May 17, 2008

Conservative Queer Theorists Against Gay Marriage: Bad Acronym, Good Idea

In the seventies, when the activist Left was calling marriage a form of soft slavery and rallying behind no-fault divorce, conservatives very cannily played feminism against itself, making the argument that weakening marriage would be bad for women.  (It was.)  As gay marriage becomes more and more of a live option, conservatives can, I think, get analogous mileage out of using queer theory in the argument against gay marriage.

Queer theorists have spent decades? worth of time and ink defending the idea that homosexuality is its own kind of love with its own mythology, rules, virtues and pitfalls, rather than a defective form of heterosexual love, a variation on the natural and normal.  In the fight for the language of difference over the language of defect, any attempt to apply the deeply gendered terms of marriage to homosexuality would be a step backwards. 

When erotic metaphors pop up in the Western canon, they aren?t always gendered?I?m thinking in particular of the Greek idea of pedagogy, Romantic analogies between erotic desire and artistic appreciation, and even Freudian Eros and Thanatos.  On the other hand, marriage metaphors, from Israel-as-adulterous-bride in the Old Testament to the Christian motif of Christ-as-bridegroom, have always depended on one party being the husband and one being the wife.  (This doesn’t mean that the tradition of marriage couldn’t become ungendered, only that it would be radically revolutionary to do so; there are separate arguments for why such a development would be a bad idea, including but not limited to the fact that making romantic love’s definitive institution “unisex” would make an exclusive preference for men seem about as meaningful an exclusive preference for blondes.)

Committed homosexual relationships will always exist?if there?s one thing conservatives can learn from people like John Boswell and George Chauncey, it?s that the gay community will never disappear; if there’s another, it’s that even those of us who hold to orthodox Christian views on the matter of homosexuality shouldn’t necessarily want it to?but trying to shoehorn these relationships into one of the most heteronormative institutions ever invented would only be a setback for anyone who prefers to think of homosexuality as a perfect version of itself rather than an imperfect version of something else.

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