How did the same people who elected Barack Obama President last Tuesday vote to pass Proposition 8 in California, the state ballot measure to ban same-sex marriage? My liberal friends in Massachusetts and across the country are organizing protests and hanging their heads. “We expected more from California,” they mutter under their breath.
The future of marriage
A woman emerges from a failed relationship of two years’ duration. Despondent over the relationship’s demise, she laments that family, friends, and work colleagues do not seem to grasp the depth of her despair. “It’s like a divorce!” she grieves. Except it isn’t. She and her male partner were never married. They were merely cohabiting. The shift toward private, contractual ordering of romantic and familial relationships in recent years has prompted such confusions. [...]
I wonder about those Lost Boys of fundamentalist Mormonism, the boys ejected as teenagers from their families and the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints (FLDS): how do they make their lives intelligible to themselves?
Following the recent California Supreme Court ruling in favor of same-sex marriage, National Public Radio offered a report on “the coming storm” between two “titanic” legal principles: “equal treatment for same-sex couples” and “the freedom to exercise religious beliefs.” The report gave several examples of this “collision,” which opponents cite as proof that same-sex marriage is a threat to religious liberty. The idea of an impending collision may overstate the intensity of impending legal conflicts. Still, the current portrayal of this conflict does foreground the complex relationship of marriage, religion, and the state to promote one form of marriage (white, heterosexual, monogamous).
What exactly was wrong with the Yearning for Zion ranch—home to a group identified with the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints—as a place to raise children? It is plain that with respect to any child for whom there is reason to believe that there is ongoing sex abuse—and the state did receive a phone complaint from a girl complaining of abuse—the state of Texas has a pretext—even a duty—to intervene. Texas authorities say they were worried about the “culture” at the ranch. The Supreme Court of Texas, in its May 29 decision ordering the return of the children, said that the state was concerned that the ranch had “a culture of polygamy and of directing girls younger than eighteen to enter spiritual unions with older men and have children.” What is a “culture of polygamy”? Is it separate from or the same as the rest of the culture of the Yearning for Zion ranch? How are they related to what Texas authorities called “mainstream culture”?
On April 3, 2008, state authorities raided a polygamous compound in Eldorado, Texas founded by Warren Jeffs, the now imprisoned leader of the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints (FLDS), a breakaway Mormon sect. Six weeks later, on May 15, the California Supreme Court invalidated the state’s ban on same-sex marriage. The proximity of these two state interventions invites reflection on the rhetoric and politics of marital diversity in the United States. Most analysis to date understandably focuses on the contrasting visions of sexual and gender morality that polygamy and gay marriage represent. Frequently overlooked, however, are the deep racial codings of marital politics in the U.S., which same-sex marriage advocates too often unwittingly reinforce. We believe that acknowledging these repressed meanings can help frame a more inclusive and inspiring family politics. [...]
There are many important implications to the California marriage ruling, but my particular concern is with the implications of this decision in terms of the function of marriage in a neo-liberal context. Having spent a couple of years doing ethnographic work with marriage equality activists and analyzing state court decisions, legislative hearings, and policy briefs regarding same-sex marriage, I have amassed a great deal of evidence to confidently argue that the constitutional “freedom to marry” is a neo-liberal wolf in culturally progressive sheep’s clothing. Before you write this off as a party-pooping, Debbie Downer rant by some over-educated queer who is never really satisfied with small steps toward intimate freedom, I urge you to keep reading so you can find answers to the following questions.
The recent California court ruling in favor of same-sex marriage has elicited a new round of warnings about the threats to “traditional” marriage. Marriage, say foes of the ruling, has always been a union of one man and one woman, with procreation as its central purpose. Compelling either church or state to accept the validity of same-sex unions would force these institutions, in defiance of tradition, to condone marriages of which they disapprove. But these arguments rest on a misunderstanding of the unique legal and religious history of Western marriage.