Thursday, April 09, 2009

C'mon over, my wife's away

Guest post by Boatboy

Boatboy is the author of the blog The View from the Docks.

There's been a lot of noise about the recent events in Iowa and Vermont, particularly from the Chicken Little School of Conservative Thinking. Steve Benen, Shakesville, BBWW, Box Turtle Bulletin and others have all covered it rather nicely.

It occurs to me, though, that there's a reason the marriage issue is so big for the RWNM (Right-Wing Noise Machine) that's not being discussed all that much.

Living in SW Florida, I run into all sorts. One of the types I try to avoid is the "married but playful" kind: the ones that are stepping out on their spouses to indulge their preferences on the down-low. It's messy for them, it's uncomfortable for me and it's dishonest on both parts to carry on anything more than a one-night stand under those conditions. Quite frankly, I won't knowingly have anything to do with it. However, the number of folks I meet who do or will is startling.

The RWNM has long presented civil rights issues as a zero-sum game: more for you is less for me. The idea of an expanding set of civil rights -- indeed, of rights in any sense -- seems alien to them. They did this with civil rights based on race and sex, and they've done it more than a few times based on sexual identity.

In the SSM (same-sex marriage) case, my hypothesis is this: many of the naysayers are acquainted with more than a few married couples who aren't straight, and legalisation of SSM would drive them to divorce their spouses and marry their partners.

This is offensive on a number of levels. I'll hit the chief ones that bother me: feel free to add your own in comments.

First, their position assumes that there are a lot of couples who married for convenience, respectability, and tax and insurance benefits. This perspective reduces those marriages to pure business contract: there's nothing "sacred" about getting married just to be added to your spouse's health insurance or to file joint tax returns. If SSM is legalised, these marriages will be shown up for the transactional relationships they are, and the arguments about the "sanctity of marriage" will instantly evaporate.

Second, the assumption that there are substantial numbers of couples who married for convenience and respectability undermines the arguments about "special rights" for a "small minority." There is an unstated assumption in the position that the actual number of people who would self-identify as LGBT if SSM were legalised is substantially higher than is either reflected in accepted sociological statistics or claimed by the naysayers - perhaps as high as 30-40%. The RWNM doesn't want to be seen as hostile to proportions that high -- just look with the GOP has done to court the Hispanic vote in recent years -- so numbers like that can't be allowed to see the light of day. So long as they can talk about a small number of "deviants" rather than a substantial minority of law-abiding LGBT citizens they can continue to whinge about the "special" and "excessive" demands of those LGBT citizens willing to make noise on behalf of the rest. If the numbers they fear become public, prior statements denouncing the LGBT movement as a tiny fringe of society seeking preferential treatment will be meaningless.

Third, the naysayers are expecting legalisation of SSM to produce an immediate uptick in the divorce rate as all those marriages of convenience adjust. Their assumption seems to be that this will be an immediate phenomenon. Again, they are failing to take into account that divorce is a messy business not undertaken lightly, that many of the marriages they think are jeopardised by the new laws are prone to dissolution not just because the new alternative is available, and that said marriages are taken so lightly that they are at risk in the first place. This puts yet another torpedo into the "sacred institution" meme simply because it implies that marriage is so fragile that it won't withstand expansion.

Fourth, there is the unspoken awareness that marriages of convenience are loveless, unhappy things foisted on these people in the name of respectability and social harmony. The numbers the anti-SSM voices fear, should they manifest, would spotlight their commitment to a cruel, oppressive social policy that demanded those in MOCs live lies just to be accepted. It might even be enough to cause a resounding backlash, and it would certainly encourage opposition to their other platform planks. The idea that marrying the person one prefers to have sex with produces happiness is no more true than marrying a person one prefers not to have sex with produces unhappiness: however, these people apparently fail to recognize that point.

Searching through my memory, I can recall perhaps three couples I have known who tied the knot for legal benefit, social respectability or camouflage for non-hetero behaviour. That's three (maybe) out of some hundreds of married people. I have, however, met many who cling to this "sanctity of marriage" argument -- all the while indulging in extramarital recreations (and sometimes more serious involvements) and keeping it quiet. LGBT personal ads and website profiles that demand "discretion" abound in the South and particularly in SW FL, a term I am learning is codespeak for "I'm hitched and playing on the side, but I don't want my spouse/employer/church to find out." I hardly think these same people would run to the courts to annul those marriages simply because they don't have to stay in them to claim the attendant legal or financial benefits. There may be a readjustment of sorts over time, but there won't be crowds beating down the divorce courts' doors the moment these laws are signed.

This, though, seems to be the likely calamity the anti-SSM lobbies fear: that all those people they know personally who are in some marriage of some sort of convenience would immediately ditch their present arrangements and swap them for the SSM they really desire. Should that happen, all the RWNM's rants about the Sanctity of the Institution of Marriage, the Needs of Teh Children, the Special Rights Teh Gay Demands and other such memes would suddenly and forcefully ring hollow as all those people their positions drove to these MOCs were allowed to choose a more desirable legal alternative.

(h/t to Mustang Bobby for the title of this post)

(Cross-posted from The View from the Docks.)

Labels: , , , , ,

Bookmark and Share


Post a Comment

<< Home