I have two major problems with marriage, gay or straight. For starters, marriage is the ultimate symbol of monogamy and I’m not monogamous. Even if my brain suddenly exploded and I decided that I wanted to get married, which of my girlfriends should I marry and which should I leave swinging in the wind? More importantly, I think of marriage as a pitiful, mediaeval relic of an institution with a 50% failure rate that requires people to make completely unrealistic promises. When the marriage vows were written, average life expectancy was 35. Even with the best of intentions, the framers of marriage could never have expected that a bond of lifelong monogamy could end up lasting for 30, 40 or 50 years. Even they might have baulked at that prospect.
Some of you may be surprised to hear such a view on marriage. We’re all brought up to believe that marriage and monogamy are the natural order of things and that people have been happily married by the Christian Church for many centuries, if not millennia. Nothing could be further from the truth. According to feminist author Barbara Walker (in her book The Woman’s Encyclopedia of Myths and Secrets), ‘There was no Christian sacrament of marriage until the 16th century.’ and the early fathers of the Church hated marriage with a passion. St. Augustine flat out said that marriage was a sin, Tertullian said it was a moral crime and St. Ambrose said it was a crime against God because it ‘…changed the state of virginity that God gives every man and woman at birth.’ Origen thought matrimony was impure and unholy, St. Jerome said the primary purpose of a man of God was to ‘cut down with an ax of Virginity the wood of Marriage’ and the early Syrian church ruled that no person could become a Christian except celibate men. Which might explain why you don’t hear much from them anymore.
So basically, for three quarters of the Christian Church’s existence the only people getting married were the nobility and the pagans. Marriages between nobles were nothing like contemporary marriages, they were more like diplomatic treaties. It was all about division of property, inheritance rights and providing legitimate heirs. Pagan marriages were also nothing like modern marriage. They were more casual, flexible, temporary and certainly didn’t involving signing bits of paper and informing a central government of your new status. According to Thomas Cahill’s book, How the Irish saved Civilisation, before St. Patrick came along, ‘Irish sexual arrangements were relatively improvisational. Trial “marriages” of one year, multiple partners, and homosexual relations among warriors on campaign were all more or less the order of the day.’ I don’t know about you, but that resonates with me a hell of a lot more than lifelong monogamy.
When the Church did finally get on board the marriage train, they twisted it to fit with their ideas of the supremacy of celibacy. If you couldn’t be celibate for your whole life, the next best thing was to make sure you only ever had sex with one person. Throughout the next couple of centuries, marriage became a tool of social control for the Church and the state. In Staining the Wattle: A people’s history of Australia since 1788, there’s a section that talks about how the convicts had to ‘be taught to wed’ because at the time people without property didn’t get married in the conventional sense. It goes on to say, ‘Marriage was an important part of the process of disciplining the dangerous classes. On the one hand, it gave greater control over population growth…On the other hand, marriage was an important part of the process of subjecting the people to the authority of the state. It brought duties and prohibitions, and it allowed the state to keep tabs on people.’
All in all, I really don’t understand why gays and lesbians have bought into this whole marriage thing and I find it disturbing. I suspect that just as there is a political pendulum that slowly swings from right to left, there is an activism pendulum in the queer community that swings from being out, loud, proud and angry through to the more conservative, ‘Just shut up now, be nice and don’t rock the boat.’ Well I’m sorry, I’m going to keep rocking my boat as hard as I can. I don’t think gay marriage is a progressive social issue, I think it’s a thinly-veiled policy of assimilation.
I think that ten minutes after homosexuality was decriminalised we got people who didn’t have the balls to come out when it was illegal drifting into our organisations and telling us to behave like ‘normal’ people. I think these conservatives completely misunderstand what ‘normal’ means in a queer context. Even in our most outrageous, subversive moments we have always been ‘normal’ because we are a natural part of the whole glorious spectrum of human diversity. We are not ‘normal’ in the sense that we’re just like straight people. Why are we throwing away such a heritage for a pathetic piece of paper? Why are we focussing our energies on marriage when the state government here in Victoria has just passed amendments to the Anti-Discrimination Act that will allow religious organisations to discriminate against anyone they want without having to give a reason?
When you see gay leaders on television talking about the importance of marriage, please remember that they don’t speak for all of us. Not all gays and lesbians want to get married and marriage itself doesn’t even begin to deal with issues that the bisexual, transgendered, intersex and polyamorous sections of our community have. And if those issues don’t seem important or worth worrying about, shame on you.! I’ll leave the last word to Jane Rule, a Canadian lesbian author who in one of her last statements before her death, pissed off a lot of conservative gays (more power to her) by saying:
“To be forced back into the heterosexual cage of coupledom is not a step forward but a step back into state-imposed definitions of relationship. With all that we have learned, we should be helping our heterosexual brothers and sisters out of their state-defined prisons, not volunteering to join them there.”