Tuesday, August 08, 2006
by Wayne Besen
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 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 a people hold this alternative view, I have no problem if they promote their beliefs and try to convince the American people. 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 give 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.
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