Thursday, February 11, 2010

The Stranger Wore White

In an effort to highlight the absurdity of most US states' laws on marriage, a Florida artist will get hitched tomorrow (he has the license to do so, anyway) to a woman he doesn't know but who answered his open call for a wife. The Orlando Sentinel's explains:
Where does performance art meet political protest?

When Brian Feldman marries Hannah Miller, an event scheduled for sometime after 3 p.m. Friday at the Orange County Courthouse. (Weddings are first-come, first-served, so you never know. The office closes at 4.)

Feldman, who does some outlandish things for outlandish reasons, has a pretty strong motivation for marrying a woman he doesn’t know. (Miller insists they’ve met a few times, but Feldman seems vague about it. “It’s a small arts community,” he says.)

He’s trying to point out the craziness of a state system that will allow near-strangers to marry, as long as they’re of opposite sexes, but will not allow marriages for committed partners of the same sex.

It's hard, as someone unable to marry my partner of 8 years, not to feel utterly exasperated by this, but in reading the comments on Maupin's story, I realized that same-sex inequality isn't the only absurdity this performance highlights. It also makes a mockery of the country's so-called Marriage fraud laws designed to keep immigrants from remaining in the country via private arrangements with American citizens. In those cases, the Attorney General sees it as his/her duty to interfere and make a determination as to whether two people really want to be married or whether their marriage is "fraudulent." And yet, although there is no way that Feldman and his bride could pass the same interview that couples are forced to undergo when one of them is not a citizen, his marriage will not be legally "fraudulent."

In thinking through why this might not strike all Americans as absurd, I do realize that what the immigration laws + Feldman's performance (let alone celebrity liaisons in Las Vegas) essentially say is that many in this nation feel that any two citizens of opposite sex and a certain age should be able to marry for any reason, any reason at all, if they see fit to do so. In other words, the argument would seem to be that marriage is a private matter so long as you are a citizen and fall within a certain demographic.

What that underscores quite clearly, though, is that what is really at stake in the marriage debates is access (and the ability to deny access) to a valuable societal status symbol. "We are legitimate and therefore entitled to the status and its benefits, and you are not." It also makes perfectly clear that all the chatter about protecting children and traditional values is a smokescreen for bigotry. If it weren't, Feldman's performance would also be illegal.

As Maupin noted, it will be telling to see whether "the people who claim that gay marriages harm the institution of marriage will show up to protest this one."

Labels: gay politics, performance art


Anonymous Cedric C said...

Those in Quebec would remember when tv personality Julie Snyder
married standing comedian François Morency for a few hours in Las Vegas, before getting a divorce later in the same day.

Religions shouldn't have a say in marriage, as marriage existed long before religion.


2/11/2010 10:06:00 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Great post. Thanks.

2/11/2010 10:20:00 AM  
Anonymous Federico said...

So absurd!

I don't know if you are aware of an interesting article on same-sex marriage in The New Yorker, a few weeks ago. Olson & David Boies, former adversaries during Bush vs Gore are joining forces designing a strategy to overturn prohibitions...

2/11/2010 11:01:00 AM  
Blogger Joanne Mattera said...

York State New, despite the support of our governor, does not allow you to get married, but these states do: Massachusetts, New Hampshire, Connecticut, Vermont--and Iowa,the state that very likely got Obama elected president.

The NYT is full of pictures of smiling same-sex couples from New York who marry in Massachusetts and Connecticut. I understand the point you're making--and I totally agree; I mean, Brittney Spears can get married for a minute and you can't?--but you CAN marry in these other states and your marriage will be legally recognized in New York.

So now the art blogosphere has two mandates:
. A blog for Jerry
. A marriage for Ed and Murat

2/11/2010 11:21:00 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

As of now there is no federal recognition of any of these unions. That's the problem. Also, if your same-sex partner is from another country, it could be disadvantageous to get married in one of those states. The federal government could determine that such an act demonstrates that your partner intends on staying permanently, which contradicts the terms of his/her visa. It's a can of worms.

2/11/2010 01:10:00 PM  
Anonymous Kelly Fitzgerald said...

Great post. Thanks so much!

2/11/2010 01:50:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Actually I would turn it around...All legal partnerships would be civil unions, with all the rights that marriage currently provides in the eyes of the state, and if people want to get married by a religious institution they could do that too but it has no bearing on property rights, taxes, insurance and the like.

That way the fundamentalists can keep the word "marriage". It's a semantic distinction, but I bet most straight people would opt for civil unions and forgo the church altogether.

2/11/2010 05:33:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

(finishing my last post) straight couples and gay couples equal rights under the law. Which, as I usderstand it, is the issue.

I doubt too many people care what religious institutions think.

2/11/2010 08:23:00 PM  
Anonymous Paul said...

Sadly, Edward, I must agree with you. As a certain part of the population preaches their ignorance in a wholesale fashion, many others are challenged with how to deal with their religion of fear.

I trust that you and your partner share a love so fierce that it is not bound by legal realms. I say this not to dismiss your frustration, but to encourage you to hold fast. Truth will be the victor, even if it is not officially sanctioned by the government.

2/12/2010 12:49:00 AM  
Anonymous Cedric C said...

This is kind of a performance, Kitty Lambert is complaining that she can't marry her woman lover, and than opt to marry a gay man.

Im my previous example, the clip was part of a whole show, including honeymoon and divorce, all within a few hours. I insist because at the end it looks like they're just "gone married". That wasn't the point.

Hey, someone could curate a show about this topic.

Cedric C

2/12/2010 05:31:00 AM  
Blogger Mery Lynn said...

Isn't there supposed to be a separation of church and state in this country? Why doesn't that apply to marriage/civil unions? Why do churches get to dictate what constitutes marriage?

2/12/2010 11:47:00 AM  
Blogger Virginia said...

What I also find ridiculous is the state's involvement in marriage break ups. I need to "prove" that I don't want to be married any more? No one ever asked me to prove I wanted to be married, so how come they get to do it on the way out and not the way in? (and I realize I'm one of the so-called "lucky ones" because it was easy for me to marry my hetero, citizen partner)

The government should have nothing to do with my relationship status. Period.

2/15/2010 10:06:00 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Okay, first off I am homophobic. It is shallow, unfair, wrong....blah blah blah. It creeps me out...get over it.

I got married once so I could move to England for free. It was AWESOME! I am divorced now (I did love the man I married in England...but more as a boyfriend and I knew it would end). It was a convenience marriage we got in Vegas.

Even though homosexuality creeps me out I still believe they should be able to be married in some way. Even if religious people do not want them to call it "marriage" then fine....they should still be entitled to each other's benefits and be able to legally be together in the eyes of this country.

I do not like to see it but it is here. It is not going away either, so get over it. The government needs to step in and give a little on this issue.

2/17/2010 08:48:00 PM  

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