Saturday, May 31, 2008

Is Getting Married Like Being a Racist? (For Faris)

Its old news now that the California Surpreme Court has ruled that same sex couples can get married there. My colleague, Michael Faris has some original thoughts on that legal development.

I was recently introduced to this series, The Pinky Show, on YouTube by some students in my Ethnic Studies course. Through the use of animated cats, the creators explore social justice issues in a very sophisticated way (including illegal immigration, globalization, nuclear policy, and war).

But this episode is interesting from an ethics standpoint:

As long as marriage is an exclusionary institution, are married individuals morally culpable for participating in an unethical practice?

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At 3:02 PM , Blogger Michael Faris said...

Joseph, I love this video! It's amazing. And cute. :)

The central link between these two questions (would you go to a segregated beach? would you get married if other people could not?) is the question (it seems to me): Would you benefit from an unearned privilege if others could not?

Or, is it ethical to benefit from an unearned privilege when others cannot? I don't think there is a clear cut answer to this.

Example: If you don't have health insurance and you have a terminal disease, and the only way to live is to get married and benefit from someone's health insurance, it doesn't seem unethical to me. But then again, any US American can marry for this reason (if they know someone with insurance benefits that extends to families). So this isn't heterosexual privilege, this is benefiting from your partner's class privilege. Is this then unethical?


One of my major problems with the whole gay marriage movement is that it's about extending certain race and class privileges to more people of those races and classes, rather than saying "fuck you" to the whole privilege system to begin with.

Imagine the resources of all these folks going to universal health care instead. Imagine that it wasn't a privilege in this country to get adequate, cheap (or even free) medical service, but rather a right.

At 3:11 PM , Blogger chris farrell said...

hell no.

At 5:33 PM , Blogger Michael Faris said...

Hmmm, Chris, I might think that on a blog subtitled "Conversations in Philosophy" that you might defend your answer with reasons rather than offer an obstinate "hell no."

I mean, I'm fine with obstinacy in certain situations. But I think this is an interesting question. I'd like to hear why you believe the way you do.

At 11:24 AM , Anonymous Eric Stoller said...

"As long as marriage is an exclusionary institution, are married individuals morally culpable for participating in an unethical practice?"

Yes. That's the reason why I will not get married again.

Het people who identify as allies will still get married even if this does cross their's like Joseph said on a comment on my blog...our hypocrisy is quite possibly what makes us human. I was not as critically aware of institutions of power and oppression when I got married in 2000. I did not think about the ethical considerations of such an fact, I think I had been socialized to not even think about not being married. It was part of the dominant paradigm institutional plan.

ps: I love that this post is dedicated to Faris. We (bloggers) should do that more often :-)

At 11:37 AM , Blogger Joseph Orosco said...

Michael: That's a good way of stating the underlying issue. An interesting point to consider: het men and women are marrying older nowadays. I wonder if it might be because some women have come to see that they don't need to enter into a marriage contract to get some of the benefits traditionally associated with it. What would happen if these benefits came as a matter of right to all individuals (as you state)? Would anyone get married?

At 11:59 AM , Blogger Michael Faris said...

Joseph, great question!

I think people would still get married because of the affective/emotional "benefits" of the arrangement. Then again, this answer only works if we are talking about benefits as rights (everyone has access to health, can define for themselves who takes care of them in an emergency, define who has custody of children and property if they pass away, etc.).

But if we only focus on these benefits, we miss the way the institution of heterosexuality has warped conceptions of love and sex and wrapped them all up with marriage. Radical feminists have made the claims that romance is a tool of patriarchy, and hippies and queers have shown that love and sex are scripted by society and that there are many alternatives on the edges of our awareness.

These affective measures of heterosexual marriage, I believe, are what would keep marriage going, even if all economic/material benefits were removed from the institution (not that affective benefits aren't actually material).

Regarding straight people getting married later in live, I agree with you that part of it is that women are discovering that benefits don't have to be attached to marriage. But I also wonder if a lot of it is actually related to labor: the extended adolescence of youth into college and even beyond due to the "shortage" in jobs. Since marriage is traditionally equated with security, it makes more sense in the current economy to marry when one is in their late 20s.

At 12:12 PM , Anonymous Anonymous said...

Thinking about this discussion while mowing my backyard. I decided I had to interrupt the project to ask a couple of questions.

Because African Americans couldn't vote until 1965, should others who wanted to expand civil rights for all have refrained from voting the very folks who enacted the Voting Rights Act?

Because some people cannot vote today in our society, should I refrain from electing the folks who appoint the Supreme Court? And, should I refuse to vote for the first person of color who stands a good chance of being elected President of the United States?

When women could not vote, should men have refused to vote in solidarity?

Should I refuse to use my white and educational privilege to teach students the structure of oppression and ways of undoing it?

