Beyond the Access Narrative: Marriage Politics, Austerity, and Surveillance
Tamara K. Nopper, The Feminist Wire, May 19, 2015
“According to the dominant narrative, marriage is a social right that minority groups have been prevented from accessing, thus limiting their full citizenship. Having the legal right to marry, then, is proof of citizenship and social inclusion. In this case, citizenship through marriage entails not only the legal recognition of one’s relationship and commitment to another individual (and only an individual given the emphasis on monogamy in U.S. marriage policy), but also the social rewards associated with spousal ties, such as property rights, benefits, child custody rights, medical decisions, etc. While true there are many such “rewards” only recognized in the case of legally married couples, the belief that marriage is a coveted right that minorities have been excluded from accessing due to their status as social “others” underpins the push for gay marriage, a political agenda that emerged only fairly recently in the 1990s and notably in the “post-Civil Rights era.” Embedded in this access narrative is the assumption that the government, federal and local, does not want minorities to be married; thus minorities being granted the right to marry supposedly means that the state has evolved in terms of its gender and sexuality politics and is working to progressively dismantle the social hierarchy rather than enforce it. The narrative also promotes the belief that once married, it gets better: specifically, after the marriage barrier is broken the government is presumably no longer “in your bedroom” or regulating your relationship beyond protecting the aforementioned rights and benefits institutionally available to married couples. In sum, it’s often assumed that the government’s only repressive role in this situation is preventing people from getting married.
“These assumptions are inaccurate.”