Independence Day Greetings from a Marriage “Liberationist”

Posted on July 4th, 2011 by Katherine Franke

It’s funny, when I was writing my dissertation many years ago, my adviser said to me: “Katherine, you’re really a libertarian when it comes to gender, aren’t you?”  At the time I resisted the moniker, but is “libertarian” worse than “liberationist”?  Who, on the 4th of July of all days, wouldn’t want to be called a “liberationist” after all?

That’s what Ross Douthat in the New York Times Op-Ed page called me today:

At the other end of the spectrum from Rauch’s gay conservatism are the liberationists, who hope that gay marriage will help knock marriage off its cultural pedestal altogether. To liberationists, a gay rights movement that ends up reaffirming a “gold standard” for relationships will have failed in its deeper mission — which Columbia law professor Katherine M. Franke recently summarized in a Times Op-Ed article as the quest for “greater freedom than can be found in the one-size-fits-all rules of marriage.”

That’s the kind of argument that makes social conservatives worry about polygamy (and worse). But liberationism has been gradually marginalized in the gay community over the last two decades, and gay conservatism seems to have largely carried the day. The desire to be included in an existing institution has proved stronger than the desire to eliminate every institutional constraint.

He contrasts my view, penned in a NYT Op-ed on June 23rd, with that of Dan Savage, who was profiled in a Times Magazine cover story yesterday.  Savage is a big fan of marriage – for both same- and different-sex couples – while arguing that some of the rules of marriage could and should be negotiated between the parties.  I find his position puzzling: why not be an advocate for domestic partnership or other extra-marital forms of commitment that allow a couple to signal commitment to one another (you can have the big party, recite vows to one another in front of family and friends etc), but according to terms they agree on rather the ones the state insists upon.  Remember, marriage is, after all, a license – and the state stays involved as a third party in the deal and its rules are non-negotiable (perhaps more importantly for Savage’s position, adultery remains a felony in New York state).

It strikes me that Savage wants it all: the economic, social and legal benefits of marriage and the respectability it brings while opting out of the rules of marriage he doesn’t care for.  Of course Savage won’t get prosecuted for adultery when he has one of his non-promiscuous, extra-marital sexual nights out.  But others might not be so lucky, such as when their husband is fighting them for child custody or this kind of fling would count as breaking parole).  Non-monogamy within the pickets of marriage is the best he can do in thinking through the implications of same-sex couples marrying?  Really?  As the Times story points out: “He is capable of pro-family rants that, stripped of his habitual profanity, would be indistinguishable from Christian-right fund-raising letters.”

Savage’s “It Gets Better” video suffered from a similar form of well-meaning, but small-minded sentiment.  Savage and his boyfriend Terry Miller’s video delivered the message that if you just tough it out, you too can walk the streets of Paris with your fabulous homo-family and enjoy an upper class privileged life as they have.  But class, race, gender, under-education and other structural hurdles to walking the Champs Elysee as fabulous and happy metro-gays remain unaddressed by Savage’s nice liberal message.  Their video launched a whole new movement of “It Gets Better” videos aiming to offer a friendly hand to kids who are struggling with their sexual desires in hostile circumstances, and many of them surfaced a more complex message than did Savage and Miller’s.  For this we can thank them.

As for his views on marriage and what he calls “monogamish,” it’s not that I’m a big advocate of monogamy, but what gets me about a politics driven by Savage’s views is that it leaves marriage in tact as the “gold-standard,” to borrow Ross Douthat’s term today, for social, legal and economic value.  Those folks whose lives can’t or won’t fit into the marital form, whatever their commitment to monogamy, get screwed – the pun is intended here.  Marriage, a regime by which the state licenses relationships, is otherwise left undisturbed as what comes in between “love” and “the baby carriage.”

