Last year Katha Pollitt wrote an article for the Nation in which she asked why the left was simultaneously making progress with equal marriage while falling behind on abortion rights. “The media ,” she wrote, “present marriage equality and reproductive rights as ‘culture war’ issues, as if they somehow went together. But perhaps they’re not as similar as we think.”
Pollitt went on to highlight the multiple ways in which the right can afford to cede ground on marriage equality while remaining unwilling to pay the price of granting females bodily autonomy. She is right to do so. While both reproductive choice and gay rights may be classed as gender issues, each has its own very specific relationship to patriarchy.
A woman’s desire to control her reproductive destiny will always be in direct opposition to patriarchy’s desire to exploit female bodies as a reproductive resource. The social institutions that develop to support the latter – such as marriage – may change, but the exploitation can remain in place.
This has, I think, caused great confusion for those of us who like to see ourselves as progressive. We know that the idealisation of the heterosexual nuclear family, couple with the demonisation of all relationships seen as “other,” has caused harm to countless individuals. We refuse to define marriage as solely for the purpose of procreation, or to insist that a family unit includes one parent of each sex.