I appreciate that Jesse Singal took the time to respond to Courtney Martin's TAP Online piece about marriage today, but his response seems weak -- and privileged to boot. Let's take this one piece at a time.
Jesse rejects Courtney's objection to the patriarchal connotations of marriage. He writes, "I don’t see how a couple becomes any more susceptible to these inevitable influences simply by getting married." Well, I do. There are sexist influences bound up in every aspect of the ritual of straight marriage. The gendered costumes for the ceremony, the tradition of the bride's family footing the bill, the father "giving" his daughter to the groom -- I could go on. Depending on the premarital situation of the couple, the difference between their domestic arrangements pre and post-marriage may not be great. But research does show that after cohabitation, women tend to be stuck with more chores.
Jesse says that boycotting marriage until same-sex unions are allowed is "a noble sentiment, but it’s unrealistic. It doesn’t make sense to ask people to give up these potentially life-altering legal protections as a means of (let’s face it, completely ineffectual) political protest." But that's the whole point of a boycott, right? I could protest the awfulness of House of the Dead and BloodRayne by threatening to boycott Uwe Boll movies, but I don't watch Boll's "films" in the first place, so my boycott won't work. There is a collective action problem here, of course, and boycotts only work if participation is high, but the correct response to that isn't ending the boycott, it's promoting it so that it reaches that critical level.
Jesse scoffs at the notion that Courtney and her non-white beau would want to avoid an institution that excluded them just 40 years ago. "Anti-miscegenation laws were a disgrace, of course, but now that they’re gone what is gained by saying 'I’m not going to get married because these laws used to exist'?" he asks. Well, sure, Courtney's hypothetical marriage is completely legal today. But the institution is still constructed in subtle ways to fit best with same-raced, preferably white, couples. Imagine a traditional wedding in which two white families are sitting on either side of the aisle. Now imagine a wedding in which one side is completely white and the other completely black. See the problem?
Lastly, Jesse mocks Courtney for objecting to the "till death do we part" locution. "It’s 2008," he declares, "We’re not getting married by priests in the village square. If you want to simply sign some forms down at City Hall, you can." I don't know about Jesse, but I have many religious relatives and friends who want nothing more than for me to be married in a church, with tuxes and a priest and the traditional vows. Even if that weren't my preference, I would feel very bound to it, because weddings aren't just about the couple at hand, they're about the people the couple is important to. It's a lot easier to say that a Justice of the Peace wedding is possible than to convince one's uncles and aunts of its virtues.
Aside from my objections to his arguments, I was puzzled by Jesse's complete silence regarding the thesis of Courtney's piece. The column wasn't written to enumerate the reasons against marriage; it was written to express her reevaluation, and possible rejection of them. I'd be more interested in hearing Jesse's response to Courtney's new attitude, rather than reading him rail against her old one.