Columns

Brundage ’15: Coming out of the marriage closet

By
Opinions Editor
Tuesday, April 2, 2013

I value marriage. I do not believe it is for everyone, I think too many people blindly accept it as a way of life, and I don’t think it is the only sort of relationship that the government should recognize, but I still value it. I say this because over the last month in particular, we have seen just about everyone on the Internet taking sides on the issue of marriage equality, including a unique brand of gay rights advocates who oppose the movement toward marriage equality on the premise that marriage is a neoliberal, oppressive institution.

The first issue I take with most marriage equality skeptics is the way that they mock the consumerism associated with marriage. This consumerism is a problem with the silly manner in which some individuals choose to commit to one another and with cultural representations of marriage, not a problem with marriage itself. People who drop a small country’s net worth on a wedding are also likely to throw other absurdly expensive parties, buy three Coach purses and consider Kim Kardashian relevant. The problem isn’t marriage. It’s consumerism. The two are completely separate, and reducing recent steps toward marriage equality to underlying consumerist desires ignores every individual, like myself, who appreciates the values associated with marriage but does his best to reject consumerism.

This brings me back to my central point: I believe the values associated with marriage are beautiful. Over the last three years, I have stood by as both of my sisters vowed to their husbands that they will be there for them in sickness and in health and that they will spend their lives together until death do them part. Perhaps if we could all drop our sense of irony for a moment — though certainly this is too much to ask of plenty of Brown students — we might recognize what a great moment it is in a human’s life to devote him or herself to the life of another. It doesn’t have to be a sexist or oppressive devotion, even though it sometimes is and more frequently was in the past.

The conversation about marriage among those who consider it a socially conservative institution speaks to their limited imagination of what a marriage can be. In a Herald opinions column, Mika Zacks ’15 (“I don’t,” Feb. 26) calls it “one of the most oppressive patriarchal institutions known to mankind,” based in “white middle-class heterosexual values.”

There is something even more fundamentally wrong with these assertions than that I am a white upper-middle class homosexual who deeply values marriage — and I am no conquered mind — or that assigning a race and class to the values associated with marriage is unfair considering the range of religions, ethnicities, classes and races across the globe that value everything associated with marriage. The more gaping issue with these claims is that negating the value of something because it historically has been associated with oppression is nonsensical. Should we negate the value of the democratic process since it was once limited to white, property-owning men? Certainly not.

I further wonder why it is that Zacks feels comfortable mocking everything she associates with marriage, while I am certain that any condescending remarks concerning other varieties of relationships would be completely unwelcome coming from me. Marriage is far more than a “long, boring life in a double bed,” and reducing one’s most deep-rooted cultural values to something like this would not be acceptable under most other circumstances. Need I point to imperialist interpretations of indigenous peoples’ culture?

The point that Zacks and other marriage skeptics tend to make is that marriage equality isn’t enough. The government needs to recognize other forms of relationships people may choose to have when it comes to questions of, say, health insurance. I wholeheartedly agree, but if society is not with us on this point yet, I would certainly rather compromise for the moment and accept what progress I can, instead of ridiculing the steps forward as not enough.

Furthermore, if we are to value all progress on the basis of whether it brings us directly to the place we want to be, then by these standards we have never made progress at all in LGBTQ issues. Keep in mind the police raids of gay bars, the incarceration of individuals for simply being in one of these bars and the overwhelmingly popular belief that homosexuality was a mental disease only two generations ago. Now, we are on the brink of marriage equality.

If we cannot recognize this achievement as progress, and if we can only scowl at the conservatives joining the movement for all the wrong reasons, then what are we but doomed cynics? There’s nothing wrong with asking for more, but it becomes a problem when it comes at the price of devaluing what progress we continue to see. Marriage equality is the right step forward.

 

 

Matt Brundage ’15 will not be thinking about government oppression and control on his wedding day.

  • Brown student

    incredible.

  • adam

    fantastic, one of the best argued and written pieces I’ve seen in the BDH

  • Unimpressed Brown Student

    “… I am certain that any condescending remarks concerning other varieties of relationships would be completely unwelcome coming from me.”

    I hate to break it to you, but your opinions, statements and dispositions never exist entirely outside your position with the social system: you are an upper-class white man who is figuring marriage as a purely love relationship, despite the fact that companionate marriage is a very recent, bourgeois invention. It was always a tool for the sexual division of labor and an instrument of political economy. It still is, it’s just that upper-class white dudes over the last century and a half have concealed that legacy with a smear of sentimental nonsense about “choosing love.”

    • Don’t be so cynical

      Whenever you spout this “check your privilege” nonsense that has become the rallying cry of pseudo-intellectual bleeding hearts throughout campus all I end up hearing is a loud buzzing noise. Congrats on your degree in gender studies.

      • optimist

        congrats on your lack of empathy. it must be bliss.