Home > Feminism, Gay Rights, Philosophy > Guest Post: Feminists Answer To The Current Conservative Discourse On Same Sex Marriage- By Bronwyn Gorringe.

Guest Post: Feminists Answer To The Current Conservative Discourse On Same Sex Marriage- By Bronwyn Gorringe.

In Australia the current marriage legislation states that it is between a man and a women. Moves to make the legislation inclusive of lesbian and gay men have sparked debates for and against the idea. This essay will use critical theory to analyse the conservative statement by Janet Albrechtsen (2010) that asserted that she “fundamentally believe[s] that marriage is between a man and a woman and that you can have civil unions between lesbian and gay men”. The dominant discourse that informs the context of marriage, the assumptions around the concept of nuclear families and the access to the privilege of marriage, or simply the right to choose are discussed. This essay will argue that marriage should be available to everyone no matter what his or her sexual orientation. Substituting marriage with civil unions for gay men and lesbians furthers their oppression and preserves the inequality within society.

The idea of marriage being only between a man and a woman is a social construct that is supported by the dominant discourses of today’s society. Discourses are the notions that people hold emerging from conversations and dialogues surrounding a particular idea or subject (Fook 1993:16). The dominant discourse surrounding marriage in today’s westernised world is an apparatus that supports the ideology that the nuclear family, being that of a husband and wife, mother/father, man/women, and children is the norm when the truth is arguable different (King Keenan 2004:541). The dichotomising of the identity of the individuals involved in the social construct of marriage excludes all others that are outside these gendered sexually oriented categories, lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer, or intersex- LGBTQ/I (Guzman & Sperling (2009:117). Discourses in the West are founded on such binary oppositions. Using critical theory to unpack the dichotomies surrounding the discourse in the West and in Albrechtsen’s (2010) statement the binary opposites of man/women, husband/wife straight/gay become clear and the knowledge that one term of the binary has dominant priority over the other, in this case man, husband and straight (Sim & Van Loon 2001:90; Fook 2002:72). Using critical theory to deconstruct the dominant discourse of marriage being that of man and women not lesbian or gay men exposes the statement of Albrechtsen (2010) to be privileging one group of people over another. Dichotomous thinking implies that marriage is husband and wife and that each parts of the binary opposite are mutually exclusive (Fook 2002:73) Denying the right to marriage, and offering civil unions instead, to lesbian and gay men is oppressive and preserves the inequalities within today’s society.

Today society’s assumptions around the nuclear family are informed by patriarchy. Feminist critical theory views the patriarchal construction of roles in the family as a means to oppress women or anyone that does not conform to the ideals of hegemonic masculinity, for example gay men and lesbian women. “In the family girls learn to be girls and, most importantly, wives learn that they are women—the property of men. One of the most important bastions of patriarchal rule is the family” (Guzman & Sperling 2009:119). Patriarchal rule is implicitly located within all aspects of society, from private to political. It is a rule defined by birth and the sexual dominion of heterosexual males over all others, it is the “most persuasive ideology of our culture and provides its most fundamental concept of power” (Millett 1971:25). According to Foucault (cited in Smart 1985:76-79) power is not an object to be held by an individual but rather the “individual is both an effect of power and an element of it’s articulation” therefore, Albrechtsen (2010), and her statement, becomes, in a way, the embodiment of the power exercised by the hegemonic group. Critical theory exposes the power relations that patriarchy uses to rule society and uphold the ideology of a nuclear family for the benefit of the hegemonic group to the exclusion of all others. The others in the statement by Albrechtsen (2010) are gay men and lesbians. By offering up an alternative of civil unions instead of marriage to them she supports the status quo and becomes a conduit for the power exercised by the hegemonic group to further the oppression of same-sex couples and their equal rights in society.

