The legalisation of same-sex marriage has been widely lauded in Australia and elsewhere as the final frontier of gay and lesbian equality, but for many queer theorists same-sex marriage represents a broader crisis of vision in LGBTIQ activism. Lisa Duggan’s concept of homonormativity has been formative of this queer critique. According to Duggan, homonormativity is a new politics that aims to remove sexual difference to the private sphere, while maintaining heteronormativity in public. However, in the homonormative future imagined by Duggan, children appear to have no place. Duggan and her critics, such as Gavin Brown, overlook children because they fail to think beyond spatiality to consider the temporalities of heteronormativity. In a recent article in Politics, I argue that an analysis of these temporalities reveals new ways in which same-sex marriage may queer the future.
Appeals to act ‘in the best interests of the Child’ increasingly underpin both heteronormative and homonormative discourses. In the Australian same-sex marriage debate, both anti- and pro-same-sex marriage campaigns drew meaning from the Child as the symbol of the nation’s future; what is best for the Child is best for the nation. Such appeals to act ‘in the best interests of the Child’ are not, however, concerned with children in the present, but with the Child as the ideal future-citizen. This ideal future-citizen is assumed to be the white, cisgendered, middle-class and abled heterosexual self.
Marriage plays an integral role in regulating the Child’s conception and growth into this heterosexual self. As such, the Australian anti-same-sex marriage campaign sought to maintain heterosexual-only marriage to ensure the Child’s normative development of gender and sexual identity. The pro-same-sex marriage campaign largely did not challenge the desirability of this normative development, and instead argued for a homonormative future in which same-sex parents are ‘just like’ heterosexual parents.
I nevertheless argue that, even after same-sex marriage, LGBTIQ people may enact queer futures. Queer futures reject the heteronormative imperative to reproduce a fixed heterosexual self through the Child, and instead embrace an open, non-fixed vision of the future. Same-sex marriages hold a potential to queer spatial norms, including the public/private dichotomy itself. Group childbirth classes, for example, are both a private yet strangely public practice in which same-sex parents must take up the gendered roles of ‘mother’ and ‘father’. Secondly, same-sex marriages hold a potential to queer temporal norms, including the dichotomy between adulthood and Childhood. Same-sex marriages may therefore produce new open and non-fixed visions of the future, including the Child queered by their sexuality, and the Child queered by their parents.
While the homonormative consequences of same-sex marriage should not be understated, neither are they unassailable. Queer theorists, activists and their allies should continue to produce queer futures, not only as points from which to critique the present, but as futures worth desiring in themselves.