After a brutal summer of judicial defeats, the future of gay marriage looks about as healthy as Fidel Castro. The high courts in New York and Washington turned their backs on justice, while the court jesters in Georgia and Nebraska ruled to reinstate constitutional amendments that prohibit gay couples from marrying.
Instead of rallying to revive the patient, however, 250 respected activists took it upon themselves to pull the plug on equal marriage rights. In a Kevorkian document titled, "Beyond Same-Sex Marriage," these activists call on the GLBT community to trade in white wedding gowns for a white flag.
The signatories of the document include notables such as feminist icon Gloria Steinem, crooner Holly Near and gay authors Terrence McNally and Armistead Maupin. There are also advocates such as Mandy Carter of the National Black Justice Coalition and Wendy Curry of BiNet.
The loopy and long-winded manifesto tries to make the impossible case that marriage should lose its special status and become just one option on a buffet table of relationship possibilities. The idea is for our nation's laws to mirror those of Canada. What these activists don't seem to understand is that much of Middle America believes a person is either "married" or "shacking up." The former commands respect and the latter confers ridicule. If you thought convincing Americans that gay people should be allowed to marry was a tough sell, try hawking the idea that marriage no longer has a special place in society.
If people hold this alternative view, I have no problem if they promote their beliefs and try to convince other Americans. It is profoundly unwise, however, for this coalition to pursue this effort under the umbrella of gay rights activism. What this group has done is provide fodder to anti-gay zealots eager to show that the GLBT community is working to undermine marriage.
The only mission of gay activists should be to ensure that we have the exact same rights and responsibilities as other Americans. Our advocates should fight for marriage equality, the right to serve in the armed forces and the ability to hold a job without fear of getting fired for being gay. An activist's role is to fight to give gay individuals every choice and option afforded heterosexuals.
Personally, I don't want gay activists telling me that I shouldn't get married any more than I want Rev. Jerry Falwell telling me I can't. But, the moment that our leaders believe they are morally superior and can make these choices for us, they represent just another form of demagoguery.
For example, why is this coalition making universal healthcare a gay issue? While I personally support this worthy goal, many gay people I know find this anathema to their values and politics. If these activists want to fight for universal healthcare, join a group that fights on behalf of this issue. However, please don't impose your values and say that to be gay, one must support such a controversial political goal.
In an article in the Washington Blade, one of the manifesto's authors, Kenyon Farrow, has apparently decided for us that we should be focusing on other issues."People of color, women and trans people don't have the luxury of just being gay," Farrow said. "We have to look at the totality of our lives and make decisions about the total impact of our lives. Marriage will not be the thing that saves our lives."
While I deeply respect Farrow's work, I have to fervently disagree. Gay people are still getting bashed because they are seen as less than human and some homosexuals continue to have unsafe sex because they do not value their lives. This is often a direct result of living in a homophobic society that promotes discrimination and sends the unmistakable message that GLBT people are inferior. Nothing would undermine this ugly stigma more than winning equal marriage rights that would elevate our loving relationships to the same plane as heterosexual unions.
To illustrate this point, look at the intensity in which the right wing fights marriage, military service and ordination of gay bishops. Our opponents know that the key to holding us down is to officially deny our families the freedom to marry, forbid us from the ultimate expression of patriotism and isolate us from our houses of worship. It is a shame that the signers of this document are unintentionally aiding attempts to separate us from mainstream institutions that are considered the pillars of our society.
The GLBT movement can either battle for equality or we can fight for the utopian pipe dream of turning Kansas into Canada. However, we don't have the political power or popular support to pursue both goals. In my view, it makes more sense to wed our movement to the tangible idea of achieving basic legal rights, including marriage.
You are a little harsh on the people who have issued this call to re-examine the whole marriage fiasco.
I recall meeting you in the offices of the HRC in 1993.
In 1993 the marriage issues was not a big issue at HRC or at NGLTF. both organizations were perking along doing their thing trying to get more money for AIDS, going state by state over turning sodomy law, championing gays in the military, etc.
Marriage was only beginning to be a faint bleep in their radar.
As I am sure you recall, the marriage issue was brought to us by the 6 couples in Hawaii.
I remember their lament that they were getting no support from the national organizations and it took at least three years after they filed their lawusit for the national organizations to jump on the band wagon.
Since the marriage train has left the station much of our agenda has fallen by the wayside. Our Seniors are ignored, our youth, who are coming out by the droves at younger ages, aren't getting a lot of attention.
Right after Stonewall it was the goal for each to define their family arrangements whether monogomous, open, communal, or polymorous. Marriage was and still is a failed institution.
While we have removed sodomy as a road block to equality, as you well know our enemies are trying to use the new state constituional amendments and DOMAs as a means to deny us equality.
