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Cohabitation; Same-sex marriage; Domestic partners; Gay couples; Feminist criticism


This article questions the terms on which groups that have traditionally been treated as "other" in modern societies (e.g. lesbians and gay men) are eventually included into the dominant system. It also reveals why the terms of this inclusion may result in the diminishing of the radical potential of the "othered" group in relation to social transformation. In turn, the dominant system may be reinforced even as it extends its citizenship to those who did not formerly belong. In this article, we explore this perplexing difficulty through a case study of the trends towards legal recognition of same-sex partnerships in Canada. We seek also to broaden the terms of the debate about recognition, which often focuses on marriage, particularly in the United States. The question arises whether there is space in the current political climate to discuss whether or not marriage was the key political goal of the lesbian/gay community. Many strong voices have been raised against the obviousness of the strategy of seeking inclusion within "the family" or marriage, and the implications of this strategy. Many of those voices have been lesbians and lesbian feminists. It is our view that this closing down of space for discussion of strategies that do not focus on marriage or spousal recognition as an "end" in itself is problematic. Drawing on critical literature on "the family," we work from a position that recognizes that marriage, and perhaps family law itself, has a history that is deeply interconnected with relations of oppression both within families and within society. We should all be familiar with, and keep in mind, the ways in which marriage has operated to reproduce women's dependency and inequality. Furthermore, in Canada, marriage has provided a mechanism for the imposition of patriarchal and oppressive norms on Aboriginal communities, with particular consequences for Aboriginal women. Even the family law reforms of the past three decades, which have sought to ameliorate women's status within marriage and their economic inequality at marriage breakdown, are arguably stop-gap measures that camouflage the continuing negative consequences of marriage for many women. Why, then, we ask, is not just spousal recognition, but also marriage, so clearly back on the political agenda for gays and lesbians, not only in the United States, where common law relationships have not received as much legal recognition, but also in Canada where they have? What political dilemmas does this development pose for critical thinkers and lesbians and gay men who are committed to social justice? Our goals in this article are threefold: 1. To describe the recent multi-fold Canadian developments, mainly in relation to recognition of same-sex partners as "spouses." These have taken a somewhat different trajectory than the American ones and may accordingly raise somewhat different questions. 2. To identify and question the terms on which these developments are occurring, and what tends to be left out of the discussion. In this part, we focus on the neo-liberal political climate of the late twentieth and early twenty-first centuries; this in turn leads to the privatizing and individualizing consequences of legal recognition of intimate relationships. 3. To play on our own ambivalence about spousal recognition strategies in order to open new avenues of thought.



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