We are delighted to introduce Professor Katherine Franke and the participants in our online symposium on Wedlocked: The Perils of Marriage Equality: How African American and Gay Mistakenly Thought the Right to Marry Would Set Them Free (NYU Press 2015). Franke’s important book explores the lessons that the contemporary marriage equality movement can learn from the experiences of African Americans who were finally able to enter into legal marriage at the end of the Civil War. One groundbreaking aspect is its hybrid of legal history and critical theory to map the rebranding and legitimization of both African- American kinship and same-sex sexuality. A crucial element of the story she tells is that today marriage remains, by and large, a site of perceived failure and source of real discipline for African Americans. The juxtaposition of these two pivotal moments in U.S. civil rights history in which marriage played such a crucial role illustrates how the stain of homosexuality may have been easier to erase – for some lesbian and gay people – than has the badge of inferiority with which African Americans are burdened. The book’s critical view of a right to marriage culls two decades of Katherine’s work charting the many, often racialized, meanings of sex, gender, sexuality and parenthood, providing balance to the discussion. At a minimum, Franke disputes many of the widely-touted benefits of the legitimacy that marriage brought to both former slaves and same-sex couples. A more expansive reading of Wedlocked, in contrast, builds on its radical re-thinking of what constitutes a legal “family.” First, the book implicitly challenges the current privatization of care responsibilities, suggesting a more individualist or perhaps government-funded responsibility for dependency. Second, Wedlocked seems to invite law and society to de-emphasize a couple’s promise to stay together “until death do us part” and the default rules of income and property-sharing upon death or divorce.
Wedlocked raises a host of fascinating and timely questions: What kind of a victory is the right to marriage? How does Franke’s innovative and careful examination of the familiar analogy between race and sexual orientation further our understandings of racial histories of marriage or the now-achieved battle for marriage equality for same-sex couples? If alternatives like Colorado’s reciprocal beneficiaries survive in an age of marriage equality, can and should these “marriage-lite” provisions be understood as normatively equivalent to marriage? If a promise of forever and property-sharing do not designate “us-ness,” what factors would trigger state and social recognition of an intimate affiliation? Does her eight-point “progressive call to action for married queers” provide a road map of social and legal practices that move toward legal and social treatment of a range of intimate affiliations as morally neutral alternatives? To consider these and many other issues, we have invited an all-star cast of thinkers and activists: Rick Banks, June Carbone, Elizabeth Clement, Tey Meadow, Melissa Murray, Kimberly Mutcherson, Ed Stein, Jana Singer, Allison Tait, and Michele Zavos.
We are excited for the discussion to begin!