Is Same-Sex Marriage Overrated?

Published: 10 July 2015

Country/Region: US/Worldwide

By Adil Yilmaz

Same_Sex_Marriage_CelebrationThe U.S. Supreme Court’s ruling legalising same-sex marriage attracted much attention from international media. Major media outlets, such as The Guardian, CNN, Huffington Post, Washington Post, and the New York Times reported on the much anticipated ruling, calling the court’s decision in favour of same-sex marriage a ‘historic victory for gay rights’ and ‘the most important civil rights case in a generation’. However, some critical voices do not view marriage as a tool to achieve equality, stressing the conservative nature of marriage as an institution by emphasising the socio-economic dimension of the marital status. This poses the question whether same-sex marriage is, indeed, overrated and should not be presented as the final step towards equality.

After the U.S. Supreme Court’s ruling, media coverage included happy advocates of same-sex marriage celebrating in Washington, as well as the ‘historic’ rainbow-coloured lighting of the White House. Many social media users expressed their support  by colouring their profile pictures in rainbow-colours, posting photographs of the White House, and starting social media campaign #lovewins.

These mainstream media perspectives view marriage as a fundamental act of love, therefore promoting same-sex marriage as a step towards a more equal, non-prejudiced society. Major media outlets as well as mainstream LGBT organisations consider the right to marry to be a pivotal human right that ought to be a priority in the LGBTQ civil rights movement, which is why the legalisation of same-sex marriage is widely acknowledged as the most important step towards equality. However, before declaring same-sex marriage as the ultimate goal of the LGBTQ movement, it is crucial to grasp the socio-economic dimension of the marital status to determine, whether marriage as an institution can be considered a tool to achieve equality in the first place.

In their article on marriage and LGBTQ liberation, scholars Dean Spade and Craig Willse contest the portrayal of marriage as a simple act of love and commitment: ‘Societal myths about marriage, which are replicated in same-sex marriage advocacy, tell us that marriage is about love, about care for elders and children, about sharing the good life together–even that it is the cornerstone of a happy personal life and a healthy civilization […] Marriage has always been about who is whose property (women, slaves, children) and who gets what property. Inheritance, employee benefits, insurance claims, taxation, wrongful death claims–all of the benefits associated with marriage are benefits that keep wealth in the hands of the wealthy. Those with no property are less likely to marry, and have less to protect using marriage law.’ This core function of the institution of marriage as a tool to reify and pass on economic inequalities finds no space in mainstream media.

In fact, activist Yasmin Nair identifies same-sex marriage as ultimately conservative, as it ‘simply shores up the power of the neoliberal state, compelling people to marry and take on the burden for their own care, instead of creating, for instance, a system that grants life-saving benefits to everyone, regardless of marital status.’

When taking into consideration the socio-political implications of marriage as an institution, it becomes clear that the media coverage of same-sex marriage reflects a simplistic and partial understanding of LGBTQ rights and needs. The portrayal of same-sex marriage as the most significant achievement of the LGBTQ movement makes it seem, as if all members of the LGBTQ community have finally been liberated. This discourse conceals the oppression and systematic marginalisation of poor, trans*, BME members of the LGBTQ community that struggle with issues such as homelessness, violence, racism, and access to health care.