Wedding Rings and Red Herrings

The idea that marriage is a solution to social inequality is one that’s long been advanced by conservatives in the United States, and I posted a rebuttal to this argument on xoJane recently. In a nutshell, for those of you who weren’t planning on reading two different things about the same subject today, the math conservatives advance to support their idea that marriage will solve economic and social inequality simply doesn’t hold up. Marriages wouldn’t provide the alleged net benefit to society, and can in fact leave women¬†more¬†economically vulnerable than they started out.

Conservatives can do math just like everyone else, and it’s frustrating that so much of their allegedly fiscally responsible, sensible, rooted in logic instead of emotion social policy is actually just the opposite: it’s rooted in conservative social values and attitudes. Conservatives think that (straight) people should be monogamously married to start families, and firmly believe in promoting marriage as a ‘family value.’ Given the fact that many people aren’t seeing the need to get married before having sex, having kids, starting families, living with people, and other delightful activities, conservative groups have been forced to push further afield when it comes to advancing this whole marriage thing.

So many have seized upon the idea of creating marriage incentives, programmes to encourage people to get married. They’re backing up such incentive programmes with the argument that they provide a net benefit to society, because marriage lifts people out of poverty. In fact, one column I read (and discussed in the xoJane article) went so far as to say that people who claim to care about social inequality should stop talking about social inequality, and start talking about marriage. It was a rather brash claim, but, critically, it was also a claim that cut to the heart of why conservatives are pushing so hard on the marriage agenda.

It’s not just that they think marriage is a ‘family value’ and they want to see heterosexual monogamous marriage rates go up in the United States (after all, if it was really a solution to social inequality, that would be a strong argument for marriage equality, allowing all people who wanted to get married to do so, for whatever reason–surely, we don’t want to condemn GSMs to poverty, do we?). It’s that they actively want to divert the conservation and distract people, and this provides an ideal fig leaf for doing so. They can claim to be concerned about social inequality, all while drawing people away from real, important conversations about how to address social issues.

For every time people like me pick up the keyboard to refute conservative arguments about marriage offering a way to balance the hugely unfair distribution of wealth in this country, conservatives win, because we’re not talking about other issues that actually affect economic parity. I could be writing today, for example, about how transphobia in hiring practices, something permitted because the government refuses to follow through on ENDA, means that many trans people, particularly trans women, make less money than their cis counterparts. I could be discussing how transmisogyny plays a role in the job market and how trans women are penalised for not performing gender to the satisfaction of potential employers, putting them in a vulnerable economic position that makes it hard to survive, let alone access needed transition services.

But instead, I’m having to point out that what conservatives are doing with this whole marriage as social equaliser thing is saying ‘look! Over there! I think I saw a drop bear!’ And many of us dutifully look over there, even though we claim to want to avoid the endless repeats of situations where conservatives take control of the situation. Suddenly we’re all talking about drop bears, and meanwhile, a Pacific Tree Octopus slinks by in the background, happily burbling to itself.

This whole marriage conversation is a red herring. There’s ample data out there to illustrate that claims about marriage and social equality are just wrong, and we can easily point at it to illustrate this fact. We don’t need to waste time trying to argue over it, especially since conservatives aren’t really here to have a conversation about using marriage to improve access to economic success. They’re here to do two things, and two things only:

1. Promote ‘conservative values,’ among which is the idea of the heterosexual nuclear family.

2. Distract the general population from its feelings of injustice and unrest about social inequality, and its (justifiable) belief that social conservatism is largely to blame for many of the harmful policies and attitudes that have contributed to the growth of a rich-poor gap in the United States that is the worst it’s ever been.

I want to talk about inequality, not marriage. I want to talk about actual tools for fixing inequality, and I want to talk about the social structures that create a system where inequality continues to be tolerated and in some areas encouraged; there are zones of this society where people are working hard and long to maintain the gap between rich and poor. And one of those ways is through marriage and the consolidation of wealth among the most rich and powerful, and the bleeding of worth from among the nation’s most poor.

Marriage should be open to all, and I’m all for getting married if it’s something you want to do, but I’m over being told that I’m holding up the fight for equality by refusing to play ball with conservatives who think we’re unobservant enough to be fooled by this claim that talking about marriage will fix social problems.