Albrechtsen’s (2010) statement offering the substitute of civil unions over marriage to lesbian and gay men outlines an inequality of rights to homosexual people. Denying non-heterosexual couples the access to choose to be married is denying them the privileges that come with being married. Buffie (2011:986) and La Sala (2007:181) both discuss these privileges as a number of financial and legal benefits that society awards only to the individuals in a marriage. The way in which marriage is structured in society to the exclusion of lesbian and gay men is disadvantageous and oppressive (Gardiner, cited in Jones, Cooper & Ferguson 2008:39). Using critical theory to examine Albretchtsen’s (2010) statement and her positionality within it’s context, an othering occurs or a deliberate separation of herself from a group not her own, which in this case is lesbian and gay men (Fuery & Mansfield 2000:144-145). It could be assumed that by othering lesbian and gay men Albrechtsen (2010) finds a way to justify the inequality and oppressive nature of her statement by saying civil union is available to “them”. Langley (2001:920) discusses that “oppression is central to the lived experience of lesbian women and gay men”. By examining Albrechtsen’s (2010) statement with critical theory the affect of societal structures on lesbian and gay men’s lived experience becomes evident. Civil union for gay men and lesbian women would further their inequality by serving to deliberately “other” them and in itself be oppressive.

Critical theory exposes the oppressive nature of Albrechtsen’s (2010) statement by analysing the dominant discourses, which are assumptions of nuclear families being the predominant family structure and the dichotomies that exist within. By revealing the binary opposites of man/woman, husband/wife, straight/gay the patriarchal rule that surrounds the expected roles in the nuclear family expose the power over lesbian and gay men within the social structures of marriage. By offering the substitute of civil union to marriage inequality is preserved. Thus furthering the oppression of lesbian and gay men. Albrechtsen’s (2010) statement contributes to the oppression and serves as an apparatus for the masculine hegemony that exist with in the social structures of marriage.
Word Count 1053

List of References
Buffie, WC 2011, ‘Public health implications of same-sex marriage’, American Journal of Public Health, vol 101, no. 6, pp. 986-990.

Fook, J 2002, Social work: Critical theory and practice, Sage Publications Ltd, London.

Fook, J 1993, Radical casework: A theory of practice, Allen & Unwin Pty Ltd, NSW, Australia.

Fuery, P & Mansfield, N 2000, Cultural studies and critical theory, 2nd edn, Oxford University Press, Melbourne, Victoria, Australia.

Gardener, A 2008, ‘Beyond anti-oppressive practice in social work: Best practice and the ethical use of power in adult care’, in Jones, K, Cooper, B & Ferguson, H, Best practice in social work: Critical perspectives, Palgrave Macmillian, Hampshire and NY.

Guzman, M & Sperling, R 2009, ‘“Knock-knock!”: Revisioning family and home’, Journal of Gay & Lesbian Social Services, vol. 21, pp. 115–133.

King Keenan, E 2004, ‘From sociocultural categories to socially located relations: Using critical theory in social work practice,’ 
Families in Society; vol. 85, no. 4, pp. 539-548.
Langley, J 2001, ‘Developing anti-oppressive empowering social work practice with older lesbian women and gay men’, British Journal of Social Work, vol. 31, pp. 917-932.

La Sala, M 2007, ‘Too many eggs in the wrong basket: A queer critique of the same-sex marriage movement’, Social Work, vol. 52, no. 2, pp. 181-183.

Millet, K 1971, Sexual politics, Rupert Hart-Davis Limited, Great Britain.

Sim, S & Van Loon, B 2001, Introducing critical theory, Allen & Unwin Pty Ltd, NSW, Australia.

Smart, B 1985, Michael Foucault, Ellis Horwood Limited, Sussex, England.

2nd year Social Work Student.
University of the Sunshine Coast.

I currently live in the hinterlands of the Sunshine Coast Queensland with my partner, staffy and Appaloosa. Inspirational people in my life are Karl Marx, Michel Foucault, Simone de Beauvoir and Jan Fook. Many of my lecturers at USC, Karryn Bratby, Christine Morley, Deb Blakeny and David Hollinsworth all great people and huge influences in creating the critical, post-modern feminist framework that informs me and my future practice.

I believe that to be the best you can be there needs to be congruency between your thoughts and actions. That those that are privileged have the responsibility to put their hands out to those who are not. That includes addressing the implicit undertones of sexism, racism and ablism not just donating money to groups like Amnesty to help the war torn countries that are far far away. There is a war here, right on our door steps and people need to wake up and have the moral courage to be bold and stand up for what is just in every aspect of their lives. Question and interrogate the social structures that seek to control our lives. There is a better world out there to be had and we can make it happen, if we all have the courage to do so.