I think both Wayne and Jerry make good points but on balance on this one I have to side with Wayne. For my gay son, yes, primarily I want him to be able to walk down the street and not live his life in fear. Of course the very first thing I want for him is to be physically and emotionally safe. But after that... to me the marriage issue just encapsulates so many other aspects of equality, respect and dignity for GLBT people. Telling someone that his/her primary relationship isn't entitled to the same recognition as everyone else's is a very potent way to devalue and demean that bond. I want my son to be able to get married to a partner of his choice and to have that be treated exactly the same as a heterosexual partnership. I think many other things will flow from marriage recognition - for our society to recognize these relationships as being on an equal footing will send a tremendous message that GLBT people are entitled to the same rights and care as the rest. It will hasten the day when being gay is just another aspect of human identity, not some nuclear bomb dropped on a family or individual.
Will marriage recognition wipe out anti-gay prejudice? No, no more than achieving voting and employment rights has completely wiped out racism. But, it would be an invaluable beginning to a full integration of GLBT people into society.
One point of view I never see discussed when people are talking about same-sex marriage is that of the parents of gay kids. Even before we knew our son was gay, we always hoped for all our kids that one day they would grow up to live in solid, happy marriages. To me, that relationship is really the core of my adult life - it is not the be-all, end-all of my existence, but it's certainly the most significant choice I ever made. Although I know that my kids will probably have several relationships before they settle on "The One," I also really hope that one day they will find that special person and make a fulfilling life in a partnership. I would be extremely sad if any of my kids took on a lifestyle of going from partner to partner to partner, and never making a commitment to anyone - I just don't think that's a happy way to live in the long run. It is a very hard thing when society is telling your child, "even if you do find your special someone, we don't think that partnership is legitimate, or worthy enough, for us." It is almost as if they are saying to my gay son, what we want is for you to partner-hop and never settle down with anyone, because we don't think your relationship is worth anything anyway.
I'm sorry for going on at such length, but I really feel passionately about this issue! It sure has been a depressing few months, but as another writer said, nobody ever gets their rights handed to them in a Hallmark card, and now is NOT the time to give up on demanding them!
I have to side with Wayne on this one too. I assumed right from the get-go that the 'marriage fight' would take a VERY long time and probably not be univeral in the USA during my lifetime (I'm 52). Any activist who thought this battle was going to be a cakewalk was sadly deceiving themselves. I can understand the disappointment over NY, but did anyone REALLY think the red states WOULDNT ban gay marriage at this point in time?!?! If African-Americans had whimped out like these 'manifesto' signers, they'd still be living under Jim Crow laws. This cowardice only gives aid and comfort to the bigots and empowers their campaign. The supreme court of my state NJ will soon be issuing a ruling on gay marriage rights, with a good chance that we will follow Mass. in being the next state to enact this civil right. I can imagine future judges deciding cases like this thinking, 'well the gays are beginning to cave on this issue anyway, so why should we stir up a hornets nest, lets just take the easy way out and say ney on gay marriage equality'. If these 'activists' are tired of the fight, step aside and let the younger generation take over; but DONT throw in the towel for ALL of us! Gary (NJ)
posted by Anonymous, at
8/08/2006 9:47 AM
To me, this BeyondMarriage coalition smacks of elitism . . . a bunch of so-called "Gay leaders" (althought I suspect they'd prefer to be called "queer leaders") deciding what's best for the rank and file without even asking their opinion. Ordinary folks are not going to understand this complicated socio-political agenda they're putting forth. What they do understand is the intrinsic right of two people who love each other to declare their relationship before God and have it legally recognized. That's what Gay couples all over the world are fighting for, and it makes perfect sense: If our fight is about the right to love, then marriage is necessarily going to be a part of that fight. However, some people on the Left are just as hostile to the concept of same-gender marriage as people on the Right. They oppose it for different reasons, but their arguments all lead to the same place: Second-class status for Lesbians and Gay men. BeyondMarriage is just like the Religious Right in that they want to control the options Lesbians and Gay men have available to them. It's not about love or equality, it's about ideology! Without evidence, they blame their failure to achieve various leftist goals on the fight for marriage equality. They act as if marriage equality is all Gay people anywhere are interested in, but a quick scan of the national news reveals simultaneous struggles for open military service, for the right to serve as foster parents, for the right to serve openly as church leaders, against anti-Gay rap lyrics, and other things. The BeyondMarriage manifesto is nothing but a noble-sounding camouflage behind which certain people (many of whom aren't Gay) can feel safe expressing ideological opposition to same-gender marriage. Their would-be utopian plans to redefine society haven't a snowball's chance in Hell of coming to fruition . . . achieving same-gender marriage actually looks easy in comparison! But people caught up in ideology aren't much interested in results, anyway; they get their satisfaction from posturing and pontificating. I am really disappointed that people I respect like Cornel West and Gloria Steinem would put their names to this silly manifesto. If I'm not mistaken, both of them have benefited from marriage in its present state. How dare they presume to dictate the terms under which I should have access to it? Can you say "fascism"?
