kate (boygirlwondr) wrote in postqueer,

why gay marriage is complicated

oh my god, this PERFECTLY articulates my ambivalence about gay marriage. read, read, read!!!


Ban Marriage
Craig Willse
a talk delivered at Sarah Lawrence on March 6, 2004

As a queer person who personally does not wish to
ever get married and who politically is opposed to state
regulation of families and sexual relationships,
Bush’s current campaign puts me in something of an awkward
position. How can I help organize to oppose his
planned amendment while also maintaining my own critique of
and position on marriage?

For me, that requires forming a queer politics that
is not simply identity-based, but which is based rather on a
broad commitment to social and economic justice
issues. Such a commitment means a couple of things. It
means seeing queer politics as necessarily working
in coalition with a wide set of contemporary struggles:
against the occupations in Iraq and Palestine,
against police brutality and mass incarceration in the united
states, for access to safe and affordable means of
birth control including abortion, for living wages and
universal healthcare. It also means challenging a
gay political agenda that focuses on the needs of racially
and economically privileged people at the expense
of, for example, queers of color, poor queers, and

I recognize that people support marriage for a lot
of different reasons and that people wish to get married for
lots of reasons, including symbolic, emotional and
material reasons. I want to think about marriage at a
systemic level, not at a level of individual
experience and benefits. I realize this means talking in terms that
don’ t always account for how wide the range of
experiences might be, but that systemic focus is important
and is more complex than a lot of media coverage of
this issue suggests.

I won’t spend too much time going over the critique
of marriage offered by feminists, queers and sex radicals,
among others, but at the level of individuals we
should remember everyone who is left out of the benefits of
marriage: non monogamous couples, people whose
homes and families are not constituted out of sexual
relationships, etc. Many perverts, polyamourous
people, sex workers, s/m practitioners and activists have
rejected the normative institution of marriage
because of the violence it enacts on people who don’t fit and
don’t want to.

We only need look at how the Lambda Legal Defense
and Education Fund discusses marriage to see evidence
of this:

Gay people are very much like everyone else.
They grow up, fall in love, form families and
have children. They mow their lawns, shop for
groceries and worry about making ends
meet. They want good schools for their
children, and security for their families as a whole.

Not to go on about the obvious, but who is this
“everyone else”? What gays fit this model and what does it
mean to suggest that all gay people are like this?
What about people who don’t own homes with lawns to mow?
What about people who mow other people’s lawns for
their living? People with no money to buy groceries?
People who don’t want children?

Similarly, while marriage has offered access to
resources for some, advocates have pointed out how through
welfare reform marriage operates as a coercive
institution which punishes women whose families do not fit a
family ideal. The money Bush wants to divert to
“promoting” marriage is a burden that will be inordinately
carried by poor women and women of color.

We should also remember that queer and trans people
do not only face oppression in terms of gender and
sexuality, but along other lines as well. The
ability to access some of the very important material privileges of
marriage would not be the same for all people. So
for example: A working class gay person who has a job
without health coverage will not be able to extend
their nonexistent benefits to their new gay spouse. Gay
people of color in prison will still lose custody
rights to their children. Queer immigrants, particularly those
whose sex lives do not fit the model of marriage
(for example, non-monogamous queers), will still be subjected
to anti-immigrant violence, laws, and deportation.
Trans parents will still have their children taken away by
judges who think trans homes are inappropriate and

So, putting aside Bush’s ban, and thinking about
advocating for gay marriage, I want to ask if concerns like
hospital visitation rights, healthcare, and custody
are best secured through marriage or if other political battles
? for universal healthcare for example ? would be a
more effective front. Because aside from the wide range of
people who might seek out same sex marriages, I
think that we will see that gay marriage will primarily benefit
the same people that straight marriage benefits ?
those will property to protect and economic entitlements to
share. This is not to say that other individuals
will not seek gay marriage or benefit from it. But I’d argue that
those benefits are secondary, and that systemically,
the strengthening of things like inheritance laws (for
example) is bad for low-income populations. When we
say “I know there are problems with marriage, or I know
gay marriage won’t fix everything, but it’s what we
can do right now,” I worry that we are justifying the gains of
racially and economically privileged people at the
costs of a broad spectrum poor people, people of color,
immigrants and their political struggles. As a white
queer, I feel a responsibility to reject political gains that I
can access through privilege. I also worry that if
decide that a battle like this is practical in the short term, and
that today universal healthcare is impractical,
wishful thinking and a battle that belongs to the future ? well, if
that day is always only in the future, it will never

