AbstractsPolitical Science

A Sexual Politics of Belonging: Same-Sex Marriage in Post-Apartheid South Africa

by Marie Elizabeth Van Zyl

Institution: Stellenbosch University
Year: 2015
Keywords: Gender, Same-Sex Marriage, Post-Apartheid South Africa, Identity
Record ID: 1450862
Full text PDF: http://hdl.handle.net/10019.1/96581


ENGLISH ABSTRACT: Marriage is regarded as one of the most important and universal cultural symbols of belonging, and incorporates a range of privileges that can be acquired in no other way. It is where relationships of desire, politics and economics are fused into personal and public rituals of socially sanctioned connection and inclusion. Yet it draws new boundaries of social inclusion and exclusion or stigmatisation. In this thesis I use narrative inquiry to investigate how seventeen Capetonian queer couples in committed relationships perceive and experience same-sex marriage, and ask whether the Civil Union Act has given them a greater sense of belonging. Sexuality is deeply politicised through gendered disciplinary regimes that impinge on people’s emotional and intimate lives. Sexual politics in South Africa today emerge from a complex history of the sycretisation of widely varying cultural and political discourses, beliefs and practices wrought through colonialism and post-colonial recuperation. The formal protection of lgbti-q identities in the post-apartheid South African Constitution is the outcome of strategic struggles for lgbti-q recognition as human rights. However, formal rights do not necessarily lead to social inclusion as they may not reflect extant cultural values, hence I use the thicker concept of ‘belonging’ as developed by Yuval-Davis to analyse everyday inclusion—a concept which enables me to understand ‘privatised’ and affective dimensions of citizenship shaped by contexts of care and interpersonal intimacy. Worldwide, marriage has long been a central institution in how societies regulate their social and physical reproduction; but marriage also confers privileges which can be accessed in no other way. As in the West, marriage equality was a key aim for lgbti-q struggles in South Africa. But feminists have critiqued marriage as an institution of gendered hierarchy and a site of profound oppression for women. It is at the centre of the private|public dichotomy, and symbolic of women’s differentiated citizenship through, inter alia, the ideology of ‘women as property’. Hence same-sex marriage is deeply politicised in how it upholds or challenges heteropatriarchy. By looking at how a diverse range of same-sex couples in committed relationships perceive and experience same-sex marriage in South Africa, I unravel the ambiguities and contradictions of marriage as a project of belonging for lesbians and gays. Marriage as a sexual politics of belonging is about how lesbian and gay citizens experience equality and dignity in their everyday lives—recognition of them as citizen-subjects, protection of their intimate relationships as well as their struggles for belonging. I engage with the complex outcomes of colonial conquest and post-colonial recuperation on African sexual identities, before turning to an understanding of queer citizenship. I show how belonging is a much thicker concept than citizenship because it accesses our affective relationships. I proceed to use Nira Yuval-Davis’s framework…