NATIONAL JOURNAL OF SEXUAL ORIENTATION LAW VOL. 1, ISSUE 1 Mary Sylla, editor (email protected) A (Personal) Essay on Same-Sex Marriage Barbara J. Cox Professor California Western School of Law_________________________________________________________________ Very little since Stonewall, and the break from acceptingthe status quo that those riots symbolize, has challenged thelesbian and gay community as much as the debate we have had overthe past several years on whether seeking the right to marryshould be the focus of our community’s efforts, politicalinfluence, and financial resources. As is often true in mostsuch political debates, both “sides” to the debate make importantarguments about the impact that the right to marry will have oneach member of our community, on the community as a whole, and on Arguing against same-sex marriage in her article, Since Whenis Marriage a Path to Liberation?, Paula Ettelbrick believes thatit will not liberate lesbians and gay men but will make us moreinvisible, force assimilation, and undermine the lesbian and gaycivil rights movement. She also argues that it will nottransform society into respecting and encouraging relationshipchoice and family diversity, which are primary goals of thatcivil rights movement. Ruth Colker in Marriage echoesEttelbrick’s concerns, arguing that rather than expanding thecouples who can marry, we should change the institution ofmarriage to eliminate its marriage-dependent benefits, so thatpeople will choose it for symbolic, rather than legal orutilitarian, reasons.
She also recognizes the class-basedassumptions inherent in the marriage debate, realizing that formost poor people, marriage offers few economic advantages. Nitya Duclos examines four reasons advanced for same-sexmarriage (political reform, public legitimation, socioeconomicbenefits, and safeguarding children of lesbian or gay parents) inher article, Some Complicating Thoughts on Same-Sex Marriage. She concludes that the effects of allowing same-sex marriage willnot be felt uniformly throughout lesbian and gay communities andquestions whether it will exacerbate differences of power and In a companion piece to Ettelbrick’s, Thomas Stoddard, inWhy Gay People Should Seek the Right to Marry, while recognizingthe oppressive nature of marriage in its traditional form,believes that lesbians and gay men should be able to choose tomarry and the civil rights movement should seek full recognitionof same-sex marriages. His three reasons for pursuing this rightare the practical advantages associated with marriage-relatedbenefits, the political reason that marriage is the issue mostlikely to end discrimination against lesbians and gay men, andthe philosophical explanation that lesbians and gay men shouldhave the right to choose to marry and that providing that rightwill be the principal means toward eliminating marriage’s sexist Nan Hunter, in Marriage, Law and Gender: A FeministInquiry, argues that legalizing lesbian and gay marriage willdestabilize marriage’s gendered definition by disrupting the linkbetween gender and marriage. She analyzes both marriage anddomestic partnership against the feminist inquiry of how lawreinforces power imbalances within the family and views same-sexmarriage as a means to subvert gender-based power differentials. Mary Dunlap finds that same-sex marriage is constructive whenlesbians and gay men are encountering gay-bashing resulting fromBowers.
She examines the values underlying the push for same-sex marriage (such as equality, autonomy, fairness, privacy, anddiversity) and encourages expansion of the marriage debateoutside legal circles. One way to expand this debate is to readthe interviews of lesbian and gay couples, some of whom havechosen to have public ceremonies celebrating their commitment andsome of whom have chosen to keep their commitment private. The debate continues to rage, as seen from the recentarticles contained in the Virginia Law Review’s symposiumissue. Without resolving the debate here, it seems clear thatobtaining the right to marry will drastically impact the lesbianand gay civil rights movement.
My response to the debate is bestexpressed in the following short (and personal) essay, explainingthe vital political change that can result from the simple (and =19es, I know that weddings can be “heterosexual rituals” ofthe most repressive and repugnant kind. =19es, I know thatweddings historically symbolized the loss of the woman’s selfinto that of her husband’s, a denial of her existence completely. =19es, I know that weddings around the world continue to have thatimpact on many women and often lead to lives of virtual slavery. =19es, I know.
Then how could a feminist, out, radical lesbianlike myself get married a year ago last April? Have I simplyjoined the flock of lesbians and gay men rushing out toparticipate in a meaningless ceremony that symbolizes When .