Tuesday 11 September 2012

Policing the queer

                                               Now then, what's all this about...?

One of the charges that's often made against opposition to same sex 'marriage' is that its claim that introducing same sex 'marriage' will lead to polygamy, marriages with animals etc is obviously absurd. There are two usual thoughts on the pro-natural marriage side: first, that -as a matter of fact- changes in marriage law will result in such cases; secondly, that -as a matter of logic- if you accept same sex 'marriage', as a matter of logical consistency, you ought to accept the institutionalization of these other relationships as well.

Putting these arguments aside, let's look at it from another perspective. The normal pro-same sex 'marriage' side case is based on two issues: fairness and social acceptance. The fairness argument is, roughly, that if you have a good such as marriage, it is unfair to restrict it to one group (heterosexuals) and deny it to another (homosexuals). The social acceptance argument is by giving a persecuted group (homosexuals) access to a high status institution such as marriage, the acceptance of that group will be increased with a corresponding decrease in negative attitudes to that group ('homophobia'.) Let's run with those two arguments a little.

Whilst in Scotland, most of the same sex position is articulated under a LGBT banner (Lesbian, gay, bisexual and trans), outwith Scotland, I've noticed a growing tendency to use LGBTQ (ie add queer). (See Wikipedia for an analysis of this alphabetical soup.) Within the LGBT label whilst arguably LG and T are served by the same sex 'marriage' agenda, it's not clear how bisexuals are. When you add 'queer', it suddenly becomes very odd indeed: how do you cater for a group that is, by definition, struggling against easy categorization?

For some queer-identified people, part of the point of the term "queer" is that it simultaneously builds up and tears down boundaries of identity. For instance, among genderqueer people, who do not solidly identify with one particular gender, once solid gender roles have been torn down, it becomes difficult to situate sexual identity. For some people, the non-specificity of the term is liberating. Queerness becomes a way to simultaneously make a political move against heteronormativity while simultaneously refusing to engage in traditional essentialist identity politics
(See Wikipedia.)

Returning to the two pro-same sex 'marriage' arguments -fairness and social acceptance- the introduction of same sex 'marriage' would clearly not remove the unfairness to at least two other groups in the LGBTQ agenda: homosexual and heterosexual couples would be fairly treated, but bisexuals and the queer wouldn't. (Indeed, by altering the nature of marriage from a child rearing institution to a simple celebration of love, the arbitrariness of the exclusion of the bisexual and the queer becomes sharper.) Moreover, on the social acceptance argument, discrimination against the bisexual and the queer would be increased: homo-normativity would be simply added to hetero-normativity as an adverse social pressure on the bisexual and queer:

The author Robyn Ochs writes about the 'double discrimination' bisexual people can face from both heterosexual and lesbian/gay communities. Many surveys have found that bisexual people suffer from higher rates of mental health problems than lesbians and gay men, who in turn have higher rates than the population as a whole. This is often linked to biphobia, bisexual invisibility, low levels of support and acceptance, and the 'double discrimination' experienced by bisexual people.


So on the grounds of fairness and social acceptance, the introduction of same sex 'marriage' would be, at best, an incomplete reform and at worst a positive increase of discrimination against minorities.

Now I know that same sex 'marriage' proponents reading this are simply going to regard this post as an act of bad faith on the part of a loony Catholic: I am using arguments simply to justify my own homophobic attitude to same sex 'marriage'. Two responses:

1) My own view is that the essentialist treatment of homosexuality as a 'third sex' is utterly mistaken, whether you are starting  from a Catholic or an entirely secular viewpoint. From a Catholic point of view, I think we should be essentialist about biological sex (ie we are essentially men and women) and broadly non-essentialist about how we perform those sexes (ie what we do as men and women is a matter of free, responsible, moral agency). From a secular viewpoint, I think you should either agree in principle with that Catholic viewpoint I've sketched (whatever detailed conclusions you then draw from it), or go the whole queer theory hog and just be non-essentialist about biological sex as well. Of course, that's much more to be said here, but my simple point for the moment is this: that from whatever perspective I come at the same sex 'marriage' argument, secular or Catholic, I fail to see it as anything other than a misguided attempt to police human sexuality in an entirely foolish way. (Of course I may be wrong about that, but I am at least wrong in good faith.)

2) Regardless of my own reasons for adducing them, the arguments are sound. I would conclude from them that same sex 'marriage' should not be introduced. Proponents of same sex 'marriage' logically should find themselves on the horns of a dilemma. Either they should agree with me that same sex 'marriage' should not be introduced (hoorah!); or they should regard further reform of marriage legislation as essential (in which case they should admit the force of the pro-natural marriage side claims to a slippery slope).


  1. I'm afraid I'm having difficulty following your argument.

    You assert that bisexuals and queers will not benefit from what you call "the same-sex 'marriage' agenda". In fact you seem to claim that they would be excluded by the proposed reform to marriage law. I can't see how this is the case.

    The legislation the Scottish Government will consider will have the effect that there will no longer be a requirement that to get married the couple must consist of a man and a woman. Presumably, there will be no 'gender requirement' to get married. Any two adults will be able to get married, it will not matter that they happen to be attracted to both men and women or they hold non-mainstream views about gender.

    How then would this exclude bisexuals and queers from marriage and thus lead to greater discrimination? You state in your article that marriage would be 'simple celebration of love'. In what way would that exclude bisexuals and queers?

    If the Scottish government were to propose that only homosexuals and heterosexuals can get married then you might have a point. However, nobody is advocating such a position, presumably on the grounds that it is ridiculous.

    I appreciate that you try to make reasoned arguments in a debate where they are sadly often lacking. However, it appears to me that you argument in this case is fundamentally flawed.

    1. The case for ssm is based on the claim that there is a group (homosexuals) who have a need/desire to enter into a particular type of relationship which should thus be institutionalized.

      Analogously, there are other groups -the queer and the bisexual- which have needs/desires to enter into particular types of relationship which should thus be institutionalized.

      Now, your claim is that the desire/need of the queer and the bisexual is met by ssm. That's clearly false in the case of the queer. It is also false in the case of those bisexuals whose bisexuality is not fulfilled by sequential relationships. Therefore, ssm does not fulfil the role for bisexuals and the queer that it fulfils for homosexuals. Given that the ssm argument is usually based on equal treatment for minorities, it follows that the existence of a minority for whom ssm either doesn't meet their needs or actually worsens their position is an objection to ssm.

      Your points a) that if people don't want to get married they don't have to and b) the state of nu-marriage will allow any two individuals to get married are analogous to the one currently made by the natural marriage side that homosexuals are as free to marry the opposite sex as anyone else. That argument is normally rejected by ssm proponents as ridiculous, presumably on the grounds that this isn't what homosexuals want: they want to marry the same sex. Why doesn't this hold for (eg) the queer: nu-marriage isn't fair for them because this isn't what they want?

      To bring this back to earth, the drive for providing an institution that fits a greater variety of needs is precisely that of (eg) Peter Tatchell's Civil Commitment Pact (http://www.petertatchell.net/lgbt_rights/partnerships/same_sex_marriage_a_human_right.htm).

  2. Well, in the old-fashioned sense of the word, that theory is indeed queer.