in Links

The perils of marriage equality

Professor Kimberly Mutcherson of Rutgers Law School writes at Concurring Opinions about Professor Katherine Franke’s recent book ‘Wedlocked: the Perils of Marriage Equality’:

We do not want to reinforce familial hierarchies by forcing people into specific family arrangements in order to warrant recognition (2 parents only), nor do we want to fetishize outsider families such that those who do not fit that model are denigrated for their choices (i.e., the adoptive parents who choose a closed adoption or the birth mother who opts for such an adoption thus perhaps not being queer enough in their choices). In thinking about the ways in which reproductive justice calls for us to respect the right to have a child, not have a child, or parent that child in a safe and healthy environment, the upshot for me is that the reproductive justice paradigm does not demand that outsider families conform to some particular form in order to help dismantle hierarchy.

I have thought about this concern since undergrad, where postcolonial literature, feminism and even semiotics courses touched on the nature of othering as an active verb, something done to a group of people. I was lucky enough to take a course in law school called Sexual Orientation, Gender Identity and the Law with Professor Leonore F. Carpenter which expanded my understanding and interest in the dynamics of queer identity, family and legal frameworks.

The specific concern with which I’ve been preoccupied since then is that there is a danger in radical acceptance or the success of various equality movements. The danger I see is in achieving a nominal or “seat at the table” equality that normalizes othered groups to the frameworks of the groups that have historically done the othering.

One infuriating example of how I think about this stuff is the so-called equality of separate-but-equal, which of course was not equality at all. In the case of race, equality is not allowing non-white people to do all the stuff white people are allowed to do, but allowing non-white people to do whatever it is non-white people want to do, which is really what has always been allowed to white Americans.

I see Professors Franke and Mutcherson making a similar point about the danger of seeing marriage equality as squeezing queer couples and families into 1) heteronormative cis-gendered and/or culturally/racially segregated family models or 2) altogether new models, sometimes developed by hand-wavingly obnoxious if well-intentioned hetero-cis folks. Maybe I’m mistaken, but the overall approach as I see it being explained by these two scholars is essentially to stop putting up new roads and signs for queer families and just get the hell out of the way.

Read Mutcherson’s entire post, it’s worth it. And I’ve added “Wedlocked’ to my Kindle wishlist, which is growing faster than I can keep up.