Queericulum vitae #2 - summer 2006


Without the right to marry


" Rights are a useful but insufficient charity, perverse in their disciplinary capacity." [1]

The right of homosexuals and lesbians to marry seems to be, ultimately, the main demand around which the strategies and politics of the mainstream lgbt movement are organized. Moreover, it seems that this right is where the dominant heterosexual culture and the hot debate regarding the "rights of homosexuals" meet. The advocates of liberal individualism are asking "who will cool down this hot debate?"; they who in this god forsaken world place the sacred and undisputable human rights above everything else. The subjects of human rights keep widening so as to include more issues and new developments, while at the same time society (or even better, the institutions of the modern bourgeois state) follows, regretful and tired, to offer a new kind of modernization of its theories (and ideals) and the harsh social reality. And here they come: laws, frameworks, directives against discrimination, protection packages for minorities and so many other similar things.

Of course, we do not mean to say that all these are just given to us freely. Social antagonism develops -simultaneously and in parallel- at many different levels, as those levels are constructed around core concepts through which we understand ourselves and, perhaps, our own "interests". Core concepts such as class, nationality, sexual identity (this can be a long list) shape and give meaning to the perceptions that western society holds about the political subject. However, we see that in the end these constructions are reshaped and reconstructed in unpredictable ways. Nevertheless, today we have the capacity to recognize some reoccurring patterns which cut across the "unpredictable". For example, looking again at what we started with: human rights, being the "holly cow" of modern western society, are discussed, imposed, expressed in legal terms, they symbolically challenge the dominant cultural perceptions, and norms, and are charged with expectation for the protection of the individual and the achievement of social justice. Lately, they seem to have become the excuse for new crusades. It's like saying: "Since it difficult to support -or legalize (ethically)- imperialism and colonialism, why don't we support human rights? They are in fashion and everyone should enjoy a piece of them." So, it becomes that women's, children's and criminal's rights -depending, of course, on why they are being criminalized- are used not just as starting points for struggle, but also as tools of domination.

For sure, these kinds of political tools, because in my humble opinion that's what human rights are, prove that social antagonism is meaningful, and produces results. The structures of dominance are shaped by the actions of political subjects, from our collective politics and social struggles. Power is not just a supernatural thing that owns us and creates us (like it is with god), neither something that one has or doesn't have or wants or doesn't want. The crucial issue here is, of course, how capable we are to control and recognize the limitations of such tools. How can we use these rights strategically, so that they take us somewhere, how can they speak out on our behalf in order to negotiate our vision for this world? If we, of course, have such a vision.

So, lets say that we are discussing the right of homosexuals to marry. On a primary level, the debate is one-dimensional (monosemantic) and takes place fully in the context of "the politics of exclusion". What are we? Homosexuals. What is being taken away from us? Equal rights to those of the heterosexuals. What seems to be such a crucial right? The right to marry. Huh, so we want it too, give it to us too! And now everyone else has to decide: Are you for or against it? This is unfortunately the logical framework that seems to run through the analysis of the mainstream lgbt movement, in this way transforming the radical potential of the non-heterosexual choice into an oversimplified demand for a bourgeois right. It is of course true that the right of homosexuals to marry challenges the symbolic and ethical order of today's democratic and liberal society. That's because it challenges which types of relationship the state and its institutional structures are obliged to recognize and legitimize. A challenge of this type can open up new ways to perceive ourselves, claim a different vision for this world. However, things are not that simple.

n her article "Is kinship always already heterosexual?",[2] Judith Butler invites us to think of this issue from a different point of view. She points out that recognition and legitimization by the state means also to accept the terms and conditions of this process that state powers offer. It logically follows that public recognition or the recognized sense of self is now totally dependent on the vocabulary of this legitimization process. And taking this a bit further, we are reminded that every legitimization of a social relationship is possible through the creation of new "exclusion zones", through the mapping of new spaces where other, non-legitimate places and perceptions of the self exist. Hence, by winning the blessing of our love from society and the law we, at the same time, sign up for our future convictions, giving again to the state and its institutions the power to have an absolute right to control which types of choices and desires are legitimate, and "normal". In other words, demanding the right to marry recognizes the state as the sole giver of this blessing of legitimization and, of course, of all the prerequisites that go with that. It is here where recognition and compliance join hands and try to create a structure within which to understand the human experience. The human experience of our own experience.

