Marriage, a 'Couple' of Questions: Same-Sex Marriage, Coupledom and Identity

By Cover, Rob | Gay and Lesbian Issues and Psychology Review, December 1, 2012 | Go to article overview

Marriage, a 'Couple' of Questions: Same-Sex Marriage, Coupledom and Identity


Cover, Rob, Gay and Lesbian Issues and Psychology Review


Abstract

Public and legislative debates, queer community activism, and partisan political policy on same-sex marriage rights have opened question as to the different ways in which marriage and relationships can be conceived. However, always marginalised in these discourses is the figure of 'coupledom', built on what can be considered the heteronormative 'marriage model' and deployed to uphold all sides of same-sex marriage debates. 'Coupling', as the means by which relationships are defined, remains under-theorised. This article begins by showing how the notion of the 'couple' can be de-naturalised by post-structuralist queer theory, before going on to consider the ways in which a coupledom/promiscuity binary functions in same-sex marriage debates in order to uphold the primacy and naturalness of the concept of the romantic couple as a kinship unit. It then demonstrates how 'coupledom' operates as a performative mode of identification to which sexual subjects form a passionate attachment in order to stabilise sexuality and maintain sexual subjectivities. The article demonstrates some of the ways in which the matrix between sexual subjectivity and a coupledom/promiscuity binary excludes alternative sexual and romantic arrangements (celibacy, polygamy and other forms of attachment that are not primarily defined by coupledom on the 'marriage model'). The article concludes with a brief coda examining how pro and con arguments for same-sex marriage have utilised concerns around queer youth suicide whilst unwittingly pushing for various normativities of coupledom.

Keywords: same-sex marriage, coupledom/ promiscuity binary, heteronormativity

Introduction

Public and legislative debates, queer community activism, and partisan political policy on legalising same-sex marriage have opened a number of questions as to the different ways in which marriage and relationships can be conceived. However, one element which remains central - yet frequently made invisible - is the potent figure of 'the couple' (Riggs, 2011, p. 3). The supposed naturalness of this figure is built on heteronormative concepts of marriage and remains intact despite same-sex marriage's capacity to critique institutionalised heterosexual ity.

'Coupling' as the means by which relationships are defined requires critique, investigation, dissection; yet the sacrosanct position of coupledom has rendered this figure both invisible and monolithic in debates about marriage, relationships, kinship, sexuality and family. This article begins by discussing some of the ways in which the notion of the 'couple' can be de-naturalised from a post-structuralist queer theory perspective, and considers how a coupledom/promiscuity binary functions to uphold the primacy and naturalness of the concept of the romantic couple as a kinship unit. Turning to the question as to why a passionate attachment to coupledom runs through heterosexual and homosexual relations, I argue that this attachment results from coupledom's capacity to performatively stabilise, and thus maintain as coherent, certain recognisable and social ly^demanded sexual subjectivities. In light of this, the call for same-sex marriage is, then, no critique of heterosexuality, but rather upholds and reifies heterosexual marriage as a cultural institution, not only through reiteration of heterosexual normativities by same-sex persons, but at - and as - the very kernel of the concept of marriage.

Tolerance and the Logic of Coupledom

The conceptual 'logic' that underpins coupledom as the basic argument for statesanctioned marriage rights has been grounded in the perceived "naturalness' of heterosexual normativity in the form of the joining or bonding of two subjects of different genders. Within conservative heteronormativity, these two genders are considered to be oppositional and complementary within an active/passive dyad that is formulated in reference to the respective genitalia presented as having a mutual 'fif (Gagnon & Parker, 1995, p. …

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