Hello my Femmoliticas! It’s been awhile. So much has happened!
I finished my thesis!
I hung out with semi-famous people for reasons I’m legally not allowed to disclose!
My fabulous fiancée and I sent out our wedding invitations!
Which brings me to what’s been happening in the news cycle these last two weeks.
That would be gay marriage.
I know you’re all thinking about it. Even if you’re Rightwing McConservativepants, you’re thinking about gay marriage. The news has been blowing up about the Supreme Court cases Hollingsworth v. Perry and United States v. Windsor–and unless you’ve been living under a rock, you’ve probably heard about how big a deal these cases are.
The Hollingsworth case challenges the constitutionality of California’s Prop. 8, which was passed on Election Day in November 2008, and which bans same-sex marriage in that state. The Windsor case challenges the constitutionality of the Defense of Marriage Act (aka DOMA), signed into law by Pres. Clinton in 1996, which bans same-sex couples from accessing federal marriage benefits.
Ultimately, both cases have pretty much the same end goal–to legalize gay marriage in the United States.
And that’s a pretty popular goal, right? As evidenced by the zillions of people on Facebook who changed their profile picture to this snazzy little image:
For those of you who aren’t aware, this is just the Human Rights Campaign‘s logo in kissy-faced Valentine’s Day colors. Self-promoted, mind you. Not a bad way to drum up some donation dollars from all the folks who previously had no idea the HRC existed, am I right?
Marketing schemes aside, though, I’ve written about the HRC before. Remember? When we all decided that Hillary Clinton’s gay marriage endorsement was more drab than fab? Well, as you might recall, I pointed out that the HRC is a corporation and celebrity funded nonprofit, run by a bunch of upper-middle class white folks. Marriage equality is its biggest priority–arguably its only priority–and that’s an extremely privileged, short-sighted political goal.
Why, you’re asking? Don’t all the good little gays want to get married?
Well, sure. There are plenty of us who do. But there are even more of us who won’t benefit much from the legalization of gay marriage at all.
That’s because marriage is a conservative, exclusionary institution by nature. It allows certain people to gain access to more tax cuts, rights, and benefits, while barring other people from accessing them ever. And those “other” people aren’t just the gays–they’re also EVERYONE who’s not married.
All of them.
And that’s super not fair! Gay marriage proponents are always carrying on about how federally recognized marriage will give us newly-wedded gays access to our spouse’s health benefits, immigration sponsorship, and tax deductions. Yay! But why do we have to get married to access all of these goodies? Shouldn’t we ALL have access to affordable health care? Immigration support? Keeping more of our own money?
Yes. Duh. Of course.
So that means gay marriage isn’t the problem. Marriage is the problem. Period.
Instead of asking for more people to be included in an exclusionary institution, why don’t we start fighting for universal health care? More empathetic, people-centered immigration policies? Ethical tax laws? Lots and lots of other structural changes that will give all of us material benefits, instead of just some piddly reforms that only help those rich white people at the HRC?
But wait. Didn’t I just say that my fiancée and I mailed out our wedding invitations recently?
The girl who’s bitching so hard about gay marriage is getting…
Yep. I am. And that’s why I brought up this whole crazy marriage debate, yet again. Lots of folks have hit the blogosphere with critiques of the HRC, this latest gay marriage craze, and why it’s all so fucked up. It’s a privileged political agenda, and it ignores the needs of communities who are and will continue to be outside of privilege long after gay marriage is legalized–namely queer folks, trans folks, polyamorous folks, people of color, poor people, and many undocumented immigrants.
But what many of these critiques fail to mention is the flip side of gay marriage. That side where those of us who want to get married for various reasons, or who would benefit from legalizing our relationships, are down to take whatever we can get from a society that exploits us in so many other ways.
For many of us, choosing to get married–despite having serious problems with the institution of marriage itself–is a deeply personal choice, motivated by the need to survive and thrive in our current reality.
Take me and my lady love, for example. We’re both women–meaning we earn less than our male counterparts–but our living expenses are just as high. (And in many ways, much higher.) I’m a freelance writer, which means I don’t have employer sponsored health insurance. Not to mention, my fiancée has some complicated medical history, meaning she finds herself in doctors’ offices, Emergency Rooms, and pharmacies a lot more often than either of us would like.
For us, federally recognized marriage would translate into real material gains. I could go on her health insurance, for example, which is super important. I could also have access to her in times of medical emergency or need–which is crucial, since someone has to make sure that no doctor is mistreating my gender-non-conforming love. Plus, getting married would allow us to hang onto more of our money at tax time, which would make paying the rent a lot less stressful.
We’re not the only ones who see marriage as a legal safety net, as an (imperfect) way to make sure that we’re safe and protected in a world that doesn’t want us to be.
So, when I hear folks squawking about how gay marriage is a completely baseless and meritless political priority, I can’t help but get irritated. Focusing solely on marriage rights, like the HRC does, comes from a place of seriously unexamined privilege. But so does the other extreme–dismissing marriage entirely as a viable solution to real social and economic problems.
If you’re claiming that marriage–for all people, not just the gays–has no benefits, I assume you have health insurance. I assume you have a great job. I assume that you are free to move through the world with little fear as to whether you will be a victim of harassment, abuse, violence, or discrimination. I assume that you don’t worry about winding up in the Emergency Room. I assume that you have loving and supportive family members who will care for you and act in your best interest, should you find yourself medically and/or physically vulnerable. I assume you don’t worry about deportation.
No but seriously. That’s awesome.
But lots of us aren’t so lucky. We don’t have health insurance. We worry about money. We navigate through the world strategically, so as to (hopefully) avoid violence and discrimination, and we’re not always successful. We wind up in the hospital, at the psychiatrist’s office, at the pharmacy. We worry about harassment at the gynecologist, in the ER, on job interviews. We’re not sure that people with power over us–family members, physicians, bankers, legal professionals–will act in our best interest if we’re not able to fight for ourselves. We worry about our loved ones, and what will happen to them if our health, employment, or immigration status is compromised.
For many of us in this situation, marriage is not a viable solution to these problems. Getting married won’t help. But for some of us, it will.
So, how to make sense of the gay marriage debate and all those red HRC logos clouding your Facebook newsfeed?
Recognizing that legalizing gay marriage does not equal universal equality. It is not the be-all end-all of social justice battles, for gay people or anyone else. It is not a long-term strategy for seriously improving the quality of life for marginalized people in the U.S.
That would involve fighting for universal healthcare, raising the minimum wage, and deconstructing institutionalized racism, sexism, homophobia, and transphobia. It would involve ending marriage as a vehicle through which very particular people gain access to various benefits. It would require making those benefits available to everyone, regardless of marital status.
But it also means recognizing that, unfortunately, we live in a world where marriage is the vehicle through which many people gain access to thousands of very important benefits. It shouldn’t work that way, it’s fucked up, and we all need to work on changing that. But right now, it’s reality.
And many of us, queers included, need that access. We don’t have the privilege to casually pass it up.
Getting married shouldn’t be how we gain access to safety, benefits, or privilege. We’ve got to change that.
But in the mean time, we’ve also got to deal with reality. And for many of us, myself included, the best way to do that is to get hitched, and add some legality to our wonderful, loving relationships.
What do you all think about this whole marriage debate?