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Keep your ‘traditional marriage’

Joshua Whittaker | Sunday, April 14, 2013

As a writer of one of the many viewpoints not published after the two unfortunate “gay debate” columns of Apr. 11, I wanted to clarify something about Mr. Carlson’s appreciated and graceful clarification of Catholic social teaching and the chastisement from The Observer for not “joining the debate” (despite the slew of letters I’m sure they received. I can name a dozen just among my own comrades). As interesting as theological arguments are about “same-sex attraction” (and viewpoints can’t really capture the dissertation-length discourse that would do justice to the topic), I have long found the incongruities in Catholicism’s approach to most topics problematic at best (especially Notre Dame’s particular brand). The debate right now, the debate The Observer should have initiated, is about the legal institution of marriage, not Catholicism’s sweeping disregard of homosexual love. And I’d like to give my personal view, (hopefully) without doing too much damage to the cause.
As a gay man and a longtime student of queer and gender theory, I don’t have an ounce of sympathy for your “traditional marriage.” See, the “social justice fad” that is marriage equality is new to a degree. Besides the marginalization and hate that could never have let the queer communities of the twentieth century dream so big as legally recognized unions, many wanted no part in your patriarchal marriage. It has been a tool for social dominance and subordination for centuries. It imprisoned women in the private home and exiled men into the public. It breeds cultural hostility as childrearing becomes private, isolated from others of difference. It binds two people together at an early moment in their lives, assuring they will evolve over the next 50 years in compatible ways and then chastising them when they don’t. It conflates notions of family and community with genealogy. And many of these issues remain unresolved.
But being ostracized also comes with the unique opportunity to live and love outside these power structures, and I will sing praises of the subversive power of non-normative sexualities until the day I die. After years of turmoil, I’m happy to be gay. I would never wish I were straight.
That does not mean, however, everything is hunky-dory in homo-paradise. The question remains, “How does one live the American dream as a gay man?” The United States encoded the nuclear family into its economic system, and when gay families want to live as an autonomous household and embrace the power that comes with committing long-term investment into each other’s lives, it becomes economically infeasible without marriage (not to mention basic necessities like child custody and visitation rights). While the term marriage carries symbolic weight that could wage the force of the federal government against gay discrimination, hate crimes and bullying, I don’t really want any part in your sadomasochistic fad of “traditional marriage.” No, I want the social and economic privileges afforded any opposite-gender pair that can sign a marriage certificate. I want the safety net the government has extended below every other married couple. I want the guarantee my family will be cared for when tragedy, death and hardship find my household. And I would just love to see the broken institution of “traditional marriage” suffer a hard uppercut to the face.