[Note to readers: the following essay is a guest post from Claire Potter, Professor of History at the New School for Public Engagement. See her previous guest essay on gay marriage here.]
Several weeks ago, I was sitting in a coffee shop with M, a veteran of New York Radical Women, discussing the gay marriage case pending before the Supreme Court. We agreed that neither of us, as feminists, would have foreseen the emergence of marriage as a post-feminist civil rights issue. Our talk then turned to J, a prominent lesbian feminist who was rumored to have slept with nearly every radical feminist in the East back in the day.
M, a slim and bright-eyed married woman in her seventies, laughed. “J wanted me to leave my husband and run away with her,” she said with a smile that indicated she had been tempted. “I asked: `Are you ready to do equal child-care like he does?’ That ended that.”
My point is that the history of ideas about marriage is intertwined with a feminist intellectual past, but after the Supreme Court’s decision in Obergefell v. Hodges last Friday, it seemed that had been forgotten. The lingering, and often bitter, divisions among LGBT people about whether conventional forms of monogamy and marriage should convey special rights have their roots in this past. Like many radical feminists, anti-marriage queers reject marriage, and the increased state authority over private lives it represents, as oppressive. Conversely, like many liberal feminists, LGBT marriage advocates have viewed the right to wed as a sphere for conveying equality, as well as protection against multiple institutions — the state, schools, families of birth, financial institutions and hospitals — to name a few. Still other LGBT people wade between pro- and anti-marriage positions as most heterosexuals do, choosing marriage to advance their interests and please other people, while disregarding aspects of marriage ideology that they consider to be dated, ethically wrong or inconvenient. Continue reading