The Good Society 14.1-2 (2005) 7-10
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Questing for Heart in a Heartless World:
On the Question of Same Sex Marriage
In a legislative move designed to "protect the freedom to marry," the U.S. Congress and supporters publicly re-affirmed the inherent heterosexuality of the institution of marriage. In 2003 the Senate held hearings on a proposed constitutional amendment to ban "same-sex marriage." At the state and local level of politics, activist groups, courts, and elected officials are ensconced in the struggle over whether to extend the rights effected in conferring the legal status of marriage to those not involved in heterosexual-sexual relationships. From Taiwan to Canada, same sex marital unions have become quite the item. To support the legal institution of marriage as we know it is, at the very least, to support discrimination against those not heterosexually inclined. Given this view of matters, one would think any progressive person, let alone any queer or queer ally, would be out knocking on doors to support same sex marriage legislation. Yet this is not the case. It seems absurd that queers wouldn't unanimously take up the clear-cut issue of discrimination presented by the expressly exclusionary institution of marriage.
You may not have seen me out there knocking on doors, and there is actually a reason for this. I do not support legislation limiting marriage rights to cross-gendered partners and I simply will not go on record against efforts for so called "same-sex" marriage. Even so, I'm not out there as a spokesperson for same-sex marriage either. The "right to marry" as a liberating cause is far more complex than current politics suggests. My issue is not with the "right" to marriage as such; it is with marriage itself.
Many are familiar with Marx's line about religion being the opiate of the people. But, abstracted out of its context as it usually is, the line loses its deeper and more complex meaning. The full sentence reads: "Religion is the sigh of the oppressed creature, the sentiment of a heartless world, and the soul of soulless conditions. It is the opium of the people."(Tucker, 54) My argument draws on Marx's insight here, but it's not really about religion. Marx is referring to the bourgeois appropriation of institutions and ideologies extant prior to capitalism rendered instrumental no longer to the Ancien Regime of lords and noblemen, but now to a mercantilist system of businessmen. Marx wrote about religion as mirroring the alienated relations capitalism effects in politics through the state and in economics through labor and value. Religion is rendered private, but suffers in terms of ideology and alienation nonetheless for its occupying also a supposedly more ephemeral sphere. Marx generally understood family in a similar fashion, and here I'll explain my stance on same-sex marriage with a discussion of the problematics of marriage as the primary institution and ideology expressing capitalist forms of relation between adults in families.
Gramsci demonstrates how what is generally thought of as "common sense" is actually the ideology of the ruling elite. A ruling economic class is always accompanied by a political system and webs of infrastructural institutions designed to serve its interests. Although capitalists are quite fond of outright force, in the mind of the masses these are masked through the power of ideology. The estrangement of individuals from their work, from the products of their labors, from each other, nature, and their own and each others' humanity is both product and producer of capitalist forms of relation. Alienation, our objectification and our objectification of each other, is both required by and requires attending to in the not-so-seamless web of capitalism.
Although less frequently discussed than religion in these terms, marriage is no a less public, ideologically inflected, institution co-creating, bolstering, and protecting the political apparatus of the bourgeois state and the economic base of labor and the means of production than are legally sanctioned religious activities and...