The Supreme Court takes up gay marriage this week. Utterly incapable of understanding or relaying nuance, mainstream media continue with their myopic portrayal of all this as a battle between the goodies and the baddies. Here, sweet, sad gays who just want to express their love are pitted against evil meanie Rightwing fundamentalists skewering gays and their children for breakfast.
This picture erases the complicated matter of what will happen if the gays win or lose. We're screwed either way, no matter the outcome.
If mainstream gays for marriage get what they want, you can expect the tyranny of marriage to continue and for life to get a great deal more hellish for vast numbers of people in a country where healthcare is dispensed via a lottery. Even as millions of people in the US struggle with healthcare expenses - even if they have health insurance -, the argument that gay marriage will benefit gay couples continues to be a primary thrust of the movement. This ignores the reality of life for most of us, who will never see healthcare worth keeping. As I’ve stated before, we will see gay marriage in my lifetime, but not universal healthcare.
Gay marriage is not an ahistorical movement that has simply unfolded over the years as the US moved towards some deeply felt ideal of equality and justice. The history of gay marriage is a history of “Gay” as a class identity and a history of how a deeply avaricious and neoliberal left/conservative gay elite, greedy for power and respectability, funded and bought its way into power. Actual numbers for how much money has been funnelled into gay marriage are interestingly difficult to get. All we can do, for now, is to gather data on individual states and individual campaigns, but I will venture to state that the total amount comes to more than a few hundred million over the past few years alone. I defy you to effectively argue that all that money has in fact come from rank-and-file gays and lesbians and that the campaigns are not, in fact, mostly bankrolled by wealthy gays and organisations.
You might argue that such an amount is piffling in comparison to other campaigns - but consider that progressive gays and straights never discuss money in relation to gay marriage, except to approvingly paint the vast amounts as evidence of “grassroots funding.” If the truth were more widely discussed, that a fight as long and as bitter as gay marriage has been requires resources far beyond Steve and Andy giving from their meagre paychecks, perhaps the “left” might begin to wonder exactly whom gay marriage is supposed to benefit. Make marriage a humble fight for love, and everyone gets teary-eyed. Reveal that gay marriage is in fact a massive campaign funded by some powerful gay men and women with deep pockets, and it looks a lot more like the neoliberal enterprise that it is.
Why does this matter? Because the history of gay marriage is also an example of how gays have benefited from always being seen as somehow, peculiarly, outside history and politics. Because rank-and-file gays and lesbians have been persuaded to part with their money in the sincere belief that they are the ones keeping the campaign alive.* The erasure of gay marriage’s roots in an economic and political fight for power keeps alive the myth that this is some kind of a people’s movement when, in fact, marriage only privileges those who already have ample resources.
There’s a longer and more detailed history to be written, of how gay marriage has seemed to exist outside history even as it is described as history-making, and even as it shaped neoliberalism’s increased privatisation of resources, but I’ll leave that for the book. For now, I’ll just state that gay marriage will become a way to make neoliberalism both palatable and more palpable, more an everyday part of our lives. The very existence of poorer queer people, who don’t - for any number of reasons - live like the kind of gay who can afford a $100,000 wedding- will be erased from public consciousness. There will, of course, be calls for charity toward them - and if you can't afford an extravagant wedding, you can try to win one.
Those who fund the massive coffers of groups like the Human Rights Campaign and the marginally more progressive National Gay and Lesbian Task Force will continue their formal investiture into the power structure that they so desperately seek.
We already know that the fight for gay marriage means the sucking away of resources from every other issue facing queers: issues facing youth, homelessness (for all ages), aging, HIV/AIDS. We also know that, historically, the gay community has become the most myopic and selfish kind, and has taken its resources away as soon as it got gay marriage.
Queers are are being laid off, screwed over, left without health care, struggle to keep their jobs in an economy that exploits them, and in general are having a hard time staying afloat - much like millions of straight people. What any success around gay marriage will do is to reinforce the idea, already popular amongst straights, that marriage will make everything okay. But, as I’ve repeatedly pointed out, there’s no point to marriage if neither one of you has healthcare and if, under Obamacare, you’re still compelled to shop around for it. There's no point to marriage if your chances of getting a job are dimmer every day, and there's no point to marriage if you can be fired at will, without recourse, for any reason, including sexual orientation and gender identity, because you live in an at-will state like Illinois - which, by the way, is poised to "win" gay marriage any day now.
And, as our Canadian brethren can testify, gay marriage will mean the deepening of laws against everything not considered the norm that’s represented by gay marriage, and far more repressive laws against the most marginalised. Queers and straights working in street economies, for instance, will see a rise in laws against their rights to safety, and the prison industrial complex will fill up with those targeted for sex offenses, a term that includes a vast array of imagined crimes. Gay marriage will provide an effective cover for the economic exploitation of many more.
What if we don’t “get” gay marriage? Then this horrible, avaricous, selfish, misbegotten fight will go on, and on, an on. Our various issues will be pushed aside even more forcefully as several, very angry, very rich gays foam at the mouth and begin to not only escalate their funding of marriage but more actively defund organisations working on anything not marriage-related.
Don’t believe me? Trust me: there is no hell like that of angry, rich, gays who have waited their entire lives for the kind of respectability that would be the cherry on their neoliberal wedding cake.
*My thanks to Jason Tompkins for this point, and for helping me with the research on numbers on an ongoing basis.
Image courtesy Milo Miller.
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