#LoveWins: The tyranny of intimacy
“Of course, I’ll do it.”
This was my immediate reaction when a colleague asked me to support a Supreme Court petition that questions the constitutionality of the Family Code for its failure to acknowledge same sex marriage in the Philippines. For a friend and ally of the LGBT community, this was not a big ask.
My sociological self, however, prevailed. I ended up sending this response instead: “But aren’t we supposed to contest the dominance of coupledom? Char.” I felt the need to end that message with char to frame my response as one that teases, but also supports my colleague’s plea.
This exchange happened a month before the United States Supreme Court declared that the Constitution grants same sex couples “equal dignity in the eyes of the law.” The timing could not be more perfect as millions of LGBT advocates the world over celebrate Pride March the following day.
Even though the US Supreme Court decision has no direct bearing on Philippine law, this decision is nevertheless symbolic.
The United States has joined the ranks of at least twenty countries—half of them with a Catholic majority or plurality—that have set same sex relationships free from the category of “love that dare not speak its name.” Social stigma has shifted to those who denigrate same sex relationships as unworthy of recognition.
Recent developments have also called out those who make a distinction between being gay (which is fine) and gay couples getting married (which is “too much”). The Supreme Court decision makes a case against acceptance with limits, and instead, seeks to heal the injury caused by locking out gays and lesbians out “of a central institution” of society.
Which love wins?
Victories, however, are always built on exclusions.
While #LoveWins is a cause for celebration, it should also open doors for critical reflection. Which love won this time?
The obvious answer, of course, is it is love that has been disparaged, ridiculed and censured for decades. By framing marriage as a fundamental right, the US Supreme Court extends the material and legal privileges that used to be exclusively enjoyed by opposite sex couples. The decision, indeed, was a big victory for civil rights, with some comparing it to the ruling that allowed interracial couples to marry almost fifty years ago.
But there is a more specific type of love that won in that Supreme Court decision, and that is a form of love that places marriage on a pedestal.
As Justice Kennedy’s decision puts it, “no union is more profound than marriage for it embodies the highest ideals of love, fidelity, devotion, sacrifice and family.” By ruling in favor of equal marriage, same sex couples are no longer “condemned to live in loneliness.”
It is difficult not to be moved by Justice Kennedy’s beautifully written prose. However, its characterization of marriage calls for some skepticism.
When matrimony is described as the “most profound” manifestation of the “highest ideal of love” that gives couples “fulfilment in the highest meaning,” I get the impression that other life choices are not as meaningful as the ones that have been legitimized by the state. Where, I wonder, does this leave couples unmarried by choice, sequential monogamists, single parents and consciously uncoupled individuals?
To what extent did love really win if married love is viewed as more superior than other relationship possibilities?
Part of the issue, I reckon, has to do with the primacy societies place on “couple culture.”
Even though there are now a variety of ways to organize the lives of families, friends and romantic partners, the ideal of long-term, monogamous, cohabiting, legally-sanctioned romantic partnerships remains powerful. It is therefore not surprising that individuals who do not follow conventions on coupledom are asked, often in a nagging tone, “Why are you not married?” and “Why are you single?” as if these are profoundly problematic choices to make.
Marriage, on the other hand, has been uncritically celebrated—rarely are married couples asked, “why are you un-single?” That the Philippines is the only country in the world without divorce has been a badge of honor for some, as if staying in unhappy marriages for the sake of forever does not condemn one to live in loneliness.
Clearly, there are good reasons why marriage continues to be regarded as one of the keystones of social order. The trouble, however, begins when couple culture is overly privileged such that unconventional life choices are considered of lesser status.
Historically, for example, women who choose to be single have been stereotyped to have major character flaws. Maybe she is too strong-willed, maybe she is too choosy and maybe she is too selfish. Often, it is forgotten that she, too, is most likely engaged in deep, fulfilling albeit unromantic relationships built on virtues of care, dedication, sacrifice, filial piety and mutual responsibility.
Then there are the serial monogamists or individuals who give passionate, authentic and total devotion to their beloved but are critical of the concept of eternal commitment. While men engaged in this romantic pattern are labelled commitment-phobes, women are disparagingly reduced to the category of sluts.
This is not a trivial matter. When we uncritically set marriage as the representation of the highest ideals of love, we elicit feelings of inferiority towards people who, by choice or circumstance are engaged in alternative domestic arrangements.
This, I reckon, is the same ideological force that discourages victims of domestic abuse from leaving their spouses, as staying in a marriage, no matter how oppressive, continues to gain approval from vocal and moralistic conservatives than breaking away from couple culture and figuring out alternative ways of nurturing virtues of love, devotion and self-care.
This brings me back to Justice Kennedy’s decision. “The nature of injustice,” he states, “is that we may not always see it in our own times.”
What may seem to be innocent jokes and playful labels attached to unconventional lifestyles fuel a culture that excludes rather than gives space to different yet profound manifestations of unmarried love.
While more and more countries acknowledge the ethics of equal marriage, it is also important to broaden our acceptance of diverse forms of family life and relationships.
I hope that the struggle for same-sex marriage in the Philippines equalizes, rather than creates hierarchies among different configurations of loving relationships. This, I think, is a meaningful way of celebrating the beauty of equal marriage and giving honor to the queer struggle for more acceptance towards diverse ways of living.
Only then can we say that love truly won. – Rappler.com
Nicole Curato is a sociologist. She is in a long-term, long-distance, opposite sex marriage. This piece is based on a Filipino Freethinkers podcast uploaded last July 3, 2015.