor the “default” social arrangement (regardless of government intrusion). If it is to exist at all, it should be one among many equally legitimate options. But I think government sanction unfairly (and purposefully) bolsters marriage’s status as the default social arrangement.

And, of course, the idea of marriage itself can and should become more multifaceted. It need not merely mean “monogamous nuclear family arrangement” (or some minor derivation thereof). The sort of strict defining traits of what should be a social arrangement which would, naturally, be subject to various local customs and traditions seems largely a product of the kind of top-down enforcement of marriage not simply as a tradition for those interested, but as an institution supported by the state and designed to hook people into our capitalist consumer society.

Marriage should exist as a social ritual for those interested, but not as an arrangement with any currency beyond any other social arrangement. And with no sense of social obligation to enter into it.

As for Obama’s support of state-sanctioned gay marriage, well, institutions are better when they are equal, but they are best when they are destroyed.

Further Reading:

Same Sex Marriage: Pro and Con, edited by Andrew Sullivan. Probably the best one stop shop for “mainstream” arguments for and against gay marriage. Sullivan provides his own take on how gay marriage helps draw the gay community into buying into and supporting the predominant economic, social and political hierarchies and redirects them from advocating for radical change (and he means that as a good thing).

Against Equality: Queer Critiques of Gay Marriage, edited by Ryan Conrad. As the name suggests, these are arguments from the queer community against gay marriage. A collection of probing and thoughtful essays that look more deeply into the flip side of the Sullivan “buy in” position, and a challenging and eye-opening read for those of us on the Left who were brought up to believe that the pursuit of gay marriage was one of the ultimate expressions of freedom, justice and equality.


About FlexFantastic

I'm a professional human.
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