It’s no secret that one major undercurrent of the same-sex marriage movement is the desire to change the marriage culture—family and childrearing norms, for instance—not simply to realize the practical benefits of marriage. But once a redefined marriage culture is in place, one wonders whether marriage will continue to matter at all to those who at one time touted it as the panacea for same-sex woes.
In yesterday’s Times, Columbia Law School professor Katherine M. Franke opined that, while some gay couples may wish to get on board with marriage, others don’t see the “one-size-fits-all rules of marriage” as the ideal setup for the kinds of arrangements some same-sex relationships demand. She goes on,
Here’s why I’m worried: Winning the right to marry is one thing; being forced to marry is quite another. How’s that? If the rollout of marriage equality in other states, like Massachusetts, is any guide, lesbian and gay people who have obtained health and other benefits for their domestic partners will be required by both public and private employers to marry their partners in order to keep those rights. In other words, “winning” the right to marry may mean “losing” the rights we have now as domestic partners, as we’ll be folded into the all-or-nothing world of marriage.
After “winning the right to marry,” Franke argues, couples uninterested in marriage risk being “forced to marry” in order to keep their domestic partnership rights. She wonders further why couples should have to seek marriage at all if they seek mainly to have their relationships “recognized and valued.”
The rest of Franke’s column is still further bewildering. After suggesting that what matters most is to have one’s relationship recognized and valued by civil authorities, she then complains of inadequate domestic partner benefits for cohabitors, only to admit that gay cohabitors have an easier time with them than heterosexuals, and that partnership arrangements are just as beneficial as marriage, but without marriage’s political baggage.
Personally opposed to the idea of getting married, Franke nonetheless betrays the fact that the idea of same-sex marriage has not been sufficiently thought out in the public square. Franke’s running dialectic on marriage seems to go something like this:
“We need same-sex marriage to enshrine government affirmation of gay relationships, and to change the marriage culture to better suit same-sex relationships. But what we really want is health-care and economic benefits, which only marriage can bring. Then again, civil partnerships can give us all those benefits anyway, without the bother of marriage. Not all of us like the idea of marriage, anyway. On second thought, those of us uninterested in marriage now feel forced to marry to retain these benefits. But we don’t want to marry; we just want same-sex marriage to be available. Then again, the availability of same-sex marriage makes us feel like second-class citizens by creating a preferential status for married gays.”
Presumably, Franke sees marriage as merely conventional, and as such, subject to radical change or reformation when desired. But it’s hard not to notice her keen perception that, despite changes in convention accomplished by redefining marriage, the institution retains a character that can’t be made to fit those who don’t buy, in her words, its “one-size fits all,” irreformably clear blueprint.