Butler also points out something else which is as important. It is a fact that marriage, the family and kinship are three core social constructs that are interrelated in an organic manner. Family is the elemental unit of a structure made out of systems of kinship. However, the family should have a specific and recognizable format, because otherwise it cannot be considered a part of kinship relations (for example, me, my three flatmates and our dog do not make up a family unit). Marriage is in turn the thing that gives the legal status of recognition and safeguards the social construct of the family. And what about our sexuality? What does it have to do with all this? In the context of society's "sacred triplet", sexuality becomes a tool that serves the purpose of organizing reproductive relationships. This is the formal interpretation of sexuality, just as in the context of hetero-normal systems. Any other use, perception or understanding of sexuality will find itself in grey zones between symbolism and actualism, legitimization and illegality.

Butler poses the following questions:

Does the preference of marriage make other sustainable alternative kinship models more difficult to defend? - since the formally recognized format includes only the couple and their children. And also: What will happen with the radical attempts to articulate and support the variety of sexual practices outside marriage and the commitments of kinship? In other words, are we amputating our vision by chasing after it? Which is this vision in the end? Which do we want it to be?

"Assaulting the supermarket of the world, the privatized garden and the wedding ceremony is our most cherished dream" [3]

The difficult truth is that there are no easy answers. What Butler is asking is definitely not what the mainstream lgbt -or at least its most dominant parts- is occupied with, and that is: When did our sexuality disappear off the spaces created to fight political and social struggles? It seems like the right to marriage clarifies some realistic demands and that's probably why it remains a hot issue; but did the lgbt movement walk such a historical path, so as to ask -demand, if this seems more radical to you-, for just a bourgeois legitimization? And is this legitimization enough so as to be able to include the ideals of a wider vision of social liberation? Some western and non-western n a tions , f ew it is true, (the later do not like their democratic regimes challenged), give "lessons of how to tolerate the different", by offering legal regulations that give homosexuals the right to civil partnerships and unions or even the sacred right to political marriage. If we are optimistic, which we can be, more countries will follow this example. Public discussion takes place openly, wherever these rights are offered, and often in apocalyptic ways. But what does that mean? Are perceptions about homosexuality changing? Is non-heterosexual choice being discussed as a legitimate one? Is it integrated in the "ethical code"? The history of movements has often shown that reforms in the legal status of various social groups do not always result in reforming the nucleus of power relations. Often such movements had as a result the creation of new separating lines, an establishment of new power relations and not the actual radicalization of social relations. The autonomous feminist movement is such an example. Several reform victories left behind a sour taste and after the celebrations it became obvious that, in a magical way, the deep nucleus of sexism remained untouched. After decades of struggle women had won "legal equality", but were left staring with disappointment at what they had not "won" along with these victories. That is the real equality in social relationships, the challenging of biology as the explaining factor for the differences between men and women, the real challenging of the privilege of being a man, the actualization of "another world" where feminism would mean something to men and where men would try to understand why and how their sex overpowers other genders. Today feminism is struggling to get over the stigma of being an "outdated" movement that has no reason for existence anymore.