  1. Rebecca
    May 31, 2012 at 3:56 pm

    Agree with the general theme… However:
    – It could easily be argued that people ‘need’ an ‘other’
    – While I agree that there is still ‘patriarchy’ embedded in our society (and more so in others), this doesn’t necessarily stretch to embedding the ideals of a nuclear family in society (though arguably, religion captures both patriarchy and divine authority)
    – There are societal benefits for ‘nuclear’ families – or even non-nuclear procreative families. Arguably, there is a future benefit to same-sex families too – LESS procreation. While I’m ‘pro-Marriage’ (that is, allowing couples of any persuasion to access the social and civil institution of marriage) – there are differences between partnerships of various types, and to deny this is will detract from the argument. Heterosexual partnerships can procreate without interference (generally). This is a social, economic and political necessity. However nasty it is to say it – homosexual couples cannot. This is not to say they can’t (or shouldn’t) have children – but we need to show why relevant differences should not mean differences in treatment. There is, (and arguably needs to be) a degree of justified discrimination – we have it in various forms all over the place. Women disallowed entry into some jobs for health reasons, men are disallowed some jobs due to nature of job, White Australians are denied positions reserved for Indigenous Australians…

    The ‘nature’ of marriage – the ‘husband and wife’ social expectation will change easier than the mindset of some.

    Without wanting to be overly negative, the impact of your 3rd paragraph on me was more like – well… why does ANYONE want the option of marriage? I’m not sure that I’ll consider myself a feminist anymore. I have quite a fundamental issue with the idea that the family is simply a patriarchal tool. There is still pockets of it but without significant changes to religious attitudes in some areas you’re not going to see it change.

    Would you not be better off arguing against marriage completely – instead arguing for contractual partnerships (couples have a legal partnership ‘contract’ with their own individual terms)? These have their own problems… No different to marriage… LOL

    I find it a little funny, please excuse me… You mention ‘othering’ the gay community – and yet you embrace feminism – whereby you other yourself. I prefer to consider myself human – I don’t think its necessary to have another ‘in group’ to have a say, where they could do so from within an ‘everyone is included’ group.

    It was a good essay though 😉

    • May 31, 2012 at 4:09 pm

      I’ll let Bronwyn deal with the majority of your points, being her essay an all. I did have some thoughts.

      You said: “I find it a little funny, please excuse me… You mention ‘othering’ the gay community – and yet you embrace feminism – whereby you other yourself. I prefer to consider myself human – I don’t think its necessary to have another ‘in group’ to have a say, where they could do so from within an ‘everyone is included’ group.”

      Reply: Just briefly, I’m not sure feminism excludes anyone, necessarily. Bell Hooks’ books on which I’m doing a series of posts (which will be up soon) argue that one shouldn’t adopt feminism as an identity, as a counter-culture. That sexual rights, for all sexes are included in feminist dicussion, as they are the result of domination due to white supremecist, patriachal, classist, sexist, capitalist society, predominant in the Western world. From that perspective, as Hooks states “feminism is for everybody”, it’s a postion to advocate and discuss, but not an identity, hence, not exclusive.

      But, I recognise, the above definition may not be what Bronwyn meant when she discusses feminism, as there seems to be no real consensus on what feminism is, or should be defined as, part of the problem with it, Hooks states. So, my points may be ignored, at least until she clarifies, lol 😦

  2. Rebecca
    June 1, 2012 at 12:19 pm

    Well… ‘feminist critical theory’ … Whats wrong with critical theory? Not critical enough, or just not through the particular lens that sees virtually everything as the fault of a patriarchy?
    I dont really think its conducive to segregate in academia or otherwise… If what is being said applies to everyone, there isnt any need for additional labels…
    I do usually consider myself a feminist, in that I fight for equality, etc, etc. I have a problem with the some of the directions 2nd wave feminism has taken our society… Good intentions have led to some negative consequences, which still need to be corrected.

