In less than two months from now I’ll be married. We’re talking a beautiful lakeside ceremony of our design, leaving the ceremony by horse-drawn carriage, the whole bit. It’s a romantic once-in-a-lifer and I’m pretty damn excited about it. Almost everyone I’ve told about it has not only offered their sincere congratulation, but seemed genuinely happy for my fiancé and I. Until today, when was verbally assaulted by the part-time professor I share my office with. Was I aware of my privilege to marry? Did I not realize that I was taking advantage of a privilege denied to others like herself and her lesbian partner? How could I live with myself, perpetrating the system of oppression by the implicit support getting married gives it?!?
She was very bitter and frustrated and blamed me for throwing my marriagability right in her face. It was shocking, really. Sometimes when people attack you at what seems like a strange time and place, you get stunned and confused and unsure of anything you believe. I really didn’t know what to say. Being married just seemed like such a great thing to me. Me, who had been at the winning and losing end of open-relationships. Me, who had seriously considered the prospect of group marriage. Me, overly-influenced by optimism about freedom, and me who would so often point out the limitations of marital commitment. Me, committed, getting married, thinking it’s the best think ever to do with my life
But she wanted to know how I “dared”!
And I didn’t quite understand the question. I always thought it was a matter of whether or how I wanted. Was this not a sign of my privilege? Was I blinded by the easiness of it all – the way living a heterosexual life was something I never had to struggle for?
I’m probably on the outer spectrum of liberalism in that I do sincerely believe that marriage should be extended to any consenting adult group – including any kind of multi-person marriage, incestual relationships, and of course something as innocent as a gay or lesbian couple. Still, I had never given the matter of denying myself marriage a single thought until now.
After 30 minutes of arguing (embittered on her part, defensive and confused on mine) I couldn’t take anymore and left. A few minutes later I came back to do what my naturally conflict-avoiding ass rarely does, which is stand up for myself. I told her that her frustration and bitterness were understandable, but that I didn’t deserve to be at the receiving end of their discharge. After all, not only was I on her side – I was an advocate for the right of gay marriage – I had pressed the issue in many conversation, including a feature on this website. Her response was that as far as she was concerned, I completely deserved every bit of negativity I was receiving since I was working to perpetuate the system that was oppressing her. As far as she was concerned, I wasn’t on her side at all. I was still part of the problem.
Now, personally, trying to beat up on someone in order to get them to change their mind, just isn’t my style. Worse yet, it seems to me just about the worst way to bring them over to your side – not to mention to get them to fight for you… But whether or not this was one of them, some situations are so desperate that they call for desperate measures. And in this case, though I left pissed, I also left thinking about an issue I’ve never considered before – an issue in a long line of questions what the privileged owe those who lack these privileges.
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I take it that there are two reasons why someone would think that people who believe that gays and lesbians are being unjustly denied marriage, should themselves abstain from marriage or renounce their existing one.
I can see it as a practical tactic where publicly denouncing marriage affectively convinces the rest of the country that the violation against queers should be taken more seriously than it currently is – seriously enough to the point where marriage becomes available to all. At that point, not only will queers be able to marry – the rest of us who have meanwhile put off or renounced our marriage, can finally return to our normally-planned nuptials.
Good luck with that. Everything is, afterall, literally possible. Personally, I’d place more practical trust in the progressive consciousness of a nation who only 50 years ago would force shock therapy on homosexuals, only 30 years ago removed homosexuality from the DSM as a psychological disease, and now is actually discussing about marriage for queers – something that would have been unthinkable even in the days of homo-friendly Grecians.
And frankly, it also just seems a bit too much to ask someone to do. The chances for social change here are extremely low, while the chances of bringing harm to my life are very high. Would it change anything if a growing tide of participants in this protest swept the blue states? The chances would rise. Would it be wrong for me to selfishly weaken it then? What if the movement was nationwide? What then? Maybe it would change things. I’m not really sure.
What I do know is that for some people that’s just not what it’s all about. For some, the demand that we sacrifice for the sake of real justice is simply not the kind of thing that can ask too much of us. Justice demands what it demands, not necessarily what’s convenient for us.
This is the line my assailant was pushing The idea is that it’s simply wrong for someone to accept a privilege granted to them like the capacity to marry, if that privilege is not extended to all who deserve it. She didn’t spell out exactly how it would work, but merely pressed the intuition that there’s something wrong with taking advantage of a privilege you have done nothing to deserve. A privilege you’re given merely as a matter of cultural prejudice, or the blind luck of birth.
Justice is supposed to bring good and ill to those who deserve it. This undeserved randomness seems to fly in the face of Justice. And we see it everywhere …
The biggest indicator of one’s likelihood of success in college in the United States is her parent’s socioeconomic status. The biggest contributor to high SAT scores is whether or not your parents paid for an expensive training course for you. There’s a privilege based on the combination of luck of birth and cultural convention – a privilege you might think is well misplaced. Should you forgo your privileged capacity to take prep classes in public protest, knowing it may seriously harm your future prospects? Must you?
The more beautiful your society considers you, the more likely you are to succeed in virtually any aspect of life. It’s been shown that even parents languish much more love and attention on their more beautiful children. There’s a privilege based on the combination of luck of birth and cultural convention – a privilege you might think is misplaced. Should you make yourself plainer? Dress purposely (and publicly) very badly? Scar yourself in public protest? Must you?
You’re born white in a society which allows only your ethnic group to own property, restricting others. For example, Jews weren’t allowed to own property for a long time in Europe and Blacks not only couldn’t own property, but were explicitly allowed to be considered as property in the U.S. It’s hard to imagine anyone today that thinks there gross injustice wasn’t going on here. Here’s a privilege as obviously based on the combination of luck of birth and cultural convention as anything. It’s no more, and I’m not sure if it’s any less, of an unfair privilege than the other – never mind the intense difference of degree. Now nevermind the easy question of whether as a slaveowner one would have to free all her slaves in face of the injustice. That’s too easy. That’s not enough. Should she go further and give up all of her own property in public protest of his unfair privilege? Must she?
However you may feel about the multi-dimensionally-unfair world we live in, and what it is that we’re required to do about it’s injustices (and, as always, I want to know how it is that you do feel about it, so tell me below), I’m ecstatic about July 17, 2005 and wish it on anyone, anywhere, whose ever been in love and wanted to take it to the next contractual level.
I’m not personally convinced that there’s anything wrong with marrying the woman I love, but even if there was. Even if heterosexual marriage, at a time of social conscious-raising, was wrong. Well, paraphrasing Barry White, if getting married is wrong, I don’t want to be right.