Marriage can be painted as a scary lifelong commitment, a beautiful joining of man and wife or a cog in the patriarchal machine. It all depends on who you’re asking.
I was discussing marriage with a fellow classmate, and she seemed to take every word we had learned in our gender and women’s studies lecture to heart. “I’ll never get married, knowing how problematic it is,” she said. “How could anyone want to continue that horrible tradition?”
I nodded in agreement, “Yeah, it’s pretty ridiculous.” In class, we had learned that the problem with marriage is that it is an institutionalized form of the gender binary, one that essentially transformed women into the property of men.
This may seem a bit far-fetched, especially to those who view marriage as a cherished bond between man and wife, but until the late 1800s, coverture held that a married woman had no legal separate identity from her husband, essentially making women property of their husbands. The law required a woman’s property to be turned over to her husband when she married. She also couldn’t sign contracts, do business or engage in much of anything else without her husband’s permission.
Learning this, I felt that my own questions regarding marriage were obviously answered. I could never get married, especially knowing the history. Marriage as an institution has helped men gain property, wealth and power at the expense of women, and I wanted nothing to do with that.
After learning this, though, I was confronted with my mom’s views on marriage, and this shifted my opinion in the opposite direction. According to her and my religious family, marriage is a sacred institution, and those who are married — typically a man and a woman — are to be blessed by God. My mom in particular has demanded that I never get married. She claims I would be “disgracing this holy tradition” if I were to marry a woman. To her, gay marriage is a spit in the face of God.
Her comments made me so angry that I began considering getting married just to spite her. Marrying would prove that the only one who gets to decide whom I share my love with is me, not her or God. I could make a statement to my mom and all my homophobic family members. I could show that my love is worthy of being celebrated, that it is special and valuable enough for a ceremony that’s been dominated by straight individuals.
It’s unnerving that my mom and family act like it is the goal of gay people to intrude upon and “ruin” the institution of marriage — “ruin” meaning to simply participate in the tradition. Contrary to popular belief, the struggle for many gay people is not the fight to be able to marry.
The legalization of gay marriage was highly marketed as a progressive moment, but my queer and trans friends have insisted I look at gay marriage through a more critical lens. My queer friends point out that, before gay marriage was legalized, queer and trans folk were fighting for access to proper medical care and worker protections, as well as for all partnerships to be recognized by the law, not just straight couples. “We ask for the bread and they give us crumbs just so we’ll shut up,” one of my queer friends said to me.
Trans people, for example, still face discrimination in many states. Black and Latinx queer people face intersectional discrimination. The ability to marry isn’t enough to fix the oppression of all queer people.
So now I am back to square one: a rejection of marriage. I do not want to assimilate and be seen as a “good” queer person, following what the United States views as the proper moral and economic path.
But there is yet another factor to consider in the equation: my girlfriend. Her whispers of “I want to marry you.” Her talk about owning a house together. The possibility of having children never fully off the table.
We wouldn’t necessarily need to be married in order to have all those things. But I also wouldn’t necessarily be throwing away what I believe in if I did get married. And I wouldn’t stop being an activist after I married her, either. If anything, I’d work even harder, knowing she’d support me and be right there beside me. I know my girlfriend would like to marry me someday, and, honestly, I am crazy enough to marry her.
For now, though, my uncertainty continues.
Would I be anti-feminist by getting married? Would I be hurting the one I love by refusing to get married? Would I be sticking it to my mom?
I’m unsure. But if I do end up married in the future, know that it didn’t happen without some serious consideration.
Elaina Guerrero writes the Wednesday column on the confines of the gender binary. Contact them at [email protected]