Love and Marriage
I just registered my intent to marry my partner in the UK, coincidently around the time when the state I used to live in, North Carolina, banned same sex marriage in the state via Amendment One. In addition, I’m attending the wedding this weekend of two good friends who are poly. I’m reminded of how lucky I am not only to be able to legally marry in this country, and thus get the opportunity to stay in the UK, but I’m also reminded of why all of the “Congratulations!” given to me because of my marriage makes me hesitant to be pleased.
One might assume looking at me that my fervour for marriage is gone because I’m poly; because if I can’t marry all of my partners than I won’t be happy. But the truth is, I don’t want to marry ANY of my partners. I have zero interest in the institution of marriage.
I want to stay with my partner and stay in the UK. It’s not as though we aren’t committed to each other, don’t want to stay together, or aren’t serious about each other; but neither of us have ever had a particular drive to be officially married. While my partner may have his own reasons, I find, ironically enough, the same people who are defending “the sanctity of marriage” so harshly in my old North Carolina home have completely ruined it as a symbol for me.
My mother is a lesbian. She was forced to marry her babysitter in North Carolina when she was 16 in a good old fashioned, sacrosanct heterosexual marriage. Why was she forced? Well, it was an extenuation of power and control from her sexually, physically, mentally, and emotionally abusive stepfather. Because, as funny as everyone finds referring to incest when it comes to the Southern states of America, he couldn’t ACTUALLY marry my mother to control her – so he chose the next best thing instead.
Because of the great state laws in Virginia, when I was born, her babysitter was put on my birth certificate as my father (whenever a woman’s married in Virginia, the man she’s married to is always listed as the father whenever she has a child). Her babysitter would divorce her later a year after I was born citing one year’s separation so he could marry someone else. After constant bullying and teasing from my half siblings, my parents relented and got married so I could have my father’s name. My mother is a lesbian and my father was abusive. They got married because a name change for me was $300, whereas the holy sacrament of marriage was just $30, and it was the only thing we could afford.
My mother would luckily later break from a pattern of male abusers and find someone who didn’t treat her like crap. Only, she couldn’t marry that person because they were a “same sex couple”. They got married in San Francisco, only to have their marriage license revoked and a refund check for the cost of the marriage sent. Since then her partner, my stepfather, has transitioned and identifies as “male”. And now, because he’s been able to change the gender marker on his birth certificate (something you can’t do in all US states), they are legally married and always will be – so long as no one finds out that he’s trans*, that is, and decides to extend their “protection” of marriage.
Watching people compare my mother marrying someone who finally treated her decently to marrying a dog, or to the incest she actually suffered that is constantly joked about, poked fun, and laughed at by white liberals who think that making fun of poor ignorant Southern racists makes them better – well, that’s been pretty infuriating. And at this point, I feel like asking to be married to all of my partners would only cause conservative jerks to do the “I told you so” dance, claiming that legalising my mother’s marriage has now gone down the slippery slope of letting me marry all of my partners.
I’ve often heard from other queer people that marriage equality shouldn’t be our focus, and I do agree. The job discrimination my mother faced, that meant she was the first to be let go in a staffing cut from a boss who called her a “dyke”, hurt us a lot more as a family than the marriage in San Francisco benefitted us. But for us marriage equality has been a symbol of our wider struggles. And it’s caused me to feel like “marriage”, when it exists as a bastion of a heterosexist society that means that my mother can marry an extension of her rapist stepfather, but not her partner, means absolutely nothing.
Marriage no longer holds any meaning for me as a symbol and sign of love. It’s a government contract; one that I can only be a part of if I choose to identify as female, and that I only have the privilege of getting because my partner identifies as male. Even as Barack Obama says he supports same sex marriage because he’s seen a lot of long term monogamous same sex couples, I’m reminded that straight marriages don’t get scrutinised. Straight people don’t have to love each other, they don’t have to be monogamous, they don’t even have to know each other to be married in most Western societies. But same sex couples are only seen as legitimate if they’ve been together for years. When I registered to marry my partner, no one asked us if we were in love, and it didn’t seem that different than applying for an ID.
It is ironic that the very people so concerned about queers destroying the institution of marriage have destroyed the institution for this queer. While I am grateful for people’s well wishes on my upcoming marriage, and for their general happiness that I have a partner I’m willing to commit to, marriage will never represent anything other than an arbitrary government definition – that in this case means I never have to go back to a place like North Carolina, where my mother’s marriage to my abusive father or her babysitter is “holy”, and her current marriage of 10 years to my stepfather may not be. So, keep up the good work, “defenders” of marriage.
Because of the sensitive nature of this piece, we have agreed with the request of the author and published it anonymously.