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.
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