Marriage equality Gay marriage advocate John Corvino demonstrates an astonishing ignorance of the sexual and legal culture of 2012 America in this video, which Dan Savage for some reason chose to share this week. Corvino is trying to counter the right-wing “slippery slope” argument that legalizing gay marriage will lead to allowing plural marriage, but instead of making a true case for marriage equality (“So what? Still none of your business”), he files in alongside the pearl-clutchers in a remarkable display of bigotry-shifting. His claims - that plural marriage is bad for “social stability” and generally a “bad idea” - sound identical to the fears that other people voice about gay marriage:
Whether it’s a good idea to allow people to marry one unrelated person of the same sexis a different question from whether it’s a good idea to allow them to marry multiple partners, or their relatives, or their pets, or their kitchen appliances, or whatever…Take polygamy, which is in fact very common historically…Polygamy tends to be polygyny, that is one man with multiple wives, and the societies that practice it tend not only to have rampant sexism, but also serious class differences, where high-status males acquire multiple wives, and then low-status males become virtually unmarriageable. From the standpoint of promoting social stability, this seems to be bad public policy. But look, I’ll let the polygamy advocates make their own case, which is different from mine. My case is that it’s a good idea for everyone to have someone to marry, which is a different idea than saying that it’s a good idea for them to have anyone or anything to marry.
Unfortunately for John Corvino, he doesn’t appear to have any idea of what “plural marriage” looks like in 2012. Sure, there are religious sects in America pushing for legal recognition of their polygamous practices, but there’s a small but significant and still-growing group of Americans who practice healthy, consensual non-monogamy and would also like hospital visitations, custody rights, healthcare, protection against discrimination, etc. By throwing us under the bus in such blatant terms, John Corvino reveals that he’s fighting for his own rights not on the basis of human dignity and equality, but by trying to shift the other-ness onto a different, less understood and thus more easily demonized group of people.
It’s very common for oppressed groups to fight for their rights not by breaking down the entire structures that oppress them, but by fighting to re-define certain social terms so that they are included in the privileged group. John Corvino is not questioning the institution of marriage as a legal concept tied to health care, financial status, or parenting. He’s not questioning our society’s conceptions of love, relationships, or partnership. Instead, he’s asking for the group that is “people allowed to get married” be readjusted to let him in. He’s standing under the rope ladder of the Heterosexual Monogamous Marriage Club Treehouse shouting I know the password and I’m totally cool so come on and let me in you guys rather than questioning the idea of exclusive clubs in the first place or chopping the damn tree down.