J. Kēhaulani Kauanui: Marriage is a Colonial Imposition

J. Kēhaulani Kauanui: Marriage is a Colonial Imposition

KEHAULANI: I kind of think about marriage in
relation to settler colonialism and also a category – indigeneity as a category of analysis
and indigenous peoples, in my own kind of perspective looking at settler
colonialism in Hawaii there’s been work that’s been done on kinship systems and
the continent in terms of indigenous peoples and how governments, whether it’s,
you know, early Spain, eventually Mexico, what became the U.S., what became Canada,
really imposing different colonial norms on indigenous peoples and attacking
kinship distinctions and different kinds of diversity. And that included different
norms around gender and sexuality. What’s wrong with marriage being the defining issue? Well,
I’ll speak to that as someone who’s completely opposed to marriage as a goal.
And for me it all goes back to property. And it does go back to settler
colonialism. And I mean I think about British common law and its import in
North America. I think about the missionaries who went to Hawaii from
Connecticut and Massachusetts and imposed heterosexual marriage as a norm
and you know interfaced with what was then a new Hawaiian kingdom that was
founded in 1810. The missionaries got there in 1820 and proceeded to try and
eradicate indigenous practices of polyandry, polygamy, same-sex sexuality. They also of course found sibling
chiefly incestuous relationships in the name of producing high-ranking offspring
repugnant, so they attacked that as well. And I see marriage bound up with trying
to forcibly subordinate Hawaiian women. And issues of sexual autonomy for all
people, but especially Hawaiian women in relation to missionaries trying to
teach a subservience to men in the name of marriage and what, what was seen as the
more civilized way to be. You know I’m writing about that on something, you know
how they saw these different practices and ontologies as savage sexualities.
And so I think of it as completely integral to property because it is about a
proprietary relationship and to me that’s not disconnected from the
missionaries also forcing Hawaiian land privatization and then also coverture
for women so that women became conflated or converged their civic status with
their spouses. And so to me that relationship between land and genders
and sexualities, with marriage sort of being a way to seal the deal, is
about American property rights being sort of the bedrock of American society
in many ways. And also individualized title being a marker of civilization
around the globe at the time and it’s not that different from thinking about
what constitutes “normal couples.” You know, who’s accepted. And the whole issue that
we see around same-sex marriage, you know, I know there’s limits to the
assimilationist critique, but there is that that bid to say, well we want to be
married too. And so you know the issue around marriage being problematic as a
centerpiece – marriage and militarism, right? Military entry for LGBTs. I mean to
me they’re really like siblings in U.S. Empire. And I see that around
property and domination and proprietary relationships to actually have an
ownership model at the core of it. In the Hawaii case, what I always
draw attention to is the fact that in the campaign to
support same-sex marriage couples, they, the non-Hawaiian plaintiffs in the
case and the broader non-Hawaiian LGBT community, kept evoking traditional
Hawaiian culture, their conception of Native Hawaiian tradition,
to try and bolster the claim that this was, you know, that Hawaiian culture is more
accepting and then Hawaii’s the natural place where this should be the first in
the “nation.” Meanwhile you have actual Hawaiian
nationalists fighting for the U.S. to de-occupy, fighting against colonial
forms of polverization that were responsible in the first place for pulverizing same-sex
sexuality. And so I think about marriage as a colonial imposition and that’s how
I understand it. LGBT and Māhū Kanaka Maoli indigenous Hawaiians were saying at the
time of those same-sex marriage cases, the cases in the early nineties, around
paying attention to the fact that queer Hawaiians, which I’ll just use a quick
shorthand, were really trying to intervene on the civil rights struggle
that was reifying the power of the 50th state at the same time Kanaka Maoli were challenging state authority,
challenging U.S. domination in Hawaii because you have, you know in 1893, a U.S. military-backed coup, and then a unilateral annexation five years later
in 1898. And so really challenging the U.S. and its subsidiaries at the same time
people are evoking Hawaiian culture to try and gain state authority to marry
them. And sort of the paradoxes and contradictions there. And these are a
LGBTQ and Māhū which is a category, a third gender category in Hawaii, you know
really calling that out with the non-Hawaiian advocates of same-sex marriage.
But also calling the Hawaiian nationalist groups to step up and say how they
weigh in on the question of sexual diversity.

3 thoughts on “J. Kēhaulani Kauanui: Marriage is a Colonial Imposition

  1. This is paprikash. I take issue with putting air quotes around normal. You are dominating me with your alternate views and making me feel bad because I don't share them with you.

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