Issue:  Vol. 48 / No. 3 / 18 January 2018
 

Questioning marriage equality

Out There


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In his cover story in the January issue of Harper's magazine entitled "The Future of Queer – a manifesto," queer essayist/novelist Fenton Johnson argues that legalized gay marriage in the US has damaged our gay culture. It's a somewhat counterintuitive claim, so let's unpack it a bit.

Johnson maintains that extending marital rights to same-sex couples is "a landmark civil rights victory but a subcultural defeat." He sees it as a political setback, since the "backlash from the marriage victory has delayed indefinitely the passage of federal employment and housing protections for LGBT people, protections long supported by a majority of voters." But mostly the essay attempts to defend non-heteronormative queer culture from what Johnson sees as creeping conventionality.

He is leery of "the predominance and glorification of Fortress Marriage as the norm: the married couple whose friends are all couples, who divide the world into inside and outside, who practice an intense, couple-centered version of collective narcissism." This is a bit harsh, but it must be said that before we achieved marriage equality, queer people had to make up our own rules for committed relationships, and they all didn't look like Ozzie & Harriet.

Johnson is not so much anti-marriage as he is trying to make a larger point, which is distilled in the essay's pull-quotes: "What defines queer is not what one does in bed, but one's stance toward the ancien regime, the status quo," and, "The evolution from ACT UP to state-sanctioned marriage is precisely analogous to gentrification." By this he means: "So long as we, the outliers, insisted that we had something to offer, that our world, where we formed enduring relationships outside the tax code and the sanction of church and state, where we created and took care of families of lovers and friends and strangers alike – so long as we insisted that this world was richer, more sustainable, more loving in so many ways than the insular world of Fortress Marriage, we got nowhere. Only when we exchanged our lofty ideals for conventionality was our struggle embraced."

These are strong claims, and the essay is worth reading in its entirety. Certainly all queer people deserve and need to have the rights and recognition that marital status bestows upon us. The larger question is, does straight-style matrimony (including expectations of monogamy) fit larger queer culture? To Out There, who has married, divorced, separated, happily single, and polymorphously perverse queer friends, the question is worth considering.

However sensational Johnson's intentionally provocative manifesto is, its first page in Harper's faces a full-page ad that is potentially more button-pushing than the editorial content around it. It's a public-service announcement from PETA, or People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals, and its copy reads: "Homeless Animals on your Mind? Spay or Neuter Today." The poster boy is none other than animal-rights activist/pop star Morrissey, with a tabby cat perched on his big, inflated head. Now that's courting controversy!






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