Tuesday, July 02, 2013

Feminism and Gay Marriage: The Overlooked Connection

In my recent Christian Voice article 'Supreme Court Decision Winners and Losers', I included feminists among the winners in the Supreme Court's ruling of last Wednesday. The connection between gay marriage and feminism is often overlooked, yet understanding this relation is crucial to appreciating some of the background dynamics to the recent debates.

Ever since the mid-twentieth century, there has been a very vocal strain of feminists who have been calling for the destruction of marriage. The strange thing is that now scores of public thinkers who were previously opposed to marriage are now singing the praises of ‘gay marriage’ precisely because this is seen as a way to deconstruct the family and redefine marriage into oblivion and meaninglessness.

Throughout the seventies, eighties and nineties it was commonplace for feminists to condemn the matrimonial state. This can be seen in the way Catharine MacKinnon, like other second-wave feminists, have compared sexual intercourse within marriage to rape, saying, “What in the liberal view looks like love and romance looks a lot like hatred and torture to the feminist. Pleasure and eroticism become violation. (Catherine A. MacKinnon, Applications of Feminist Legal Theory to Women’s Lives, Temple University Press, 1996), p. 39.) Elsewhere the Harvard Press author said, “The major distinction between intercourse (normal) and rape (abnormal) is that normal happens so often that one cannot get anyone to see anything wrong with it.” (Catherine A. MacKinnon, quoted by Christina Hoff Sommers, “Hard-Line Feminists Guilty of Ms.-Representation,” Wall Street Journal, November 7, 1991.)

Feminist author and journalist Jill Johnson was equally unbending in her antipathy to marriage. Writing in 1973, she commented that “Until all women are lesbians, there will be no true political revolution.” (Jill Johnson, Lesbian Nation: The Feminist Solution, New York: Simon and Schuster, 1973.) This echoed a whole body of feminist and lesbian literature aimed at discrediting marriage. Here is just a sampling of some of the statements from this corpus:

  • “Like prostitution, marriage is an institution that is extremely oppressive and dangerous for women.” Andrea Dworkin, ‘Feminism: An Agenda’ (Letters from a War Zone, Brooklyn, NY: Lawrence Hill Books, 1993), p. 146.
  • “Feminism stresses the indistinguishability of prostitution, marriage, and sexual harassment.” Catharine MacKinnon, Feminism Unmodified: Discourses on Life and Law (Harvard University Press, 1987), p. 59.
  • “We can’t destroy the inequities between men and women until we destroy marriage.” Robin Morgan Sisterhood is Powerful (New York: Random House, 1970), p. 537
  • “We have to abolish and reform the institution of marriage.” Gloria Steinem, cited in the Saturday Review of Education, March 1973.
  • “Legal marriage thus enlists state support for conditions conducive to murder and mayhem.” Claudia Card ‘Against Marriage and Motherhood’(Hypatia, vol. 11, no. 3, Summer 1996).
  • “Being a housewife is an illegitimate profession…the choice to serve and be protected and plan towards being a family-maker is a choice that shouldn’t be. The heart of radical feminism is to change that.” Vivian Gornick, The Daily Illini, April 25, 1981.
  • “If women are to effect a significant amelioration in their condition it seems obvious that they must refuse to marry…The plight of mothers is more desperate than that of other women, and the more numerous the children the more hopeless the situation seems to be…Most women…would shrink at the notion of leaving husband and children, but this is precisely the case in which brutally clear rethinking must be undertaken.” Germaine Greer, The Female Eunuch (New York: McGraw-Hill, 1971), pp. 317 & 320.

 By now you should get the picture. It isn’t complicated. The narrative is essentially marriage is bad and must be destroyed.

Now fast-forward to the present and what do you find? You find many of these same writers are now agitating for gay marriage. Why is this? Have they suddenly had a major ideological shift to go from anti-marriage to pro-marriage? No. Their agenda is consistent but their tactics have changed. They now realize that little can be achieved on the large scale through explicit calls for the abolition of marriage and therefore they have settled on a new strategy that seeks the same ends while ostensibly placing a high valuation on the institution of marriage. Only in this way can they successfully shift the unconscious normalcy fields in ways consonant with their long-term goals.

This isn’t just speculation on my part. Dozens of public feminist figures (including Gloria Steinem, quoted above, in addition to leading activists, scholars, educators, writers, artists, lawyers, journalists, and community organizers) signed a joint statement in the summer of 2006 entitled, ‘Beyond Same-Sex Marriage: A New Strategic Vision for All Our Families and Relationships.’ This statement argues that those who are advancing same-sex ‘marriage’ have not gone far enough. The statement argues that traditional nuclear families are no longer the norm and that government needs to be more elastic in what it considers to be “legitimate families.” They write, “The struggle for same-sex marriage rights is only one part of a larger effort to strengthen the security and stability of diverse households and families.” How diverse? The Statement suggests that anyone living together should be considered a family, including “Close friends and siblings who live together in long-term, committed, non-conjugal relationships…” It also suggests that “legitimate families” can involve people who don’t live together, including “Queer couples who decide to jointly create and raise a child with another queer person or couple, in two households.”

What is going on here shouldn’t be difficult to grasp. When marriage and family can mean anything, then marriage and family will mean nothing, which is what the radical feminists have wanted all along. Supporting 'gay marriage' is simply one stop along the itinerary towards the destruction of the family. Some feminists, such as Masha Gessen, have been candid enough to acknowledge this. (See the video 'Gay Marriage Activist Reveals Movement’s True Agenda: Destroy Marriage.') Ryan Anderson reminds us that
Leading LGBT advocates admit that redefining marriage changes its meaning. E. J. Graff celebrates the fact that redefining marriage would change the “institution’s message” so that it would “ever after stand for sexual choice, for cutting the link between sex and diapers.” Enacting same-sex marriage, she argues, “does more than just fit; it announces that marriage has changed shape.” Andrew Sullivan says that marriage has become “primarily a way in which two adults affirm their emotional commitment to one another….
New York University Professor Judith Stacey has expressed hope that redefining marriage would give marriage “varied, creative, and adaptive contours,” leading some to “question the dyadic limitations of Western marriage and seek…small group marriages.” In their statement “Beyond Same-Sex Marriage,” more than 300 “LGBT and allied” scholars and advocates call for legally recognizing sexual relationships involving more than two partners….

Some advocates of redefining marriage embrace the goal of weakening the institution of marriage in these very terms. “[Former President George W.] Bush is correct,” says Victoria Brownworth, “when he states that allowing same-sex couples to marry will weaken the institution of marriage…. It most certainly will do so, and that will make marriage a far better concept than it previously has been.” Professor Ellen Willis celebrates the fact that “conferring the legitimacy of marriage on homosexual relations will introduce an implicit revolt against the institution into its very heart.”

Michelangelo Signorile urges same-sex couples to “demand the right to marry not as a way of adhering to society’s moral codes but rather to debunk a myth and radically alter an archaic institution.” Same-sex couples should “fight for same-sex marriage and its benefits and then, once granted, redefine the institution of marriage completely, because the most subversive action lesbians and gay men can undertake…is to transform the notion of ‘family’ entirely.”
To read more, visit my article 'Supreme Court Decision Winners and Losers
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