What is more, gender, class and other kinds of power that create asymmetries, if not inequalities, in a relationship seem to fade from view in his defense of “monogamish”.  The best approach, by Savage’s way of thinking, “is smarter boundaries, not hard-line rules about monogamy.”  After all, he says, “straight women, are in relationships with men. Doesn’t it help to know what we’re really like? Women can go on marrying and pretending that their boyfriends and husbands are Mr. Darcy or some RomCom dream man. But where’s that going to get ’em? Besides divorce court?”  Is that the best he has to offer in a week when Dominique Strauss-Kahn basically got away with not having to answer charges of rape?   A gender-based double-standard did the trick for him: this is just the kind of guy he is, and she was a big fat liar about all sorts of stuff, mostly none of it to do with what did nor did not happen in DSK’s hotel room.  Men will be men, women are, well, liars – especially poor, immigrant, women of color.

I was on Brian Lehrer’s show the other day and I mentioned at the end of the segment that some employers allow each employee to pick a person, be they a spouse, a domestic partner, a sibling or a needy friend, to put on their health insurance.  “In the U.S. we distribute health care through employment, but there’s no reason why it has to be then portalled through the very narrow channel of marriage,” I argued (with the use of a rather convoluted set of metaphors – ah, live radio!).  Lehrer’s reaction indicated that this was kind of a kooky suggestion.  I regret that Savage’s engagement with marriage gives us little to negate the seeming kookiness of distributing benefits and respectability to a broader group of people, those who actually need them, as opposed to those who have been forced to marry to get them.

So maybe Douthat’s right – I’d love to liberate us all from marriage – not just because of marriage’s monogamy requirement, but because the state shouldn’t be in the business of licensing love.  Period.

Happy 4th of July from a true advocate of liberty!



  1. Independence Day Greetings from a Marriage "Liberationist"

  2. A very welcome critique of Dan Savage by CLS's Franke RT @GenderSexLaw:

  3. Here's a criticism of Dan Savage that I actually agree with (pretty rare!)

  4. New Balace New Balance Fille UynbJ Si può ancora totalmente questi piccoli flaconi di vetro scuro, che ho usato per
    recarsi alle mie dosi Daugher di farmaci liquidi come farmaci allergia, Calpol, ecc invece di carri armati mostruose otterrà trovi farmacista distribuirà alcuni di loro, e può essere preparata una prescrizione
    etichetta sulla bottiglia di viaggiare insieme per voi, basta chiamarli attraverso, come se fossero trasferiti
    a due bottiglie più piccole, e dice: Prodotto
    2 di 2 di lei. Ho chiesto diversi in diverse dimensioni e ho avuto alcun problema con esso, quindi abbiamo un orso
    per un weekend vale la pena di medicina e alcuni con una singola dose
    per visitare la sua famiglia, quindi non abbiamo misurazioni preoccuparsi quando siamo fuori, basta
    prendere un sacco.. New Balance 680 New Balance Red mRZHZ Abbiamo provato per una sessione aperta su tutti i principali problemi di bilancio.
    Mentre il dibattito si scalda nella legislatura, ha detto
    che i lavoratori statali essi non sono disposti ad accettare alcuni tagli
    prima che i legislatori guardano entrate Nevada.
    New Balance 998 Made In Usa 574 New Balance iqzRa
    Scarpe Converse sono sicuri che si sceglie la dimensione e il
    colore del Primo sicuro che non sarà un compito difficile.

    Scarpe di marca Converse per uomini e donne in sobri colori bianco e nero facilmente
    accessibile, ci sono vari tipi di calze scure
    e vibranti. New Balance 890 V3 New Balance Ml574 Urjom
    WASHINGTON (AP) nell’ultimo mese della sua vita, si lamentava
    Aaron Alexis sentire voci che parlano di Ham e vibrazione attraverso
    un forno a muro come ha detto, per venire al suo corpo e impedendogli di dormire.
    La sua convinzione delirante in lui, fu bombardata da onde radio a frequenza estremamente bassa aumentato a punto, prima di iniziare una
    furia criminale che ha ucciso 12 persone
    a Washington Navy Yard, è andato segmento questa nota:.
    http://Www.Newbalance.Com 577 New Balance liTQi Possono essere indossati con qualsiasi cosa.
    Sacchetti colorati possono essere utilizzati anche con la maggior parte delle cose, anche abiti colorati, mentre la
    borsa è negli stessi colori dei vestiti.

