- Category: Feminism & Sexuality
- Created on Tuesday, 13 November 2012 11:55
- Written by Ish
The following is a comment Ish made in response to the latest article by Curtis Cole on how communists should be participating in the queer liberation struggle. We publish it here as its own post.
I think marriage equality is an acceptable reform, a democratic right that queer people deserve as much as straight people. When New York State got marriage equality a couple years ago I was happy, I admit, even though I don’t see it affecting my own life very much. But I’m just not excited by themovement for marriage equality….and more specifically it doesn’t strike me that it offers, other than as a kind of counterpoint, a way for revolutionaries to engage the gay, lesbian, trans, and/or queer communities. And so while I think it’s important to critique the left’s record on gay liberation, as I have certainly done before, I’m not sure I agree with comrade Cole that this movement is the best place for the left to be, or the most relevant place to understand the left’s failures or progress.
First, the social conservatism inherent in fighting for marriage is not just abstract. For instance in many places where people could claim domestic partnership rights — property, visitation, etc — gay couples who do not chose to transition to formal marriage could lose those rights. While the removal of one form of dehumanizing discrimination can be celebrated, it’s clear that marriage equality quite clearly extends oppressive capitalist property relations into the queer world, proving what Marxists believe about marriage, property, oppression and the state, and I find this hard to celebrate uncritically. It’s hard to forget the many straight revolutionary couples I’ve known over the years who refused marriage because they didn’t need the state to confer legitimacy on their relationships.
What I have noticed is that the wing of the gay movement that is most interested in marriage equality is the liberal wing, 100% in the thrall of the Democratic Party, whereas those in the gay community, and here perhaps queer community is more accurate, questioning marriage equality seem to be raising more interesting and more radical notions about queer identity and also about political struggle. To me, the marriage equality movement is profoundly liberal. Why did the liberal gay and lesbian community leadership choose marriage, as opposed to anti-discrimination in employment or housing, as a priority for political action? The gay establishment certainly chose a path of least resistance since the anti-discrimination struggle would have forced them to address the inclusion of transgendered people: many in the gay establishment have already indicated a willingness to jettison the transgendered for political expedience’s sake.
(And far from Obama coming out as a “pro-queer” president, what I think he came out as is a capitalist politician who knew a quick way to buy millions of votes with cynical grandstanding. Obama made a political calculation that helped him win an election. Obama’s actions on removing DADT discrimination in the military actually successfully bought support for U.S. imperialism in the gay community. I have seen this repeatedly.)
Leftwing lesbian intellectual Sarah Schulman writes (http://www.prettyqueer.com/2012/05/09/the-problems-inherent-in-marriage-itself/):
“The continued distorted representation of our lives in mainstream arts and entertainment coupled with pervasive familial homophobia, pressured many LGB people into abandoning or perhaps forgetting about the goal of an expanded society. In a sense we were “bullied” into letting the society change us. The bait was that the more we appeared to mirror heterosexual family structure, sexual mores and consumer patterns, the more they would accept us. In this way, instead of changing society, society changed us – and – on the surface- we now have lost a great deal of our specificity and are so recognizable to straight people that even the most powerful heterosexual in the world, Barack Obama is confidently unthreatened enough to endorse equal marriage rights.
What this does not address, however, are the problems inherent in marriage itself. we all know that 50% of heterosexual marriages end in divorce. So, clearly marriage is not working as an institution. Now that gay people are fitting themselves into a dysfunctional box in order to win approval, our futures will surely be as strewn with disappointment, legal battles and failure to conform that heterosexuals endure, even with their constant advocacy by film and television, and the profound privileges given to them by their families. In this way we are living in the gay version of the 1950′s. But the 1960′s are just around the corner. Inevitably these conservatizing trends will again explode into a new sexual revolution, collective living, and a desire for liberatory feminism. I just hope I live long enough to see it.”
Although he doesn’t break from thinking about these issues in terms of reforms, AIDS activist Ian Awesome writes (http://hivster.com/?p=6315) about the limitations of marriage equality and the class problems inherent in it:
EVERYTHING Sucks. Not Just Marriage Inequality.
The benefits of getting married in the US are legion. If you’re married you can put your spouse on your health insurance. Is your lover a foreign national? No problem! Marry them and they can stay. Inheritance rights are wrapped up in the issue of marriage– afraid your family will steal the estate that should go to your partner? Get hitched! These reasons, and many more, are the ones that get thrown against my disdain for spending resources on marriage equality….But is marriage really the way to accomplish those goals? Think about it. Should we really be telling people that the only way they can be with their loved ones is to enter into a binding, state-validated contract?…Isn’t the real problem there that we need immigration reform?
Health care is an obvious one. I had a prominent blogger actually say to me that she was working for marriage equality so that she could get health care through her wife’s plan. Ok. It’s legit to need health care. However, I can’t help but think that in of itself is silly. The only way for us to get medical care is to… romantically commit to someone for life? What? Isn’t the real problem that we need universal health care?
I could go on and on. Homeless queer youth! Suicide! The scalping of AIDS patients by big pharmaceuticals! And yet the conversation is centered around how soon I could potentially throw a bachelor’s party.
That’s not right.
No! No Benefits For You Until You Get Yourself A Man!
See, the problem with marriage is its exclusionary nature, as the queer community has clearly taken note of. We’ve been excluded from it for so long perhaps the majority of us have not realized that we’re not the only people who go without these benefits bestowed upon those who choose to marry. …
Pay No Attention To The Fat Cat Behind The Curtain
Why are we, then, so focused on marriage? It’s not immediately clear… until you look at LGBT leadership. Or rather, gay white male leadership. In our vast, diverse group of individuals that touches every single culture on this planet there seems to be a dearth of “commoners” who rise to positions of power and authority in the organizations who are supposed to be advocating for our interests….If you look at the leadership of most major organizations, it’s pretty homogeneous. Rich white gay men are calling the shots. What do they care about universal health care? They have their own. Income inequality helps them stay ahead and they are no more likely to assist the common queer in being successful, healthy, and happy than Mitt Romney. All they will give us will be marriage….In fact, you might even say that these rich gay white men and the corporations that fund their organizations don’t want true income equality and universal health care. After all, that might require they pay more taxes.
Shhh. Just think about getting married instead. Isn’t that nice?
Another World Is Possible! I Think I’ll Live In It Without Marriage.
A lot more thought-provoking arguments can be found at the queer site Against Equality (http://www.againstequality.org/about/marriage/).
Gay marriage apes hetero privilege and allows everyone to forget that marriage ought not to be the guarantor of rights like health care. In their constant invoking of the “right” to gay marriage, mainstream gays and lesbians express a confused tangle of wishes and desires. They claim to contest the Right’s conservative ideology yet insist that they are more moral and hence more deserving than sluts like us. They claim that they simply want the famous 1000+ benefits but all of these, like the right to claim protection in cases of domestic violence, can be made available to non-marital relationships.
We wish that the GM crowd would simply cop to it: Their vision of marriage is the same as that of the Right, and far from creating FULL EQUALITY NOW! as so many insist (in all caps and exclamation marks, no less) gay marriage increases economic inequality by perpetuating a system which deems married beings more worthy of the basics like health care and economic rights.
While I wouldn’t say I oppose marriage equality, I find these arguments from the left exciting, and I think here is discussion revolutionaries should be engaging in. Is the marriage equality movement actually radicalizing young people? Or doing something else?