This afternoon, I was sitting on the couch with the window open behind me, reading Eve Kosofsky Sedgwick's Touching Feeling: Affect, Pedagogy, Performativity, which I started last week after learning about Sedgwick's death. It's been on my shelf for years with a lot of other things I've barely touched. I was reading along and found the following paragraph in the first few pages of chapter three:
And to attend, as we have been here, to the spatialized role of witness in constituting the relational vicinity of the speech act: where does that get us but to the topic of marriage itself as theater -- marriage as a kind of fourth wall or invisible proscenium arch that moves through the world (a heterosexual couple secure in their right to hold hands in the street), continually reorienting around itself the surrounding relations of visibility and spectatorship, of the tacit and the explicit, of the possibility or impossibility of a given person's articulating a given enunciatory position? Marriage isn't always hell, but it is true that le mariage, c'est les autres: like a play, marriage exists in and for the eyes of others. One of the most ineradicable folk beliefs of the married seems to be that it is no matter-of-fact thing, but rather a great privilege for anyone else to behold a wedding or a married couple or to be privy to their secrets -- including oppressive or abusive secrets, the portable puppet theater of Punch and Judy, but also the showy open secret of the "happy marriage." Like the most conventional definition of a play, marriage is constituted as a spectacle that denies its audience the ability either to look away from it or equally to intervene in it. (72)It immediately clicked with me for a lot of reasons. I have said many times before that I believe legal rights should be extended to all couples, but I question why society has to privilege marriage over so many other types of bonds and relationships. My reasons align with those offered by BeyondMarriage.Org, and I don't intend to delve into them here and now. But I read that paragraph from Sedgwick and felt the chill of recognition. It gets at why marriage can squick me out so much.
Soon after, Da Man arrived home. Before I even saw him, before he turned the corner into the living room, he asked, "Did you really want to get married this year?" We had our civil union in 2005 so we would get the legal benefits associated with marriage, but we did the bare minimum to make it happen. We went to a Justice of the Peace, and no one else was present but the three of us. If we could have signed the form without having to speak any words in front of power as embodied in the JP, we would have done that. And when the state supreme court said that the state had to start offeirng marriage and not just civil unions, we decided to get married so that our legal benefits could extend outside the state to other states that recognize gay marriages, just in case.
But back to tonight. Da Man asked, "Did you really want to get married this year?" I didn't think he was proposing that we break up since that would be the stupidest thing he could ever do (and vice versa). I just looked at him after he turned the corner. He continued, "I heard on the radio that the state is converting all civil unions to marriage next year." And that does turn out to be true. We knew the vote on the bill was happening in the state house and senate this week, but we didn't really know the details.
I won't recap the conversation that we had, but we decided quickly not to get married on our anniversary this year as we'd originally planned, and it's largely for the reasons Sedgwick discusses in the paragraph above. We don't want to do anything publicly. To the extent possible, we want to keep our relationship out of the panoptic arena, away from the eyes of witnesses. I then asked, "If we don't get married in a ceremony, should we still get rings?" Basically, we're going to put the money elsewhere. Unless something changes, we'll just wait for our civil union to convert.
And we'll be married when we wake up on October 1, 2010.