Marrying Citizens! Raced Subjects? Re-thinking the Terrain of Equal Marriage Discourse," Suzanne Lenon attempts to parse the underlying racial assumptions present in the legal fight for marriage equality in Canada, and in doing so reveals that this topic is as much about racial identity as sexual identity. By examining Lemon's article alongside some other relevant research, one is able to see how notions of universal equality are complicated by the complex interactions of power as mediated by race and gender, and that to truly fight for genuine equality one must be aware of these underlying assumptions which may implicitly maintain certain forms of discrimination. Furthermore, one is able to see how those attempting to challenge assumptions regarding race and gender are not themselves free from certain assumptions, which ultimately serve to undermine any productive work done.
Lenon's essay challenges a number of assumptions regarding the language used in the fight for marriage equality, and is worthwhile just for this desire to confront the status quo. However, the article itself suffers from a number of assumptions, seemingly intentionally misunderstanding its subject so as to create a confrontation not entirely supported by the evidence provided. Before addressing these strengths and flaws in greater detail, however, it is necessary to summarize the contents of the article itself. Lemon proposes that the language used in "legal submission from the successful British Columbia and Ontario equal marriage cases as well as a submission made by Egale to the House of Commons Standing Committee on Human rights [….] produce a white racial legal subject and rely on unmarked whiteness for their success" (Lenon, p. 73). This is not because race is ever mentioned in any of the legal submissions, but rather because according to Lenon, the submissions avoid race precisely because they assume their subjects to be white, and as whiteness has traditionally been considered outside race, and thus to avoid mentioning race is to implicitly make the case that the subject is white.
Thus, Lenon argues that "the articulation of a 'colourless' category of sexuality within these submissions […] implies that sexual difference is, in effect, white sexual difference" (Lenon, p. 77). Aside from what Lenon sees as the conspicuous absence of race in describing the gay and lesbian subject, she also notes the use of narratives regarding racial discrimination in America as a means of arguing in favor of marriage equality. These narratives take two forms, either focusing on "the 1967 American case of Loving v. Virginia, when the U.S. Supreme Court struck down the state of Virginia' anti-miscegenation law and recognized marriage as one of the 'basic civil rights of man' and a 'fundamental freedom,'" or the concept of segregation, which gay and lesbian rights activists argue would be the result of any kind of legislation that granted gay or lesbian couples a different form of marriage recognition than heterosexual couples (Lenon, p. 78-79).
Lenon suggests that these comparisons to racial discrimination in America are "a very powerful, emotive discursive tactic" because "the operative narrative in this analogy holds that 'we' all know that racial discrimination is wrong and thus 'we' will learn a similar lesson in regard to sexual orientation" (Lenon, p. 78-79). The use of these analogies constitutes "a further 'whitening practice' because they enable the legal subject or these documents to 'think' itself outside of race" by "denying contemporary realities of racism and racial oppression" due to the tendency to "situate racial subjugation in a historical context only -- something from which 'we' can now draw lessons" (Lenon, p. 80). Lenon of course is not arguing that these legal submissions are intentionally participating in an ongoing form of racial discrimination, but rather that they rely on an implicit whiteness in order to make appeals to normalcy by implicitly arguing that the only difference between gays and lesbians and "everyone else" is the matter of their sexuality, with white being the only race in this case able to claim the title of "everyone else."
The strength of Lenon's article is the way in which it uncovers a crucial problem with the way race and the history of racism is treated in contemporary culture, but this crucial insight is ultimately overshadowed by Lenon's sloppy analytic work, which fails to distinguish between the gay or lesbian subject making an appeal for marriage equality and those institutions or individuals deciding on that appeal. Furthermore, Lenon's argument rests on an assumption regarding racial identity that, if true, would ultimately preclude anyone who is not white from ever being regarded as normal and renders any discussion of race unintelligible and superfluous.
The most useful aspect of Lenon's article is actually little more than an afterthought in the original text, but nonetheless provides a much-needed statement regarding the deployments of the history of racism in contemporary culture. When discussing the use of analogies between the fight for marriage equality and racial discrimination in the United States, Lenon criticizes these analogies for treating racism and racial discrimination as a historical object, thus precluding an acknowledgment of the rampant racism still in existence all over the world (and even in the United States, despite any nominal gains made by the election of the first black president). By assuming that "we' all know that racial discrimination is wrong," the use of analogies such as this gives cover to those vicious multitudes who in fact do not know that racial discrimination is wrong, or otherwise "know" it is wrong but do not realize that their actions are in fact discriminatory (Lenon, p. 78). This is the strongest point of Lenon's essay, because it makes a productive and incisive statement regarding the ultimately destructive, liberal deployment of racial history in the fight for other forms of equality. However, this point is somewhat lost amidst the rest of Lenon's article, which relies on assumptions, shaky logic, and unnecessary conflations in order to argue its thesis.
There is one central problem with Lenon's article which renders the entirety of her argument irrelevant, but for now this problem will be put aside in order to demonstrate how even if one accepts Lenon's assumption, the article is nonetheless poorly executed. Lenon argues that legal submissions in favor of marriage equality depend on an implicit whiteness for their success, and in making this claim, Lenon further argues that it is the legal submissions themselves which are responsible for the use of race as a means of determining the legitimacy of gay and lesbians subjects. In fact, if legal submissions did rely on an implicit whiteness for their success, then the onus would be on those people and institutions ruling on these submissions to demonstrate that race is not a factor, and not the responsibility of the submissions themselves, especially since they do not mention race. However, this is only a problem if one accepts Lenon's initial assumption, which is that a lack of racial description of the subjects discussed in the legal submissions means that the submissions are implying that these subjects are white.
At first glance this assumption appears legitimate, because whiteness has indeed been considered "outside" race as a means of normalizing white people and ostracizing people of any other race. In this case, however, one may quite reasonably suggest that the legal submissions did not mention the race of the subjects because the race of the subjects was not the subject under discussion. This is why, despite the fact that Lenon's assessment regarding the fact that the use of historical racial analogies actually helps to extend and protect racial discrimination in the world today is unhappily true, the overall thesis of the article is based on a generally arbitrary assumption. Sure, by not mentioning race the legal submissions allow room for the reader to imagine those subjects as white, if the reader is culturally predisposed to imagine a raceless subject as automatically white, but this lack of a mention can be applied to nearly any other category. By not mentioning that some of the gay and lesbian people who want to be married are Star Wars fans, the legal submissions implicitly argue that the universalized gay and lesbian subject may only be considered "normal" if one assumes that it is not a Star Wars fan, and furthermore, these legal submissions rely on the non-Star-Wars-fan nature of their subject for their success. This sounds like a ludicrous comparison at first, but if one actually examines the structure of Lenon's argument, they are essentially the same. Lenon gets away with it, however, by conflating her initial faulty argument with a relatively unrelated but accurate argument regarding the use of historical racial narratives.
One may see how Lenon's article suffers from a failure to closely examine the assumptions being made in the formulation of its thesis by looking at two other texts looking into similar but distinct forms of discrimination. In their article "Part-time Work and the Gender Division of Labour," authors Gretchen Webber and Christine Williams offer a useful demonstration of the nuance necessary…