A story that might help clarify what I’m thinking
about: A few years ago, two propositions came up for vote in
California: Prop 21 and 22. Prop 22 said something
like, “In the state of California, only marriage between a
man and a woman is legal.” It was a preemptive
strike following from talk in Hawaii, Vermont, etc. Prop 21 was
a “juvenile justice” bill that lowered the age at
which children can be tried as adults, added time to prison
sentences for youth affiliated with gangs, and
redefined gangs in such a broad way that any youth of color
just hanging out together could be defined as such.
Many organizations in LA campaigned simultaneously
against both propositions, recognizing links in
these battles as being about social and economic justice. The
Los Angeles Gay and Lesbian Center only campaigned
against Prop 22. They did nothing on Prop 21. At the
time I worked at a shelter run by the Center. For
the homeless youth living there, Prop 21 would have
immediate and disastrous consequences. Many of them
had already in their short lives been targets of the
criminal injustice system, and the conditions of
poverty and racism meant they often worked in illegal
economies for survival. Also, as visibly trans and
queer youth, often of color, they were frequent targets of
police harassment and violence; walking around
Hollywood carried the danger of an arrest for solicitation.

When the Center decided to do no work on Prop 21,
they decided that youth incarceration is not a gay issue.
They effectively positioned the needs of the youth
with whom I worked outside of gay politics. The Center’s
work was a crystallizing moment of defining who
constitutes a legitimate glbt community, and whose needs our
organizations will represent.

I think we can also look another legal battle that’s
instructive: gay hate crimes laws. When gay mainstream
organizations fought for tougher hate-crime laws,
what they in effect accomplished was a strengthening of a
racist legal and police system that
disproportionately targets poor people of color. People are not going to
gay bashing because there are longer sentences for
hate crimes; but people will spend more of their lives in
jail because of these laws.

It’s important to recognize that it was mostly large
national organizations (such as HRC), which we know are
often primarily determined by white people, who
fought for these laws. Many small community based groups of
immigrant and queers of color, such as the Audre
Lorde Project in Brooklyn, opposed this legislation.

So part of my concern is: how do we determine what
is a legitimate and supported lgbtq movement? And who
gets left out of those movements? It is obviously
imperative that we organize against Bush’s marriage plans. I
hope that we can find ways of doing so that allow
for the diversity of political opinions about gay marriage. So
we don’t wind up arguing that to be anti-Bush we
must be pro-marriage. I think this requires developing a
politics that sees the importance of legal battles
such as this one and also sees the costs of a liberal model of
politics represented in this fight. Centering
anti-racism, anti-capitalism and feminism in queer politics means
that all the issues addressed in other panels today
--the patriot act, reproductive rights, unions--are queer
issues. It also means being cognizant of the fact
that current movements that advocate gay marriage take
place in a context in which institutions of white
supremacy and capitalism play an enormous role in determining
political agendas and controlling resources. What if
everybody who right now was spending money buying
flowers and sending them to SF city hall, instead
sent that money to local organizations that fight police
brutality? A fight against police brutality is one
that directly serves queer and trans people who are of color,
are poor, or are homeless people; it directly serves
the sex workers, immigrants and youth within our

Queer and transgender movements that seek real
liberation and freedom for everyone might turn out to be
movements that don’t look like what we call “gay
rights” movements. Despite whatever benefits might accrue
to some people, broad economic justice will not be
served by re-enforcing the government’s power to
determine what families or sexual relationships are
legitimate and hence deserve access to social and
economic resources.


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