    New Balance 374 New Balance Femme Running rZldL Prima
    della rivoluzione industriale in Europa,
    e nuovi materiali possibili per incrementare il commercio globale e la tecnologia sono stati sacche di privilegio ad alcuni toity
    hoity. Le persone indossano lana o in pelle cuciti a mano abiti.
    New Balance 475 New Balance 998 Made In Usa NPugZ Rapporti originali suggerito Sarah
    era appena caduto un metro, ma il signor Brush ha detto di aver visto un rapporto di salute e sicurezza che ha rivelato che era stato 9.2 metres.At
    momento, aiutare Sarah a recuperare la colpa primato per l’incidente.
    Lei è stato dotato di una doppietta completo del
    corpo deve indossare quando lei è fuori dal letto per almeno i prossimi 10 weeks.Thankfully, si dimostra una torre di forza per la
    sua famiglia. New Balance 373 Femme New Balance 1500 Pas Cher Ejxbn Sì, è vero:
    in giro per la minaccia longhitting e, di fatto, danno complessa e
    fondamentale per l’articolazione del ginocchio è considerato utile.
    Avvertenze ginocchio è particolarmente importante per le persone
    che sono feriti o in sovrappeso, comunque, esistono.

Add a comment

Comments are subject to moderation and do not necessarily reflect the opinions of
Columbia Law School or Columbia University.



"Homeland" Security Abortion Rights Activism Adoption adultery Advocacy Affordable Care Act Alien Tort Claims Act Amicus Brief Asylum Bankruptcy BDS Bullying Census Politics Children Citizenship Civil Unions Clinic Columbia Law School Compulsory Marriage Condoms Contraception Contraception Mandate Cordoba House Criminal Law Cures for Homosexuality Defense of Marriage Act Disability Rights Discrimination Divorce Domestic Partnership Domestic Violence Domestic Workers Don't Ask Don't Tell Earth Day Economic Justice Education Egypt Elections Employment Discrimination ENDA Estate Planning Events Family Law Fellowships femininity Feminism Free Speech Gender and Technology Gender Identity Discrimination Gendering the Economy Gender Justice GSL Online Haiti Hate Crimes Health Care Hilary Clinton Hillary Clinton Hiring HIV HIV Discrimination Hobby Lobby Homelessness Homophobia Housing Human Rights Identity Politics Illegitimacy (sic) Immigration Reform In-ing Incest India International Law Intersectional Feminism Islamophobia Israel Jobs Justice Sotomayor King & Spalding Labor Trafficking Land Reform Law School Legal Profession Legal Scholarship Lesbian & Gay Parenting LGBT Parenting Marital Status Discrimination Marriage Marriage Equality Masculinity Medicaid Michelle Obama Migration Military National Security Obama Administration Obama Appointments Obergefell Outing OWS Palestine Parenting Pinkwashing Policing Politics of the Veil Polyamory Popular Culture Pornograpy Pregnancy Presidential Politics Prisons Privacy Products Liability Profanity Prop 8 Prosecutorial Discretion Publications Public Rights/Private Conscience Public Rights/Private Conscience Project Queer Theory Queer vs. Gay Rights Race and Racism Racial Stereotyping Rape Religion Religious Accommodation Religious Exemption Religious Exemptions Religious Freedom Restoration Act Religious Fundamentalism Reproductive Rights Reproductive Technology RFRA Romania Rwanda Sartorial Commentary Schools Sex Discrimination Sex Education Sex Stereotyping Sexting Sex Trafficking Sexual Assault Sexual Duplicity Sexual Harassment Sexual Health Sexuality and Gender Law Clinic Sexual Orientation Discrimination Sex Work Silencing of voices SMUG Sodomy Law Reform Solidarity Sports Supreme Court Surrogacy Technology Title IX Trafficking Transgender Uganda Uncategorized Violence Women and Poverty Women of Color Work Zimbabwe

Academic Calendar  |  Resources for Employers  |  Campus Map & Directory  |  Columbia University  |  Jobs at Columbia  |  Contact Us

© Copyright 2009, Columbia Law School. For questions or comments, please contact the webmaster.