Or are there some thing we should refrain from but not others unless they are available to all. If we refrain from them all, how will there ever be the possibility of expanded possibilities for everyone, that is under our system? LAR

At 12:14 PM , Anonymous Galen said...

With the case of segregated businesses, for example, if 90% of whites refused to do business with white-only establishments, then arguably the white-only businesses would suffer and either change their policies or go out of business. If that is true, then it would seem that there is an obligation to refuse them your business. But can the same be said about marriage? I don't know much about the institution of marriage, but there doesn't seem to be an analogue for it going out of business. If 90% of heterosexual couples who would otherwise get married refused to do so under the current laws, would hetersexual-only marriage collapse? Or would be just have a lot fewer people getting married? I'm not asking rhetorically. But if it's the latter, then refusing to marry seems supererogatory at most.

At 1:13 PM , Blogger Joseph Orosco said...

Here is Dan Savage, from his latest column:

"I'm madly in love with my girlfriend. She's beautiful, intelligent, and progressive. Serious "the one" potential here. One problem: My girlfriend is adamant that she will not get married until everyone, regardless of sexual orientation, is free to marry. So where do I sign up to fight for equal marriage rights?

Adam In British Columbia

So... your girlfriend isn't going to get married until everyone can—including gay men in Saudi Arabia (where they cut the heads off gay men), lesbians in Jamaica (where they lynch lesbians), and homos in Russia (where fascist thugs beat homos). You might not want to set a wedding date anytime before, oh, June of the year 2608.

Please tell your girlfriend from me, a geigh, that we don't want straight people to stop getting married—divorced, yes; married, no—particularly straights up in Canada, where everyone already can get married. If she wants to do something constructive about equal marriage rights, tell her to make a large donation to, the group working to defeat an anti-gay-marriage amendment to California's state constitution that will be on the ballot this fall."

At 1:18 PM , Blogger Michael Faris said...

LAR, that's exactly why I was hesitant to assign a clear-cut answer of "no" to the question of "is it ethical to benefit from unearned privilege when others cannot." I don't think we can say it is unethical to benefit from unearned privilege.

Especially if this privilege is being used to help others, as in the examples you point out.

So, yes, I think there must be some way to decide which privileges are okay to benefit from, or perhaps, more accurately, when it is okay to benefit from certain privileges.

Galen, that's a great comparison. I don't think that marriage can "go out of business," but if 90% of straight folks refused to get married, the pressures to change the privileges related to marriage would change: there would be more clamoring for change in our health care system, for more change in our custody laws, for more change in our laws regarding who says if I live or die if I am on life support, more changes in visitation laws, and so forth.

Marriage wouldn't go away, probably. But there would be more clamoring for other changes.

At 1:21 PM , Blogger Michael Faris said...

Dan Savage: "WE"?

Dan Savage can take his homonormativity and shove it.

He no more speaks for all queers than I speak for all left-handed folks or people wearing Chuck Taylors.

At 4:32 PM , Blogger Dennis said...

Eric, Galen, Joseph, LAR and Michael: Thanks for the great discussion.

At 9:18 PM , Blogger Joseph Orosco said...

Dennis: Aren't I a great host?

At 3:13 PM , Anonymous Theresa said...

Regarding Galen's comments about marriage "going out of business," the wedding industry itself is a powerful money maker, starting with that expensive blood diamond engagement ring and ending with the Norweigan cruise honeymoon. So if large numbers of couples choose to skip marriage and a big wedding, there could be at least some sort of economic impact.
I also think that although one het couple refusing to get married is not going to dramatically alter our current laws and societal prejudice, taking a stand against tradition can still be shocking, and is certainly a great way to start a conversation about social justice. As a straight woman, I have discovered that one of the very first things people ask me when we meet for the first time (whether it's in an office setting or sitting in the tattoo parlor), is whether or not I'm married. When I tell them I've been in a committed relationship with a man for six years, the follow up question is "Well, ARE you getting married?" When I say no, there is often visible shock and confusion on the part of the other person, because as a straight woman I'm expected to be desperate for marriage. When I'm forced to explain my (our) decision, I often tell people that it's an unfair institution for many reasons, including the fact that it excludes so many people from participating. Whether or not the people listening are receptive to that is another story, but at least their prying questions about my marital status have now forced them to question their assumptions.

At 5:54 AM , Anonymous Anonymous said...

It's expected that the decision to allow gay marriage will be a great boost to the California economy:

At 1:21 PM , Anonymous galen said...

Theresa: But even if the wedding industry is a moneymaker, it has no control over marriage laws. While segregated businesses are free to desegregate their own business in order to increase customers, bridal shops, e.g., can't just change marriage laws in order to bring customers back in. Faris's comment seems correct: if people were refusing to marry under current laws, presumably they would be doing things like voting as well. But there is no market solution to marriage as there could have been with segregation.


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