by Heather Woodford, LCSW

marriage and health insurance.jpg

The depth to which monogamous (and usually heterosexual) marriage is inculcated into us is so insidious we don't even recognize it as odd. To many, it's like breathing - never questioned, assumed to be vital.

And this is not a personal attack - for many folks, monogamous, heterosexual marriage can be a wonderful choice!

However, when one singular form of one significant life relationship role is elevated to such a status that it crowds out the human rights of everyone who is either unable or uninterested in obtaining it, we have a serious social and economic problem.

The unquestioned belief that marriage should be the entry point for access to basic rights informs everything from our own self-judgments to national & international foreign & domestic policy. It's absolutely bananas.

And ultimately, it serves to reinforce existing power structures, and keep marginalized people marginalized.

My eyes were opened to how deeply this goes in my social welfare policy class in grad school. The way we reward/punish married/single parents through social programs, for example, and the ripple impact this has on children and communities, is pretty damn egregious. It coerces people in poverty, and people with high healthcare needs to enter/stay in marriages that are unsatisfying at best, and abusive or even lethal at worst. It limits options for single parent households. And as the meme says, it completely dismisses and undermines the vitally important role of family as caregivers, essential support, etc. It means that access to basic rights such as jobs, money, and access to life-sustaining social services such as healthcare, pensions, survivor benefits, life insurance, etc., continue to be disproportionately allocated to those already in positions of wealth & privilege, or those whom society deems attractive (i.e., those who are more likely to attract a marriageable mate)...

I could go on for days about this. It's eugenics. It's conservative ideology. And it's a massive, complex, deeply-rooted system of class oppression, packaged as "morality" or innocuous “religious rights” or "family centered" programs. Whose families? Middle-class, able-bodied (because many folks with disabilities LOSE access to their social security benefits when they marry - leading to a SMALLER combined household income), families with a "traditional" marriage at the center. That's who.

THIS is why non-monogamy; queerness; and sexual "deviance" are such a threat to the social order. But what/whom do these people and practices really threaten? Research tends to show that children of LGBT families and ethically non-monogamous families fare equally to their peers from heterosexual monogamous homes, and may actually be better off with more concerned loving adults in their life, rather than fewer.

Are kinky perverts running around spanking and tying people up? Well, no. Not without consent. And if they are, then we don't want 'em any more than YOU do - because people who value sexual justice INHERENTLY understand and value CONSENT. While you were gawking at media circus portraying queer folks, kinky people, sex workers, and folks who practice nonmonogamy as harmful to society, access to healthcare and death benefits and vital welfare benefits and decent living wages and affordable housing and so many other things were being systematically stolen from the hands of people who dared not to be married, or dared to be born to those who weren’t.

THIS is why a critical perspective of sexuality is key to understanding the way our society operates, who has access to resources, and who doesn't.

But hey, what do I know? I'm only a sex educator. Y'know - that "frivolous" sex thing, which should come vastly secondary to other "real" and "central" issues of social justice. That subject usually relegated to an elective status. But I'll bet you didn't learn about how the forced value of traditional marriage actually harms children in poverty from your mainstream history teachers, did you?

Take my class. You'll learn more about social justice than you ever expected - WHILE learning to have better orgasms.

And don't ever underestimate sexuality educators. The breadth or depth of our knowledge can match any other scholar's or practitioner's. Our lens on society can be just as deeply critical as anyone else's. And our critiques can be just as insightful and cutting as any other professional's.