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Gay Studies - Socialism And Gay Marriage

by Gert Hekma in General , 21 maart 2007


One of the upsides of being in a branch of learning is that you get to visit conferences, so I happened to be in Paris in October for a conference on socialism and marriage. I had only a modest role as chairman of a panel discussion on gay marriages. Networking in between the meetings is the most important aspect at conferences. The perfect wine-soaked French lunches are ideal opportunities to get to know new colleagues and to refresh old acquaintances.

In the session on gay marriages six men participated; the only woman who had registered was sick unfortunately and wasn’t present. All six of them were very critical about the issue of gay marriages, two of them were even strongly against it. The moderate ones still felt that gay marriages would be an irreversible step in a historical development. It’s all fine to be against, but what does that imply for the countries that have already introduced gay marriages? The fact that gays couldn’t get married was such a clear sign of discrimination that you’d expect people to be happy that such a barrier has been lifted - whatever your opinion of marriage in general.

Gays can now get married in Holland, Belgium, Spain, Canada and South Africa, and Sweden is considering it. By the way, according to the Dutch Gay Krant we can’t speak of a “gay” marriage as such because there was no extra legislation necessary; the traditional marriage legislation just needed an adaptation. So the marriages are all the same for gays and straights.1 A lot of countries have second rate options for gays and lesbians. France, with its universalist principles, has an alternative partnership which can be used by gays as well as straights; Denmark however, has a special partnership for gays, a status not everyone is happy with.


Even Taiwan and Cambodia are discussing gay marriages at the moment. Some other places already knew some sort of partnerships for two people of the same sex. There are women marriages in Africa (usually emergency situations like when a wealthy family has no male descendants available) and in the past there were ritual blessings of intimate friendships in the orthodox and Catholic churches.

In Australia and Uganda however, they’ve introduced legislation making marriage possible for a man and a woman only. The United States introduced such a law on federal level under the Clinton administration; and Bush recently tried to consolidate this in the constitution. Legislation that outlaws something that doesn’t even exist, it just shows how the discussion on gay rights goes completely pear-shaped in some countries.

The introduction of gay marriages has come from two sides. Firstly, the gay emancipation movement has achieved amazing progress over the last thirty years. Homosexuality only ceased to be an illness, offence or sin after the seventies mind you. Secondly, marriage itself is nowadays much less an arrangement to legitimize children or to secure inheritances but much more a matter of love between two people. The individualization of marriage makes one wonder why gays should still be excluded.

It doesn’t just concern symbolic rights but rather practical advantages like parenthood, pensions, succession taxes, housing or family discounts on insurances or public transport. There are also financial setbacks sometimes, as couples are entitled to a smaller pension. So count your blessings precisely!

Why were the participants of the conference so negative about gay marriage? Well, to begin with, only unions of two people are recognized in this discussion. Advantages for married couples imply disadvantages for other groups, mainly singles. So the arrangements will always be exclusive to a certain extend. That’s why the early gay movement advocated for radical individualization. The older generation of feminists and gay activists still reject marriage as straight jacketing and sexist: rape withing wedlock was only criminalized in Holland in 1991. The pledge “to serve” used to be extended right into the bedroom. Many participants were also disappointed that the gay political agenda, especially in the USA, is so dominated by the issues marriages and the army; institutions many queers and dykes don’t want to be associated with at all, as they are considered homophobe and macho. As if there are no other worthy battles to fight, like the straight dominance in society, or the discomfort around homosexuality in churches, families and schools.

The second objection was that marriage was considered just one of several available options to formalize a relationship. Guest of honor at the conference was the 85-year-old philosopher and Fourierist René Schérer. Charles Fourier was a utopian socialist from the early 19th century who Karl Marx used to hate and about whom family man Wouter Bos probably has never heard.

Fourier already thought out alternatives for marriage and family life, taking “pederasts” and “sapphists” (as he called gays and lesbians) into account. He hated couples, considered them “Egoïsme à deux”. He celebrated polygamy - good for social cohesion because it creates multiple bonds between people and it would be good for culture because he claimed art was created through sexual expression rather than sexual sublimation.

As a Fourierist Schérer has plenty of reasons to be against gay marriages, but as a true liberal he did sign a petition to take stand against a hypocrite Catholic right-wing France as well as against reactionary psychoanalysts and family psychologists who are convinced that the acknowledgment of gay rights will pervert society.

He was not so much opposed to the traditional marriage, since, as an institution, it enriched the arts - not as a norm, but rather when breaking it: adultery (“cocuage”, poetic French for cuckoldry). Gay marriages are only interesting to him when the partners commit adultery and he was interested how they’d deal with that.

Two young men demonstrated adultery not much later with a very passionate and very public French kiss, while at a short distance one’s somewhat melancholic but gorgeous partner was looking with dismay at the scene before his eyes.



Note
1. This is not entirely true because there are still three restrictions for couples of the same sex: they can’t adopt children from a country that opposes adoption by gay couples; children from a marriage of two women or two men are not automatically legitimate to both partners (the so-called biological fiction does not apply for gay couples) and the king or queen cannot opt for a gay wedding!




 







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