Prop. 8: Was it all about sexism?

An interesting article on the politics of Proposition 8 by Slate.com's Richard Thompson Ford, in which he argues against seeing inconsistency in voter's acceptance of Barack Obama for president, yet rejection of same-sex marriage. Homophobia, he argues, is closer to (perhaps even part of) gender-based sexism than it is analogous to race and civil rights discrimination:

After all, traditional marriage isn't just analogous to sex discrimination—it is sex discrimination: Only men may marry women, and only women may marry men. Same-sex marriage would transform an institution that currently defines two distinctive sex roles—husband and wife—by replacing those different halves with one sex-neutral role—spouse. Sure, we could call two married men "husbands" and two married women "wives," but the specific role for each sex that now defines marriage would be lost. Widespread opposition to same-sex marriage might reflect a desire to hang on to these distinctive sex roles rather than vicious anti-gay bigotry. By wistfully invoking the analogy to racism, same-sex marriage proponents risk misreading a large (and potentially movable) group of voters who care about sex difference more than about sexual orientation.
On the one hand, the pernicious relationship between rigid, oppositional conceptions of gender and homophobia is familiar to a lot of us. Obviously, the anti-same-sex marriage activists have been hugely successful by framing their campaign in terms of "protecting" hetero marriage -- and this is one possible answer to the question "what do they think they're protecting hetero marriage from?" On the other hand, I guess I'm skeptical that there is a large group of straight voters who aren't anti-gay but still uber-defensive about their own sexuality and gender identity.

UPDATE 11/19: Amanda Marcotte over at Pandagon has a more thorough analysis of the article. Check it out.

1 comment:

  1. Interesting idea.

    My own thought: Prop 8 is more about things that have already happened than that which may happen (i.e. gay marriage). With the loss of no-fault divorce and the sharp increase in children born out of wedlock (despite the availability of abortion and birth control), many advocates of traditional marriage want to move in the other direction.

    Paradoxically, the best thing for gay marriage would be to strengthen traditional marriage, then sell gay marriage as a way for gay couples to make a stable family unit. (As a conservative libertarian, I'm all for gay marriage - last time I checked, gays don't want to marry straight people, straight people don't want to marry gay people, and life is better when adults can have lifelong partners. Pro-family and all that.)