I’ve thought a fair amount about five or six different Prop. 8 posts I could write. All of them would get me in trouble with someone, but I’m not so concerned with that as I am with being misunderstood. No comprehensive post would accurately describe my head-full of contradictory feelings and thoughts on the issue, so I’m not going to attempt one. This all by way of saying that what follows is not close to the entirety of my thoughts on gay marriage, but only a few. I was reading a collection of Plato’s dialogs about Socrates’s death when Prop. 8 was ruled unconstitutional, and I ran into this passage in Crito:
“‘Come now, what charge do you bring against us and the State, that you are trying to destroy us? Did we not give you life in the first place? Was it not through us that your father married your mother and brought you into the world? Tell us, have you any complaint against those of us Laws that deal with marriage?'”
Crito is a debate between Socrates and his titular student over whether or not the teacher should escape from his cell before he is executed. In this passage, Socrates speaks in the voice of the Laws and State of Athens against his own escape. He claims that as a resident of Athens, raised under its rules, who never made an attempt to leave, he owes it obedience. Like a child is indebted to its parents, a citizen cannot justly disobey the laws of his State. Crito is unable to refute his teacher’s logic, and we know the rest of the hemlock-flavored story.
In any marriage, there are three parties to the contract: two partners and the State that validates their union. Without this third member, Socrates’s argument doesn’t make any sense since the State and its Laws are not physically involved in the production of a child – unless you get your sex-ed in Texas. With intertwining the two partners with their validating institution, the children are made to love not only their parents, but their parents’ marriage. We have words for kids whose parents aren’t married, and they’re not very nice words. Without the State, we’re all bastards.
This becomes relevant at the point of disagreement with the State. Our identities as defined by marital relations (husband, wife, non-bastard child, brother-in-law, etc.) depend on the existence of the institution that recognizes them. The voice of the Laws and State of Athens tells Socrates that he can’t destroy them (through disobedience) without self-destruction. Marriage is one of the ways the State becomes part of who we are, which makes us understandably afraid of what (who/where) we would be without it. This is the moment in the action movie where the villain grins because he knows the hero can’t kill him without killing them both. Socrates in his cowardice would rather die than be re-born an ungrateful bastard without his third parent.
When Michael Hardt and Antonio Negri write about the abolition of identity as part of revolution in Commonwealth, they handle the same question as Socrates and Crito, but answer differently:
“This revolutionary process of the abolition of identity, we should keep in mind, is monstrous, violent, and traumatic. Don’ t try to save yourself—in fact, your self has to be sacriﬁced! . . . Abolition also requires the destruction of all the institutions of the corruption of the common we spoke of earlier, such as the family, the corporation, and the nation. This involves an often violent battle against the ruling powers and also, since these institutions in part deﬁne who we now are, an operation surely more painful than bloodshed. Revolution is not for the faint of heart, it is for monsters. You have to lose who you are to discover what you can become.”
Yes, they respond to Socrates’s rhetorical question, we do have a problem with the laws of marriage. And if that leaves us bastards, then so be it. For gays just as well as straights, marriage means identification with the State’s validation. I’m glad everyone feels optimistic after the huge step back that was Prop. 8 got sent back to its Mormon church where it belongs, but insofar as marriage protects the State, I remain unenthused.
Okay, one more point on the issue: My heart doesn’t warm at the thought of young gays and lesbians being asked by their parents and relatives “When are you two getting married?” I’m aware that it’s easy to write about this from a position of straight privilege, but I don’t wish teleological relationship expectations on anyone.