Note from Bil Browning: I’ve pushed Yasmin’s post back up to the top because comments are still going strong, but it had fallen pretty far down the page. I’ve pushed it back up so others can check out the conversation and participate. Kudos to Projectors for making this the most civil, engaging and intelligent comment thread I’ve seen in a long time.
Today’s decision by the California Supreme Court will, no doubt, cause gays and lesbians to gather to express their anger over the recent decision. But in the midst of all the emotional outbursts, a lot of us are left to silently wonder how and why either Prop 8 or marriage became the raging issues of the so-called gay movement. The recent ruling will re-energize gay marriage advocates, but I suggest that we use it as an opportunity to drastically alter our course: Dump marriage now.
Let’s be clear: Prop 8 was a measure that should never have passed. Today, the California Supreme Court has ruled that the measure itself will stand, but that the 18,000 or so marriages that took place in the meantime will remain legal.
I’d like to suggest that we end this drain on resources that we call gay marriage. The fact that the measure is wrong does not mean that the fight for gay marriage is the cause we should be battling for. There are, believe it or not, many, many gays and lesbians, and yes, a lot of queers and straight people, who don’t feel the need to marry. They resolutely object to the idea that marital status should determine whether or not they get health care or validation from society.
Despite the hoopla surrounding today’s decision, this is not a dramatic turn of events in gay history but a distraction from the real issues that face us all, whether gay or straight, single or married/coupled. Gays - and the straight allies who have been told that this is the most important day of our lives - should know that Prop 8 is, in the long run, a mere blip in history. Contrary to what the gay mainstream and the press have decided, gay marriage is not the movement.
Over the last decade or so, well-endowed gay organizations and some influential gay commentators have manipulated media attention to make the world believe that there is nothing that would make our lives happier than the attainment of gay marriage. Gay marriage is now presented as the only way to gain benefits and rights. Today, the biggest rationale for gay marriage is that it would provide health care and benefits for spouses. Over the years, we have seen the gay movement withdraw its support for universal health care - which is what we fought for in the years of the AIDS crisis.
We’re allowing ourselves to be distracted by the tactics of the Right and forgetting that marriage should never have been our goal to begin with. At best, the goal of marriage is a symbolic and sentimental one. Over the last many decades, gays and lesbians were beginning to forge interesting and productive social networks outside marriage. Remember when domestic partnerships were actually seen as sexy and desirable and a really good alternative for those who didn’t want to marry? Today, ask any major organization: If civil unions or domestic partnerships could be crafted so that they provided exactly the same benefits as marriage, would you accept them? The answer is usually a resounding no. As for the issue of health care, why should marriage be the way to guarantee something so basic? And as for the argument, that some make, about marriage being the only way to have your love recognized - really? If your love can’t abide not being recognized by the state, perhaps it’s time to consider that you might have bigger problems than simply getting a piece of paper to validate your relationship.
So Prop 8 stands. Gay marriages in California are not nullified, but new ones are unlikely to be sanctioned by the state any time soon. The fight for gay marriage, despite its wins in a few states, promises to be a long and bloody one. It’s time to insist, to our self-appointed leaders, that we are now done with marriage, thank you. That it makes more sense to direct our attention to the ways in which our lives are mandated through onerous anti-gay-adoption laws like the ones in Florida. And perhaps we can now fight more closely with the health care reform movement and guarantee health care for everyone so that nobody, gay or straight, married or single, has to worry about something so basic.
There’s been much talk about how this ruling will now make it easier to take rights away from all minorities. This assumes, of course, that ethnic/racial identity is the only way through which people identify themselves and ignores the fact that several groups in California and elsewhere have already watched their rights being eroded. For, instance, California’s prison system is notorious for its ill treatment of prisoners. But, ah, of course, gays and lesbians have nothing to do with the prison population. Or with rights other than the right to get married and retreat into the safety of our normal lives. As we quibble about marriage, it’s easy to forget that a rise in poverty and the lack of health care means that large segments of society are already denied their rights to decent education, housing, and a sense of security about their well-being.
As for the famous line about the 1000+ benefits that can only come through marriage - what about those who are excluded from those benefits simply because they’re not married? And here’s the basic question: Why should marriage guarantee any benefits that aren’t available to those who don’t want to marry? Why build up the power of the state to coerce people into marital relationships they don’t want just so that they can get the basics like healthcare?
Marriage has, for too long now, been held up as the only solution to a host of problems, including the lack of health care. The fight for gay marriage, in granting that institution so much importance, is slowly eroding the possibility that the rest of might get rights and benefits without marrying each other. The fight over gay marriage has emerged as a progressive cause that all progressive straights should join in when, in fact, it’s a deeply conservative movement that strips our movement of any imagination. Instead of asking for one way to grant rights and benefits, we ought to be advocating for a multiplicity of options.
Let’s dump marriage now.