The right not to marry

I so wanted to not write about marriage.

Across the Caribbean this week, everyone else was celebrating or handwringing over the Obergefell US court decision adding the remaining quarter of the states and their 90 million citizens to a billion people globally across 20 nations (five nations other Americas neighbours; one South Africa) who already enjoyed equal-marriage rights—in four for at least a decade.

11231903_10153586305464050_5586134946224729214_nTen media outlets wanted my comments. That’s never happened for any local issue.

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I was puzzled by the size of fuss the world is making. The Queen of Bacchanal holding a rainbow big-flag and singing about Lucy’s “coming-out” to screaming LGBTI crowds from a mainstage at Toronto’s Pride festival seemed to me the more transformative news-story of the week.

Why was there nowhere near this week’s panic and cheering a month ago, when 62% of Ireland’s voters, in a breathtaking act of direct democracy, voted for equal marriage (absolutely not how plural nations should award human rights to any groupas Irishwoman Mary King proposed here in 2011—but nonetheless stunning). Nothing in close measure occurred when the old mother-country legalised gay marriage last year, a year after a Westminster vote. Hardly a whisper when, days after Obergefell, Mozambique brought the list of African countries that do not criminalise homosexuality to 20.

ruelI said Woohoo! for America. But mine wasn’t among the 26 million rainbow-filtered Facebook profile pics. Yet, the US Supremes had the region quaking, rainbowing and imagining CARICOM convening to discuss the matter; and Guyana Prize winner Ruel Johnson boasting to those afraid of a homosexual “epidemic [of] Ebola…proportions” that he was “Typhoid Mary of Guyana because I support gay rights passionately but I still worship pudenda [not his word] to the exclusion of other genitalia”. I was fascinated.

Growing up I learned what it means to hide your birth certificate. For years I witnessed Mummy demean herself, clutching onto a marriage long over, even as I was out seeking other men to daddy me. During my illegal New York years, I watched gay and lesbian Trinbagonian friends enter green-card marriages with each other to escape life here, become US citizens, divorce—and pay the favour forward with a second marriage. (My visible activism ruled that out.)

I know no long-term relationship, straight or gay, that’s been faithful.

So forgive me if I’m a marriage sceptic. I want to fight for the right to not be married. For the law to promote single fathers’ fullest roles in their children’s lives. To outlaw girls being wedded off at 14 by pundits, 12 by imams and 16 by babalawos. For expectant schoolgirls to be entitled to a full education. For PNM leaders and pregnant teachers equally to be afforded respect. For people from all family forms to enjoy the same dignity and opportunity. I celebrate the UNC’s 1998 Cohabitational Relationships Act. I want to be allowed to use its protections for my own non-marital partnerships; and for more heterosexuals to.

10427243_10153390539864050_2870137187161546226_nIn my advocacy, I used to avoid gay marriage, change the subject, pretend no one gay here was interested. It’s an issue that sucks up way too much air for what it’s worth, and its deeply polarising nature can foreclose winning other gains Caribbean LGBTI communities need more urgently. But the Supremes have us dancing to its tune, and Jim Obergefell has opened up an explosion and mainstreaming of discourse that makes me confident just as racial and gender equality spread globally, so too will marriage equality. And the pluck to admit the preachers fearmongering that recognition of gay rights will eventually lead to marriage are right: it will. But nowhere has any state forced any faith to perform such weddings. As Catholic Archbishop Joe told the same radio audience he told his church won’t oppose Kamla decriminalising homosexuality—it’s a civil matter.

Marriage reconnected me with Columbia law professor Katherine Franke, a staunch marriage critic I co-chaired an international gay-rights group with. She recently told the New York Times marriage has

never been a particularly generous or safe place for woman, and indeed has been the source of many women’s oppression.…So I find it kind of curious that marriage has become the vehicle for gay liberation…for a group of people who were not that long ago criminals to be asking for the state to regulate our most intimate relationships. The main argument…is that same-sex couples deserve the dignity…or…‘ennoblement’ that marriage confers. What it implicates is that all the other relationships that don’t look like marriages…are somehow worthy of the shame and the indignity that they suffer.

Hers is one of many critiques of how marriage and its advocates have hijacked the US LGBTI rights movement. In my view, it’s also prevented people in same-sex relationships in local places around the world from being understood outside of some globalised ideological, religious “culture war” framework.

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But no matter how much we say it’s about discrimination, violence or kids’ self-esteem, politicians instinctively intuit that what gay people want is to have how we love recognised. The tearjerking power of that legitimation beamed across the world this week.

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Shanté Wolfe & Tori Sisson line up on 9 February to become Alabama’s first same-sex couple to lodge their marriage licenses (AP)

Franke’s critique of marriage and respectability draws me back to our cowardly politicians at home, happy to deny us discrimination protections 80% of the nation supports, because it makes them seem respectable or win evangelical votes. They tell American investors boldly they’ll keep our love criminalised, as our PM (whose own sex life, like Opposition Leader Keith Rowley’s, is now headlines) did famously last September. Carnival 2011 I handed out a card. It said:
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