Lawmakers approve gay marriage in Illinois
From the November 5, 2013, edition of the Chicago Tribune:
Lawmakers approved gay marriage Tuesday in a historic vote that saw supporters overcome cultural, racial and geographic divides and put Illinois in line with a growing number of states that have extended the right to wed to same-sex couples.
After more than a year of intense lobbying by both sides, gay lawmakers made emotional pleas to colleagues to give their families equal rights even as opponents argued that doing so would unravel the foundation of society.
I met Patrick Singleton and Bryce Kiplinger at an outreach event sponsored by Marriage Rights Now. The purpose of the event was to sign up members in a well-known, “gay-friendly” sports bar. As we waited for potential supporters to enter the bar, Patrick broke the ice by introducing me to his partner, Bryce: “As you can probably guess, when we hold hands, we get a lot of second glances.” Patrick is a graying white man who looks as if he must be nearing his sixties. Bryce is a thin black man who is yet to turn thirty. Bryce echoed Patrick’s matter-of-face tone and elaborated: “Who wouldn’t look? I mean, it’s not enough for us to be gay, but we have to be interracial and intergenerational as well.”
Later that evening, Patrick explained how he and Bryce feel a pressing need to have the right to marry. For the past six years, Bryce, a French citizen, has tried unsuccessfully to obtain a work permit that would enable him to legally reside in the United States. Because he does not have a green card, Bryce could be deported at any time, forced to leave Patrick and their two sons to fend for themselves.
If their relationship were federally recognized as a legal marriage, Patrick could sponsor Bryce for US citizenship, thus resolving Bryce’s work status and alleviating fears that he could be deported. Not only to Patrick and Bryce feel that the uncertainty about Bryce’s residency status puts the stability of their family at risk, but they also worry about the economic insecurities they experience because Bryce cannot find a job without legal residency. Patrick explained how this adds stress and anxiety to their intimate lives: “I have been working two jobs like crazy, just trying to support us, plus we have two sons. It has been a real financial hardship. Even more than that is the emotional hardship, because I don’t think anyone that hasn’t been through it can really understand what it does to someone’s self-esteem to feel that you are dependent on someone else for everything.” These emotional and financial hardships are more difficult for Bryce and Patrick because they do not a have a legal and socially sanctioned relationship that would provide access to community and family support systems to get them through the hard times.
In an interview several months later, Patrick stressed how marriage would not just address the lack of protections for his own relationship but would also help alleviate discrimination against all gays and lesbians. “To me, the importance of marriage equality is related to the importance of rectifying all forms of discrimination. It is like one symptom of a big disease, and I think that we have to try to address everything about that disease. I think that one of the most public ways to address the disease is by the issue of same-gender marriage because it is so visible.” Patrick argued that the “discrimination disease” is particularly harmful for gays and lesbians because it bars them from gaining access to important forms of protection offered by official marriage. For instance, without marriage, it is much more difficult for gay couples to find outside support from the community and family that give relationships their stability. Patrick and Bryce feel this effect of the discrimination disease in their everyday lives because they cannot marry. For them, marriage is important for a variety of reasons, but it is essential to protect their relationship for the negative effects of discrimination, financial instability, and emotional uncertainties.
Like Patrick, many proponents of same-sex marriage share the belief that marriage will not only make same-sex couples more stable and secure but also protect the “gay community” as a whole from the negative effects of social stigma. It is through the logic of risk that marriage equality activists like Patrick and Bryce both make sense of their own personal troubles and also help manage marriage as a regulatory ideal (Butler 1993; Foucault 1990) that promises to alleviate anxieties experienced by all gays and lesbians regardless of their personal decision to enter a marriage contract. Given this formulation, risk discourses not only individualize responsibilities of governance—a position essential to neo-liberalism—they also construct gays and lesbians as a vulnerable collectivity whose “health” and survival depend upon marriage. When imagined according to the logic of risk, marriage can appear as a freely chosen “lifestyle” at the same time that it produces the very terms of the subjectivity it purports to indemnify.
Proponents of same-sex marriage are not the only ones who find a language for their vulnerability in a risk-based discourse. In the span of two months (from March 30 to May 30, 2006), the Washington Post published over two hundred articles about some type of “at-risk” phenomenon. American women are increasingly “at risk” for heart disease. United States veterans are “at risk” for identity theft. The entire world is “at risk” for contracting the deadly bird flu. Sioux Falls, South Dakota, is the safest driving city because fewer people there are “at risk” for car accidents. The nation is “at risk” for a terrorist attack.
This focus on risk is not just media-fueled sensationalism. According to sociologist Ulrich Beck (1992), we are living in a “risk society”: a historical period characterized by an increasing focus on how to deal with the kinds of dangers produced by capitalist industry without giving up on the project of modernity. As Beck (1992) and Iain Wilkinson (2001) argue, a key distinction between a modern industrial society and a risk-based society is that “class societies remain related to the ideal of equality in their developmental dynamics. . . . Not so the risk society. Its normative counter project, which is its basis and motive force, is safety” (Beck 1992, 49). According to Beck, motives for political action in a class-based society are centered on how to gain access to the rewards of industrialization, as opposed to a risk society, where motives are about how to avoid the consequences.
My evidence suggests that the class-based projects of equality and risk-based motivations of safety actually work together: same-sex marriage activists, such as Patrick and Bryce, articulate marriage as an institution that will give them equal access to safety. In other words, equality matters not just in principle but also because it gives individuals access to social structures that alleviate fears.
Rather than analyzing risk as a distinct historical period, I argue that the concept of risk currently operates in the United States as a political rationality that calls forth marriage as a way to insure populations by providing security and safety in the name of equality. Risk narratives become political rationalities when security and safety are proper aims of governance best achieved when individuals make responsible choices (Dean 1999a, 1999b; Fox 1999; Hacking 1990; Lemke 2004; Lupton 1999). Risk provides a language for the disenfranchised to express their political grievances in terms of being denied access to governmental technologies that enable individuals—or, in the case of marriage, couples—to manage life’s risks. Same-sex marriage activists are essentially asking to be governed as if they were subjects worthy of self-regulation.
Read more about The Nuptial Deal here.