Thursday, December 11, 2008

Reading Materially

I was just watching the Mike Huckabee interview on The Daily Show. Go watch it first; it's good.

Welcome back. Huckabee, toward the end, says that words matter, and definitions matter, and he says this in defense of retaining a millennia old definition of marriage as a man and a woman for the purpose of reproduction. Now I've rehearsed several times over, though perhaps not hear, some of the problems with this position, and I'll quickly recap them before getting to what I really want to say.
1) As John points out, marriage has undergone nearly radical changes over the period during which it has retained its preference for heterosexuality. Several well-known anthropologists find its origins in chatel slavery and abductions during raids. On this point the opposition is willfully ignorant.
2) There doesn't seem to be any great ideological or moral objection to the infertile marrying, and though surely those couples who choose to wait to have kids or not have them at all feel some pressure, great or small, from friends, family and strangers to get the job done, the idea of a ban on childless marriages would be a political non-starter. On this point the opposition is willfully disingenuous.
3) The history of the word or tradition and the normative telos of a union have no bearing on the effect of a homosexual marriage upon those not involved. Since the tradition of marriage is one of change, including same-sex unions into the fold only breaks with tradition if one strategically distills tradition as seen above; and the union of Adam and Steve does nothing to keep the Mormons from breading; so the manifest effects of gay marriage are unrelated to the objections stated.

But that is a little tired, surely, and something you've already thought of.

I'm more interested in words and definitions mattering. After all, regardless of the real history of marriage, what is at stake here is how it is defined (including how the construction of its history is defined). I like to think that words do matter, but maybe I've been saying this backwards. The feminism that I'm in love with, the post-structural feminism, is directly concerned with language's role in determining what we say is real. My feminism is a feminism of definitions: the way we define words, and the way words define us.

I see Huckabee martialling similar thoughts to defend his homophobia--a phobia that has its origins in part, I believe, in his decision that homosexuality is a choice--and I get worried about me. The difference is, I've decided, that for Huckabee, words (are) matter. But I think that Huckabee matters words--he is doing the opposite of what I want to do--and the campaign against marriage-as-love is a policing action to retain the right of the moral majority to the power into which it was born.

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