While I respect your point I disagree. Marriage is not what has stalled our full agenda. It is the fact that since 1994, New Gingrich Republicans have controlled the House.
And, since 2000, Bush has been in office. These two events made it nearly impossible, while I was at HRC, to move positive legislation forward. Our lobbyists worked hard, but they were often on the defensive, fighing hostile amendments put forth by the right wing.
Without the marriage debate, we would be worse off today. Not only would the right wing Congress still have blocked progress on issues such as employment discrimination, safer sex education, contraception and hate crimes legislation, but America would never have been introduced to our families.
Finally, we must not forget that in Mass., gay couples can mary today. Take a moment and reflect on this monumental victory. Although this will be a long fight, the Boston miracle has, in the long run, undermined the right's arguement that same-sex marriage will cause a state to collapse and incur the wrath of God.
"But, the moment that our leaders believe they are morally superior and can make these choices for us, they represent just another form of demagoguery."
Isn't that what you've just done, Wayne? By deciding that we MUST make marriage equality our main focus, you (as a leader) have decided for the rest of the gay community what our choice should be?
I'm never comfortable when we don't leave room for differing opinions within our community. We may not agree with the manifesto, but we should support their right to have it.
People are always free to act on their own behalf. The people who are actually out there doing something get the flak while the rest of us just sit on our butts and complain about their direction.
posted by Randy - NYC, at
8/08/2006 10:26 AM
You are so well spoken on this post. EXCELLENT.
You hit the nail about not having the same right to marry legally as being the main cause for the bulk of emotional probs in the glbt community, because we're treated as subhuman, and this plight and how much they fight it, shows how important it truly is!
Just fantastic writing. I've been waiting to read something from you about this, and this doesn't let down. Continue to fight the good fight, you do it with honor, straight-forward talk, and a heart.
The marriage issue isn't going away no matter what any "leaders" on either side decide, because it's never been driven by professional activists. It's always been about couples wanting to protect their children. Parents trying to protect their children aren't interested in what's politically expedient or in redirecting focus to other parts of the struggle on in recognizing alternate family forms. They don't want to wait until the country can come to grips with us.They just need those protections now and will do whatever they can to get them.
posted by Boo, at
8/08/2006 11:21 AM
I have long ago stopped basing my fights on what the "elders" have decreeded. It's all well and good for those in ivory towers to tell the plebians what to think. It's quite another to live the reality.
BC Waterboy made an interesting point: our rights should not be decided on a state-by-state basis. It reminds me of an earlier era, in which states decided which were slave states and which weren't--and we all know how that turned out.
I don't think that civil rights should be a matter of a vote to start with. Unfortunately, the religious "right" realized that they could use state initiative processes to their advantage. I wonder how they'd feel if we could vote on their families.
I have to agree with Wayne too. Marriage equality must remain at the forefront in our struggle for equality. Marriage is the gold standards and anything less is not acceptable. This is a basic civil right, not a special right. If we can serve in the military, die for our country even, pay the same taxes (often more than married heterosexuals) then we should be accorded every right and privilege of heterosexuals. We cannot live in a society where there is one set of laws and rights for heterosexuals and another for gay and lesbian citizens. Isn't this supposed to be a democracy? We need to keep the pressure on our elected officials, no matter the defeats that come our way. We cannot give up and must not. When it comes to casting your vote at election time, be sure that your candidates believe in equality, full equality. If they do not, don't vote for them and let them know why. One candidate that will never get my vote is Hillary Clinton. She does not believe in equality let alone marriage equality. Who needs that?
Patricia and BC Waterboy, I agree with your comments too. Civil rights should never be decided on a state-by-state basis. When the UK enacted civil partnership laws it was done at the parliamentary (government)level, not by popular vote or referenda. It passed fairly easily. Marriage equality should be handled the same way. Its an absurd situation, one state only having marriage equality but not recognized at the federal level with no portability in the rest of the country. Its more than absurd.
For those interested in another view of this issue check out: http://papers.ssrn.com/sol3/papers.cfm?abstract_id=901238 click document delivery in the upper left and then any one of the download sites (NY, Cali, Seoul). Its actually a quick read and interesting. The Thesis is on backlash theory against gay marriage and a comparison to another civil rights struggle brown v. board of ed.
