The gay agenda

Last month, I celebrated along with 53% of Americans when New York became the 6th state to legalize gay marriage. But while I cheered the happy gay couples, another part of my brain is ambivalent about the victory. After all, the institution of marriage has a sordid history—from sexist wedding rituals to cultural and legal ties that keep women trapped with abusers. And getting married means more housework for women and less for men.

At the same time, marriage brings benefits that LGBT folks have been denied. And full access to marriage (and divorce) removes one strand from the web of homophobia, sexism, and racism that batterers can use to control their partners. For example:

  • When a couple’s relationship is publically acknowledged and celebrated, homophobia loses its power to isolate LGBT people from the support of their family and friends. This means they have more help—both to have great relationships and when violence happens.
  • We know that child custody issues are a major barrier to leaving an abuser. And for LGBT parents, marriage means that the non-biological parent is more likely to have their parental rights recognized by family courts, schools, and health care providers.

Right wing rhetoric claims that the mere act of gay couples saying “I do” is enough to upend the institution of marriage. If only radical social change was that simple! I’m rooting for a day when we achieve marriage equality and much more—economic justice for women; healthy, equitable relationships for everyone; and public policies that support all families, married or not.

5 thoughts on “The gay agenda”

  1. another part of my brain is ambivalent about the victory
    why ?
    because of Piano Briefs ? lol

  2. I’m also happy, yet ambivalent. Part of me understands the importance of purging homophobia from our policies. Having things like DOMA and DADT in place sends an institutional message of inequality and rejection, and you did a great job of outlining the new benefits to the LGBTQI community. It is super important.

    However, I also feel that concentrating on things like marriage or military service is taking energy away from other shifts that are more radical and necessary. Looking at all the roots of queer teens attempting or completing suicide is more important. Giving LGBTQI folks greater access to health care is more important. Changing the culture of gender identity so that transgender people are not being assaulted or killed for being who they are is more important. Creating more information about queer battering and more support services for queer survivors is more important. Creating systems of accountability for batterers that don’t rely on the criminal justice system is more important. Including the voices of LGBTQI people of colors, immigrants, and other non-privileged identities is more important. There is so much work to be done that can make people’s lives better and safer in the day to day as well, and I hope we take it on too.

    I think the NY victory is important in many ways, and I’m definitely celebrating. :) I’m looking forward to getting gay married someday. Maybe by then it’ll be legal (for real legal) here in WA too.

  3. hi Melina,

    thanks for your comments! I fully agree with you on all those priorities. But – I think spending political energy on marriage does not have to take away from those agenda items. In fact it moves them forward in some very concrete ways – E.g. gay people getting legally married is a powerful message to queer youth that they have a future that includes family and social acceptance. Marriage gives gay folks greater access to health care and family and medical leave. Etc.

    And I don’t think it is either/or. Marriage is an issue that has gotten many lgbt folks politically active in a way they wouldn’t have been otherwise. It is not as though all those people were busy organizing for universal health care or prison abolition, and then gay marriage came along and distracted them. Now the task is to keep on engaging people in a broader agenda.

    My partner and I went to San Francisco in 2004 when the city was doing the first gay marriages in the U.S. We stood in a long, happy line with thousands of queers and got married. Breaking through a barrier with such enormous symbolic power was thrilling and it is still what makes me tear up seeing all the wedding photos from New York.

    I do hope and believe that opening civil marriage to same sex couples actually changes marriage itself. That we are not just getting more people invested in a sexist, racist institution, but transforming it in some real ways. Marriage is greater than the sum of its parts – the collection of rights and benefits and obligations a couple takes on – it is a social institution that frames how we think about love and sex and commitment and family. So I think gay marriage will inevitably make a big cultural shift in all that – and I think we have to be explicit that larger change is part of our agenda, not deny it or downplay it.

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