In other words, to view the demand for gay marriage as the main demand of homosexual struggles means that we cancel out the overall wider criticisms to the social meanings that the lgbt movement has to offer. Analysing sexuality in a political context was and can still be good material and agent of radical reshaping. The right to gay marriage is no more than an important struggle in the context of civil rights- at the same time though, it is not enough to perceive it just as such and nothing else. Gay marriage asks for the redefinition of the practice of marriage itself, so that it includes same sex couples and hence to accordingly win all the privileges that this practice offers. Our question is: How does gay marriage challenge the practice of marriage itself? Where and how does it threaten the discrimination and hierarchy between the married and unmarried? How does it support those that do not want to be this or the other gender? How does it challenge the privileges offered by dominant perceptions of the normalizing monogamous social model? How does it defend the variety of our non-monogamous sexual practices and non-mainstream perception of the family? The answer is an obvious one. Gay marriage re launches the practice of marriage refreshed and shiny, harmonised with the conditions of the "new epoche". In this way though it feels like we are, again, back to where we started from: Whoever does not conform, consent, give away, whoever lives their life differently, whoever does not comply with all the things we 've been taught, has to know and understand -once more- that there is a high price to pay. The history of people who lived their lives valuing their sexual desires, and gave their bodies sexual pleasure, who competed with the dominant ethics, who created and lived other ways and forms of kinship and family... we can forget these histories forever. The lgbt movement that wants to win the right to gay marriage often also wants to forget every other history of the social survival of people that broke through the heterosexual model, through building their own example. We can also pretend that sexuality is not a means of action and change, put it back into the bed of our "private sphere" -now the wedding bed-, the bed of social legitimacy and recognition, where sexuality will not set things on fire, neither it will envision strange and "perverse" things. Here it will not threaten anyone or something, as we will be occupied with our wedding rings and will drown in our wedding euphoria. "And we all lived happily ever after."

It is difficult to believe that the mainstream lgbt movement includes all the above questioning in its politics. And anyway, no one can believe that the movement wants to create ruptures when its main politic is that "we want what everyone else has". Are 'we' like 'everyone else'? Does history tells us this? How are the lesbians, trans and gay men of modern western society, how are the conscientious objectors of dominant perceptions of gender like 'everyone else'? Who is this 'everyone else'? Unless we mean that we want to 'become' like them. But still, two wedding rings are not enough to achieve that.

A couple of words as an ending.

So, what do we imagine our own words and actions to demand today? First of all, for them not to be trapped in the ways that the dominant order puts such questions forward: in the form of false dichotomies. Yes to gay marriage. Marriage as a civil right has to be given to everyone. This is what liberal democracies preach: equality, freedom, justice. To whoever didn't get it, we live within liberal democracies and by stretching their prerequisites for existence to their limits we can re-shape them. But, at the same time, do we say "no to marriage" in general? Our problem is not wedding itself. This question is looking for answers related to the extend to which we can advance our critisisms of the heterosexual model, to the chain of normalizing, part of which is marriage. What would make marriage weak? What forms of actions can we take in order to prioritize our wants and visions? How can we get out of this defensive vicious circle that we seem to be stuck in? To begin with, this would require a huge effort in the internal of what we call the radical movement today. When we refuse to recognize the importance of gender and sexuality and their interaction with issues such as class and race as a means of analyzing modern culture, when we still talk about "primary" and "secondary" struggles, then we have lost the game before it has even started. When we talk about "the history of all existing society being the history of class struggles" and capitalism being the dominant articulation of social relations, the bosses on one side and we on the other, then we certainly make our journeys harder. It is in these journeys that we meet each other and try to find battlements and trojan horses in order to break through the "spheres of multiple oppression". Spheres in which we seem to believe that others hold the key to. And so the only thing that remains is to break them. But what would it mean to assume that we are the keyholders as much as anyone else can be? The first step of the struggle is, I believe, to really see amongst us, to renew the tools of our thinking, to get rid of political ideas that do not offer us anything anymore and lead us to dead ends. To use all the tools we have without moralizing, and fight power, not as if it was the devil, but as a product of the dynamics of social relations. And to attempt to overthrow the current ethical and material order of things after having first examined our own political and ethical preconceptions and axioms.

"I can't help but dream about a kind of criticism that would try not to judge but to bring an oeuvre, a book, a sentence, an idea to life; it would light fires, watch the grass grow, listen to the wind, and catch the sea foam in the breeze and scatter it. It would multiply not judgements but signs of existence; it would summon them, drag them from their sleep. Perhaps it would invent them sometimes - all the better. All the better. Criticism that hands down sentences sends me to sleep; I 'd like a criticism of scintillating leaps of the imagination. It would not be sovereign or dressed in red. It would bear the lightning of possible storms." [4]


1. http://www.sindominio.net/karakola/english_28j.htm

2. Butler, Judith, 2004, Undoing Gender, Routledge.

3. http://www.sindominio.net/karakola/english_28j.htm

4. Foucault, Michel,1994, Essential Works of Foucault 1954-1984, Ethics, Vol. 1, Penguin, p. 323.