Is Marriage Equality Radical Enough? Judith Butler on Same Sex Marriage, Polyamory, and the State
New Hampshire becomes the sixth state to legalize same sex marriage today. The New York Times calls it another step in "mainstream Amerca" coming to "accept" the idea of marriage equality.
Judith Butler, in this new interview in The Monthly Review, talks about the conservative trend behind the marriage equality movement. She worries about it having the effect of normalizing certain kinds of relationship configurations, namely two individuals in a special legal/romantic bond, while making other kinds of romantic bonds seem perverse or unnatural. Moreover, she also considers that the marriage equality movement reinforces the idea that recognition by the state should be something that our affective relationships require for validation. Here's an except from a really good read:
Butler :"Of course, if marriage exists, then homosexual marriage should also exist; marriage should be extended to all couples irrespective of their sexual orientation; if sexual orientation is an impediment, then marriage is discriminatory. For my part, I don't understand why it should be limited to two people, this appears arbitrary to me and might potentially be discriminatory; but I know this point of view is not very popular. However, there are forms of sexual organisation that do not imply monogamy, and types of relationship that do not imply marriage or the desire for legal recognition -- even if they do seek cultural acceptance. There are also communities made up of lovers, ex-lovers and friends who look after the children, communities that constitute complex kinship networks that do not fit the conjugal pattern.
I agree that the right to homosexual marriage runs the risk of producing a conservative effect, of making marriage an act of normalisation, and thereby presenting other very important forms of intimacy and kinship as abnormal or even pathological. But the question is: politically, what do we do with this? I would say that every campaign in favour of homosexual marriage ought also to be in favour of alternative families, the alternative systems of kinship and personal association. We need a movement that does not win rights for some people at the expense of others. And imagining this movement is not easy.
The demand for recognition by the state should go hand in hand with a critical questioning: what do we need the state for? Although there are times that we need it for some kinds of protection (immigration, property, or children), should we allow it to define our relationships? There are forms of relation that we value and that cannot be recognised by the state, where the recognition of civil society or the community is enough. We need a movement that remains critical, that formulates these questions and keeps them open."