Why marriage? Issues for asexual Muslims seeking to legitimize non-sexual cross-sex relationships
Reconciling Asexuality with Belonging to a Muslim Community

Same-Sex Marriage in Islam: Notes for Asexual Muslims

In my post, Why marriage? Issues for asexual Muslims seeking to legitimize non-sexual cross-sex relationships, I explored some reasons why a cross-sex asexual Muslim couple might wish to marry in order to legitimize a non-sexual relationship. The argument in that post is limited to the situation of asexual Muslims who partner with people of a different assigned sex. More broadly, my entire discussion about marriage in Islam (1, 2, 3, 4) takes for granted an assumption that I might be interested in or be willing to have a non-sexual relationship with an asexual Muslim man, if I could just surmount the obstacles that patriarchal interpretations of Islam place in the way of this.

In fact, this assumption is not correct, and this is something that I have come to realize as I have explored asexual discourse in the last few years.

I am aromantic as well as asexual. I have absolutely no positive gender preference, even in terms of aesthetic attraction. However, I do seem to have a kind of “negative preference”, in that my sex-aversion is much stronger in regard to men than in any other direction. I have come to realize that this extends even to a non-sexual relationship even with an asexual man.

Prior to discovering the asexual community and asexual discourse, I had assumed that sexual/romantic relationships were the only real kind. Since I'm not interested in these, and in fact would experience major difficulties in navigating them, I assumed that having a long-term relationship that might ever be fit into the box of marriage was out of the question. Learning about the concept of queerplatonic relationships opened my mind to a new understanding of what is possible for me and I now am interested in exploring this as a potential in the future (at the current time, it is not more than a distant possibility).

However, when I try to imagine myself in a queerplatonic relationship with an asexual man, somehow it just doesn't compute and it begins to trigger what I have learned to understand as my aversion response. I confirmed this to myself again as I explored the intersection of asexuality and Islam and developed the ideas I'm now publishing in this series of posts. Figuring out how to make such a relationship work within the Islamic framework is good, but I still don't want to actually do it.

By contrast, the idea of a queerplatonic relationship with another asexual woman does make sense in my mind and doesn't trigger the aversion response. In fact, I've become fairly certain in the last year or so that if I ever do enter into a queerplatonic relationship, it will be with another woman.

So, what's the situation for a same-sex asexual Muslim couple? First of all, traditional and orthodox Islamic jurisprudence does not support same-sex marriage at all. This should not come as a surprise to anybody.

It's not simply that marriage is defined as between a man and a woman. The very way that marriage is structured in Islam establishes two distinct gender roles in the marriage. The man makes the marriage by offering the bride-gift or mahr (Quran 4:24), the woman accepts or rejects. She can initiate the process by inviting a particular man to propose to her, or by inviting a number of suitors to present their cases to her and she will choose among them, but she does not herself offer the mahr to a man.

Within the marriage, the man provides complete financial support (maintenance) and in return* has the right of qiwamah or leadership (Quran 4:34). The woman is expected to follow his leadership (this can be understood as anything from accepting his decision as final after their consultation to patriarchal ideals of unquestioning obedience) and rejecting his leadership is an instance of recalcitrance (nushuz). I have already discussed at great length how this framework affects asexual Muslim wives who are unable to provide sex.

The man is also able to make a divorce completely on his own initiative, for any reason that he chooses. While women have a range of rights to divorce in Islam, a wife does not ever make the divorce herself, but rather the husband agrees to, or is ordered to, make the divorce at the time or in the circumstances she has requested or previously designated. The most sweeping divorce right for women, delegated divorce, still recognizes that the authority of divorce rests with the man and in that situation is being exercised by the woman acting as his proxy.

Progressive scholars have begun making cases within the framework of Islamic jurisprudence for allowing same-sex marriage. In my opinion as a non-scholar, these arguments are very important, but only a first step, because they don't address how a same-sex couple would deal with the gender role structure of Islamic marriage.

Does one of the partners agree to take on the "other" gender role within the marriage? If there is no offer and acceptance of mahr by persons in the appropriate gender roles does it even count as marriage according to Islamic jurisprudence? If the marriage is not considered legitimate, this can have serious negative consequences for the couple within the community (a topic I explored from a different angle even in the context of cross-sex marriage).

The ace-positive framework I discussed previously could be very helpful here, by stressing the centrality of the mutual agreement that the couple make (indeed, by making tranquility rather than regulation of sexual desire the purpose of marriage, it establishes a sound basis for same-sex marriage in Islam).

For the sake of argument, we'll assume that a same-sex couple have made a mutual agreement that one of them will take on the "other" gender role in the marriage and that each partner will follow all the rules and responsibilities set out in traditional Islamic jurisprudence for their gender role.

Such an agreement would enable the partners to receive financial benefit from the marriage, particularly in the case of the partner in the "wife" gender role (the partner in the "husband" gender role taking on the responsibility of maintenance). This is one of two reasons I gave why a cross-sex asexual couple might wish to legitimize a non-sexual relationship as an Islamic marriage.

The second reason I suggested is to uphold community standards in the regulation of social interaction. Traditional Islam strictly regulates interaction between men and women who are not married to each other, to the point that even the activities that a couple in a queerplatonic relationship might engage in (sharing a residence, being comfortable with each other in private, cuddling, holding hands in public) should only be allowed within marriage.

The thing is that the Islamic discourse around social interaction is utterly embedded in compulsory heterosexuality. One might argue, based on principle, that people should observe these rules with those people whom they are attracted to, or who are attracted to them (thus, asexual Muslims would get an exemption from most of the rules), regardless of the designated sex of the people involved. However, in practice, the rules are stated as between men and women** and are not applied to same-sex interactions.

What this means for asexual Muslims is that most of the "queerplatonic activities" discussed above would likely fall into the zone of what is acceptable between same-sex friends (especially since many Muslim cultures are more accepting of displays of homosocial affection, even between two men, than are Anglo-American cultures).

It may be that a same-sex asexual Muslim couple who have a queerplatonic relationship would not need to marry to legitimize their relationship in this way. Given that any such marriage would be highly unorthodox and require a large number of special arrangements and agreements, it would probably be easiest to not seek an Islamic marriage but to present as "roommates". This is an odd case where compulsory heterosexuality actually benefits asexuals in same-sex non-sexual relationships, an admittedly very narrow loophole.

For right now, this discussion is entirely theoretical for me, but there's a lot to think about should I have the opportunity of a queerplatonic relationship at some point in the future.

*Because this verse is phrased that men are given this right because they have more money and they spend it, some Islamic feminists have argued that if the woman has more money and agrees to provide maintenance to the man, she should get the right of qiwamah. However, this interpretation is not accepted by most Muslims.

**In my understanding, traditional Islamic jurisprudence is focused on the sex to which a person is designated, not to their gender identity. Thus, if you are designated as female because of the type of secondary sex characteristics you have, you should wear hijab because it is intended for people with those body parts regardless of their gender identity. A discussion of transgender and intersex rights in Islam is far beyond the scope of this post.