Generally I think the authors conclusions are worth discussion and consideration. What does anyone else think?? Sean in Philly
posted by Anonymous, at
8/08/2006 9:47 PM
I believe that marriage rights are well worth pursuing.
That said, I wonder if perhaps the approach taken by some - that marriage rights will secure an equal standing to same-sex couples in society's view - should actually be the other way around? That gay marriage will come about by publicly advocating the equality of homosexual relationships to heterosexual ones?
I've lost count of the number of times I've seen someone demonstrate their "tolerance" by saying something like "I don't think homosexuals should be punished for their behaviour, but I strongly object to their efforts to paint their deviancy as somehow 'normal'".
posted by Z, at
8/09/2006 1:26 PM
As another mom with a gay son, I agree with "Jane in CT".
We are celebrating 3 weddings this year in our family. It is a time of great joy but I long for the day our gay son,Jake, finds his true love and we can celebrate the love he shares with the man of his dreams in exactly the same way.... exactly the same way.
Jake deserves the same respect and dignity his 3 siblings have enjoyed all their lives.
Marriage is one of the most important steps we take in life. It is a bond no other relationship can replace ... for it is steeped in tradition and honor and rights.
We need moms and dads to speak up. This should not just be a gay issue ... it should be a family issue. We must demand it for our children.
posted by Randi Reitan, at
8/09/2006 2:30 PM
I completely agree with you. To even think, for a minute, that promoting some "ideals" about not placing special status on marriage, would wash with the general public is nonsense and an even more challenging strategy. It also seems to imply that we never really thought marriage was special in the first place and that our relationships are "less than."
My partner and I have debated this, but we both agree it's at best a nice theory about what the world may come to way down the road, but certainly not in our lifetimes.
posted by David Schowengerdt, at
8/09/2006 3:57 PM
I think this is the best piece that I've read of yours. Thanks for the eloquence.
My problem with the situation is that this group of people are giving up, throwing in the towel. So we've lost a few battles, is this reason to retreat, lick our wounds and run to the nearest white flag? No. Hell no! We should run back into battle full force. The future of gay couples everywhere is depending upon it.
I'm a freelance writer. My partner is a musician. We don;t have the funding to hire the lawyers to make sure all the t's are crossed and all the i's are dotted in a hill of legal paperwork to be assured that we will be taken care of in the event of death to either of us. If we were allowed to marry, this wouldn't be an issue. It would be automatic. We would be the next of kin to one another. That's all most gay couples are asking for. What this group appears to be saying is that we've made strides, now lets take two steps backward and settle. Well, I don't want to settle. I'm fighting, not just for me, but for all the families that come after me. They shouldn't have to begin the fight all over again.
posted by jekelhyde, at
8/09/2006 10:10 PM
It is interesting that the reason right wing bigots want to deny us marriage equality is based on outmoded and questionable beliefs that marriage's sole purpose is for the propagation of the human race. If that is the case, then why aren't these same bigots calling for the dissolution of every heterosexual marriage wherein there are no children or the couple is infertile, or...the couple does not wish to have children? I find their reason to justify discrimination based on the procreation principle to be contradictory, conflicted and hypocritical. Bigoty and ignorance at its worst! This should be one of the arguments for striking down the ban on gay marriage.
Actually, I think the public does not want homosexuals getting married and they just make up excuses. I think they are just oblivious to what it means for gays.
posted by Anonymous, at
8/12/2006 3:18 AM
My father, a minister, reiterates to me on a consistant basis that a union doens't have to be sanctioned by the state in order to be blessed by God. Sure does make it easier in probate, though.
posted by jekelhyde, at
8/12/2006 10:39 PM
I think that many of you are refusing to acknowledge the current 'gay marriage' landscape. Over 20 states have banned gay marriage in their constitutions and New York and Washington (two states activist were sure they would win) have bunted to the legislature. In November, seven more states will decide the fate of gay marriage. If, as I suspect, in a few months more than half of the United States will have constitutional bans on gay marriage and in some cases civil unions as well. To top this off, there is DOMA which allows states not to recognize those Massachusetts marriages.
For all practical purposes, the dream of obtaining universally recognized gay marriages failed when the first constitutional amendment was passed. Why? Because that one amendment made it impossible for gays to partake in one defining characteristic of ALL heterosexual marriages, full recognition and portability.
Many of the financial benefits of marriage could have been accomplished through civil unions. But, I suspect that the financial benefits of marriage were not really what motivated most people. They wanted their unions to be respected on par with those in heterosexual unions. While that wish is laudable, it has cost the gay community dearly. Massachusetts has cost the gay community dearly.
posted by Anonymous, at
9/22/2006 12:05 PM