    I agree that to a point, feminism is for everyone. Dont disagree that you can be a guy and a feminist. But there is a significant bias.

    Everyone wants to be an individual, everyone wants their own little group who looks/thinks/believes what they do (whichever applies). There is the reason for othering. People need something to separate themselves from everyone else… A need to be different, special. While I generally agree with feminism (the original intent particularly), there is no difference with people who identify as feminist.

    However, I recognise that I’ve taken this conversation outside the scope of the essay… Sorry.

    • June 1, 2012 at 8:33 pm

      Thanks for your thoughts Rebecca. Some interesting points.

      You said: “I dont really think its conducive to segregate in academia or otherwise… If what is being said applies to everyone, there isnt any need for additional labels…”

      Reply: But we do it all the time don’t we? ‘Critical Metaphysics”, “Feminism”, “Naturalism”, “Christianity” etc, there are worldviews, or philosophical models we use to make sense of the world, that apply to everyone?

      You said: “I do usually consider myself a feminist, in that I fight for equality, etc, etc. I have a problem with the some of the directions 2nd wave feminism has taken our society… Good intentions have led to some negative consequences, which still need to be corrected.”

      Reply: Considering I’ve read all of two books on feminism I’m not going to act as a champion of it in too strong a sense, I am ignorant to “waves” of feminism and their impact. But I think there is plenty of discourse within the movement, not all feminists agree, and I think that is important to note. Whatever first, second etc wave feminism may have said about the world there have always been feminists who challenge those ideas, that’s important to note, I think.

      You said: “I agree that to a point, feminism is for everyone. Dont disagree that you can be a guy and a feminist. But there is a significant bias.”

      Reply: What do you mean by “significant bias”?

      Please don’t apologise, I’m happy to discuss whatever you want on any thread – shoemaking, coins, astronomy, anything, lol.

  3. Bronwyn
    June 9, 2012 at 2:30 am

    Hello… So sorry for lateness. Have been completely under the pump the last week finishing uni for the semester. 🙂

    This is a first for me, the blogging thing. So I’m guessing I’ll just run through and reply to the post…

    -Firstly, I am not sure how it could be easily argued that people need an ‘other’. ‘othering’ is oppressive through the power in which it is charged with. I am making assumptions here about the fact that you may be ‘white’ middle class heterosexual and fairly privileged. But these are the places I inhabit and of course it makes the idea of oppression and being an ‘other’ quite abstract and unimportant. As I/we come from that which the other is created. How would it be if the table was turned and we were the ‘other’? would we then be saying that there needs to be an ‘other’?

    -‘Patriarchy’ What is it then that embeds the ideals of a nuclear family? Who benefits most form the nuclear family? Men and more so men that conform to hegemonic masculinity. In the case of patriarchy ‘white’ heterosexual good looking strong and all other things associated with masculinity. Women that support these ideals may in a way benefit, but I would argue that that in itself is a consciousness raising exercise.

    *I find it at this point I need to say that my feminist framework is not about beating all men up for being men. It is about challenging the expected gender roles that our patriarchal society wants us to conform to. For both sexes and whatever genders they may be.

    I could spend a whole thousand words or more debating about the nuclear family but I will move on. The questing I guess I want to know is, if it isn’t patriarchy that drives the ideology of a nuclear family what then is it?

    -Marriage (in this day and age) is not about having children.
    -My intention with my argument was not to say marriage sux, although I personally am having trouble with the whole institution of it at the moment. Which is a journey for another time. My point here is about equality. The choice to choose to be married or not. Why do same-sex couples have to only have civil unions? why can’t they access the institution of marriage if that is what they want to do? Are they not citizens of this country too?

    -As for feminism be a way of me ‘othering’ myself. As I mentioned before my framework for feminism is to challenge the structures we live in. I am not one to sit here and accept the status quo, I find it pointless in my education to learn how things are and sit here and say ‘well that’s just how it is, that’s how society works’ I learn so I know how to change things so ‘humans’ can live up to their aspirations without being marginalised by how they were born, where they were born, and who they were born too.

    This is my reply to Rebecca’s first thread… will continue with the rest….

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