Marriage Equality at Lesbian Herstory Archives

I never cease to be inspired by the work of the dedicated volunteers at Lesbian Herstory Archives (LHA) in Brooklyn, NY. Their commitment has continued to keep this important institution that is independently preserving our history, alive and lively. The vision of Joan Nestle and Deb Edel in founding LHA stands as one of the great accomplishments of the contemporary lesbian movement.

Maxine Wolfe, a seasoned lesbian political activist in many realms but notably in the women and HIV/AIDS movement, hosted the full house at the “At Home at the Archives” event featuring Courting Equality on November 25th. Maxine’s volunteer labor is typical of the energy that keeps the archives vital.

Maxine shared with the assembled group how LHA’s files on “marriage” have changed. “Marriage” used to be mostly about lesbians once married to men. Then the topic exploded as countries around the world and various US states became the sites of struggle for same-sex marriage. In the past three years, the files have begun to expand exponentially. The great part of the story is that once again LHA is preserving our herstory.

When Karen Kahn and I presented at LHA, what was distinctive about the event was the spirit of inquiry and the commitment to thoughtful exchange in the dialogue. In a sense, bringing to LHA our presentation about Courting Equality and the civil rights struggle that it details was like returning to our roots of lesbian feminism.

Even after Karen and I had committed to writing Courting Equality in the spring of 2005, we still had not decided that we would marry. We had engaged in the political lobbying for marriage equality as a civil rights struggle but not seen it as a personal goal for ourselves. We believed that marriage was a right that one should be able to exercise, not necessarily a life goal. Our critique of the institution of marriage had deep roots in our lesbian feminism of the 1970s. That same critique of marriage as an institution was held by many who came to LHA on November 25th.

The conversation probed the roots of marriage as it had been critiqued in particular by lesbian feminists in the 1970s. Karen and I were among that lively group of critics in the 1970s and have remained so. One of the thoughts that we came away from LHA with is the possibility that same-sex marriage may just provide the testing ground for new visions and versions of marriage to emerge. The gender stereotyping that feminists critiqued so meaningfully from the 1960s on went a long way towards liberating women and creating new options in our lives.

Lesbian feminist critiques of same-sex marriage may well liberate marriage. What’s critical is keeping the conversation going. What do you think about the possibility of liberating marriage?

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