Assimilation or liberation?

Submitted by Matthew on 21 March, 2012 - 9:31

The government has launched a consultation on marriage reforms, which would allow gay couples in England and Wales to enter into civil marriage.

We have already witnessed an unrestrained fit of homophobia from many religious leaders and anti-gay groups, including the Coalition for Marriage. They say same-sex couples may choose to have a civil partnership but no one has the right to redefine marriage for “the rest of us”— presumably those who support the existing patriarchal concepts of marriage and sexuality.

The key proposals of the consultation are:

• to enable same-sex couples to have a civil marriage (in a registry office or approved premises);

• to make no changes to religious marriages which will continue to be legally possible only between a man and a woman;

• to retain civil partnerships for same-sex couples and allow couples already in a civil partnership to convert this into a marriage.

• civil partnership registrations on religious premises will continue on a voluntary basis for faith groups and with no religious content;

• individuals will, for the first time, be able to change their gender without having to end their marriage.

The current furore over gay marriage in the UK and the US raises questions about the gay assimilationist politics behind the current pursuit of same-sex marriage.

It also raises questions about the gay rights movement’s often passive tolerance of homophobic hate speech delivered under the pretext of religious expression and free speech.

In January Pope Benedict XVI kicked off the current spate of gay bashing with his apocalyptic warning that gay marriage is one of several threats to the traditional family unit and undermines the future of humanity itself.

The archbishop of Canterbury, Dr Rowan Williams, has argued that the law should not be used as a tool to bring about social change.

The former archbishop, Lord Carey, has stated that gay marriage would be “cultural vandalism”.

But homophobic rant of the month came from the head of the Scottish Catholic Church, Cardinal O’Brien, who wrote in the Sunday Telegraph that marriage equality would represent a “grotesque subversion of a universally accepted human right”. He likened equal marriage rights to the reintroduction of slavery.

Ben Summerskill, chief executive of Stonewall argued that gay marriage is about the freedom of a small group of people to be treated in exactly the same way as everyone else.

But do the current proposals go far enough? Will the prevailing gay assimilationist politics behind the push towards gay marriage unwittingly result in the perpetuation of the unequal, patriarchal institution of marriage?

Is the Tory party using the issue to divert attention away from the economic crisis, public spending cuts and attacks on the NHS, and hoping to make itself “acceptable to metropolitan voters”, to quote Conservative MP Francis Maude?

Shannon Gilreath, Women’s and Gender Studies Professor at Wake Forest University School of Law in North Carolina, reminds us that in the early years of gay liberation, revolution was about de-stabilising the nuclear family unit and liberating sexuality.

Gilreath argues that the gay liberation movement once aspired to fundamentally change the existing social system.

Now, however, it appears to be “abandoning the communitarian conception of family in favour of a heterosexualised, privatised, monogamous family model”.

She says, “it is appealing to believe that if gays get married then millennia of patriarchal/heteroarchal customs will somehow be reversed. There is no data to support this and ‘equality’ within this model can only perpetuate the model itself”.

The consultations will last for twelve weeks and the opportunity to radically change the structure of marriage once and for all will not come about again soon.

Meantime, it does appear that the revolutionary principles of queer liberation are being worryingly overlooked in favour of gay assimilation ideology. All at a pivotal moment in LGBT history.

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