From Identity to Politics: Same-Sex Marriages in the United States
Same-sex marriage advocates, in the recent past, have intensified their efforts to achieve legal recognition, consequently pushing their way into mainstream legal and political debates. Some have even argued that same sex-marriage politics greatly influenced, if not determined, the outcome of the 2004 presidential election. In my opinion, this is an overstatement. However, I acknowledge that the issue of gay-marriages has gained traction in ways that most of us did not anticipate. The state of Connecticut, Washington, Maryland, New Hampshire, Maine, Lowa, and the state of Vermont have already enacted same-sex couple Civil Union laws. Both same and different sex couples are allowed to marry in the Commonwealth of Massachusetts. In addition, the last few years have seen trial courts ruling in favor of same-sex couples in California and New York, and the two states voting to legalize same-sex marriages in this year’s elections.
Further abroad, Spain has joined fellow Rhine Delta EU members in allowing same-sex marriages while the South African Constitution dictates that same-sex marriages should be treated equal to different sex marriages (Cahill, and Tobias 14).
On the other hand, in California, Governor Schwarzenegger vetoed same-sex marriages while constitutional challenges to marriage laws have been rejected in Arizona and Indiana (Maisel and Fingerhut 251). Forty two states have also limited the institution of marriage to one man and one woman only through the enactment of the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) in 2005.
At the moment, this issue, like many other American political issues, is highly polarized, and it is rarely garnering any moderate position. Am afraid that, by the time you finish reading this essay, this dynamic political, legal and moral issue may have shifted.
In her book on tolerance, political scientist Wendy Brown argues that it is a liberal conceit to be tolerated. According Brown, tolerance as a liberal conceit entails a set of dilemmas which can offer an understanding of the complexities of same-sex marriage politics. Tolerance within liberalism will only work if that thing about you that is to be tolerated remains individualized and private—meaning, as long as the issue does not make a political claim. This is exactly what the demand for acknowledgement of same-sex marriage is all about—a prerogative against the political, though expressed in the legal vernacular of rights (Fingerhut, Riggle and Rostosky 230). Same-sex marriage advocates have shifted from the idea that sex should be private and individualized to a public argument of collective a nature. They want to be incorporated into “We the People”. Some may ask, what is wrong with that? Well, for starters inclusion in “We the People” presumes, not necessarily, but in this specific movement, a particular kind of citizen-subject who seeks to be politically legible by and through a certain form of intimate affiliation. These citizen-subjects, for signing up this form of enfranchisement, will, of course, be called upon to enact peculiar set of public performances. These performances may include, lining up in pairs outside City Hall since the Mayor reckons the marriage registry open to homo business, posing homo families before the media, placing wedding announcements in the New York Times, et cetera. I must confess unease with these ideas as a repudiation of our perversion. This type of enfranchisement deviates dangerously towards some form of franchise. Honestly, the creation of gay publics outside City Hall, on the six o’clock news, and on the pages of the New York Times does not make me very comfortable.
In an interview with ABC News earlier this year on May 9th, Presiddent Barrack Obama announced his support for same-sex marriages. He also stated that individual states should have the final resolution on whether to recognize same-sex marriages or not. This made Obama the first American President to declare support for gay marriages while in office. However, President Obama’s stand on same-sex marriages has changed throughout his political career. In 1996, while campaigning for State Senate, Obama supported same sex marriages. However, on the Senate floor, in June 2006, Senator Obama said that marriage should be between one man and one woman.
Many other high-profile commentators and politician have also aired their opinions on same-sex marriages. In 2008, the then Vice President, Sarah Palin stated that she marriage should be between one man and one woman only. Rachael Maddow, the MSNBC commentator, in August 2010, expressed her frustration with the Obama administration’s position on Gay marriages. Former Speaker of the House of Representatives, Newt Gingrich also issued a statement in the same year strongly opposing same-sex marriages.
Finally, I really do not think that same-sex marriage won the 2004 Presidential election for George Bush. Al it did was distract the peoples’ attention from other issues of much greater concern like Guantanamo Bay, war in Iraq, Abu Ghraib, to name but a few. Issues such as militarization of foreign policy, state security and war on terror were cut off by the “national debate” on morals. I lament at how the gay and lesbian community rather passively allows the debate on same-sex marriage be used as a distraction instead of linking up to larger political issues. At this time of United States nationalism and imperialism, it is really troubling that a former radical movement of outlaws is succumbing entirely and quickly to what former New Jersey Governor McGreevy called “Gay Americana”.
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