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The Gay Marriage Campaign Shamelessly Exploits Martin Luther King

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January 19, 2015


In my and the work of Against Equality, we’ve been relentlessly critical of the gay marriage campaign’s politics.  As I’ve frequently pointed out, the fight to make gay marriage legal in all US states is not a civil rights movement, and it has never been a grassroots movement.  Rather, as a growing pile of evidence indicates, gay marriage has, from the start, been a conservative attempt by mostly white, wealthy gay men to consolidate and keep their financial interests alive.


As a recent piece by Toshio Meronek indicates, the fact that this is an elitist campaign is now becoming clearer to more people.  I’ve said from the start that gay marriage will in fact become legal everywhere; the fact that it has been resisted (with less and less fervour over the years) by the Right has never meant that it is inherently a radical or progressive idea.  If anything, it is a deeply conservative movement and neoliberalism’s handiest little tool.


Gay marriage is poised to become the law of the land, and this is an excellent moment to step back and begin to reevaluate conventional and received wisdom about the campaign.  It has been a deeply troubling campaign from its very inception, and has never reflected anything other than the interests of a wealthy, powerful elite.  


That elite has always been a majority white group, and its deep and abiding racism has been evident from the start, even as it has been studiously ignored or papered over by (mostly white) progressive straight supporters like Frank Rich, Linda Hirshman, and Leigh Moscowitz.  


For instance, in The Battle over Gay Marriage, Moscowitz  acknowledges the controversial racism that gay marriage advocates fervently demonstrated in the wake of the passage of the 2008 California Proposition 8.  Activists openly engaged in such brutally racist summaries of African Americans, blaming them for the loss, that People for the American  Way president Kathryn Kolbert condemned their responses as “appallingly racist.”

What does Moscowitz do with all this?  She quietly sidesteps the issue of the racism at the heart of the gay marriage movement, and instead blames the media for hyping up a “blacks vs. gays” narrative.  


But if the economic manipulations of the gay marriage campaign are slowly becoming apparent, so is its deep and abiding racism, which flares up like an angry, pus-filled sore  on the profile of a group otherwise so successful at keeping a comforting and even pathetic face on its public work.  A case in point: This Martin Luther King Day, the organisation  Freedom to Marry published a meme with the face of MLK and the words, “Change does not roll in on the wheels of inevitability,  but comes through continuous struggle.”  FTM went on to admonish its supporters: “As we reflect on Dr. King's vital legacy, his words and works continue to illuminate the way forward for the many movements working to remedy injustice—including our own movement for the freedom to marry. Share Dr. King's words to honor his example and show your commitment to freedom and justice.”


For good measure, FTM’s Facebook cover photo features an African-American couple.


This meme, indicative of the larger campaign’s racial politics, is reductive, manipulative, and blatantly racist.  The campaign has consistently indicated that it will blame African Americans as a constituency directly responsible for any impediments to “equality,” and it has also never hesitated to use African Americans and other people of colour as tokens to demonstrate its softer side when convenient.


But in all this, gay marriage activists make it clear that marriage is their motivating concern, and that they have no real interest in, for instance, dismantling the structural racism and economic inequality faced by African Americans in particular. As Kami Chisholm, a member of Against Equality’s FB page put it, “In fact, in the caption, the wording of ‘our own movement for freedom to marry’ indicates that those who wrote this view themselves as a distinct constituency from those concerned with organizing against anti-Black racism.”

No doubt, such critiques of the campaign’s racist manipulation will be countered with assertions that King loved gay people, followed by debates over whether or not he was in fact homophobic.  Inevitably, many will point out that Coretta Scott King has voiced support for gay marriage, or that their best Black friends just want to be gay-married, and then there will be the inevitable reference to the fact that enslaved African Americans were once disallowed from marrying each other, a bit of history which frequently becomes another rationale for gay marriage in ways so circuitous that they will be the subject of an entire and forthcoming post.  


But this is not about King’s personal or political beliefs, or even whether or not African Americans are uniformly homophobic or not (although it is worth noting that no one uses the blatant homophobia of many outspoken white homophobes to paint all white people as homophobic).  As gay marriage becomes legal everywhere in the United States, marriage activists will eventually drop their pretenses at being inclusive.  For now, they are content to spew such memes and rhetoric, comfortable in the belief that no one, least of all a racist society which pays lip service to MLK on one day and brutalises millions of African Americans 365 days of the year, is going to call them out on their hypocrisy.  


This is one of my short blogs, and meant to provide a spark for discussions and comments, not an exhaustive history of the issues or a research paper.  If you’re interested in supporting my long-form work, including original scholarship, journalism, and commentary, please subscribe here.  If you’d rather not, but would like to support for my unfunded work, and help to compensate for my time and labour on this unpaid piece, please make a donation in any amount. No amount is too small. Writing is all I do for a living, and every contribution will help immensely.  You can also check out my Wish List.

See below for a list of sources and references.

Previous: Solidarity without Affect: The MLA Subconference Enters Its Second Year




Against Equality


Gay Marriage IS a Conservative Cause

There Is A Lot More to the Gay Marriage Story Than What Is In Jo Becker's Book 'Forcing the Spring'

Human Rights Campaign under Fire in LGBT Community

Gay Marriage Case Offers G.O.P Political Cover


"Neoliberalism's Handiest Little Tool": Against Equality on Marriage

Gay Marriage by the Headlines

Freedom to Marry MLK meme, 2014

Against Equality MLK meme discussion

Coretta Scott King Gives Her Support to Gay Marriage


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