The first assumption seems to be that someone who is anti-marriage must also be anti-same-sex-marriage and therefore anti-same-sex-rights. That assumption made it very difficult for me to deal with Prop 8. On the one hand, i found Prop 8 repulsive on many levels – it imposes conservative religious values on all of us and, well, it is plain discriminatory! On the other hand, i am saddened by the single-minded focus of the LGBT movement leadership on marriage. Not only does this focus sideline people who would like to see other fights being fought but it is also ignoring the history of the gay rights movement. Probably the most famous debate is the Ettelbrick-Stoddard debate (here is one possible source for reprints of their articles). But i found Michael Warner’s take more enlightening. He pointed out that the fight for same-sex marriage stems from a conservative move within the LGBT movement. It was a reaction to AIDS fears and fears around gay sex in general. And it reflected the idea that if gays (yes, mostly gay men) were able to participate in such an esteemed institution like marriage, they would be accepted. You know, the whole heteronormativity stuff: The more you look like “normal” people, the more accepted you will be. That’s dangerous stuff and Warner’s whole book is a call for not embracing this idea.
Clearly, then, critiquing marriage has a strong history within the gay- and LGBT-rights movements (another historical note: “Gay-rights” are gay, that is same-sex men, rights – the movement started out with that focus, reflecting some of the sexism that was captured in the Harvey Milk movie among other places). There are many who are calling for alternatives. Nancy Polikoff and the Canadian Law Commission have presented some of the best ways to value all families. The idea is, basically, to move closer to same-sex equality by fighting for recognition of all constellations of living together rather than privileging one, marriage. Or as Polikoff puts it so wonderfully: Instead of fighting to move the bright red dividing line between married and unmarried people, let’s remove that line! And that leads me to…
The second assumption seems to be that there are no single LGBT people – or at least none who would like to remain single (a variation is the assumption that all singles are heterosexual; another variation, addressed in Bella DePaulo’s book, that all singles want to become unsingle). Again, history shows that there are many ways that people would like to – and are – living together. These many forms ought to be honored, rather than funneled into the standard heteronormative institution, marriage. This assumption is related to…
A third assumption might be that same-sex marriage is the most important gay-rights issue. I am grateful to Tommi Avicolli Mecca for raising my awareness of this assumption. During a panel bringing together many of the contributors to the book he edited, he mentioned all the issues that were not being addressed because of the single-minded focus on access to marriage. Those less important issues – “less important” apparently according to the leaders in the LGBT movement – were basic survival issues of, especially, trans people who were loosing their jobs, faced harassment, and homelessness. While millions were spent to fight for a questionable right, these other issues were ignored! So, focusing on same-sex marriage might just be an anti-LGBT move… That is one reason i’ve also become hesitant to call this an “LGBT movement” or even an “LGBT community” – what community would leave large parts of their community out in the rain?!?
Do i now support DOMA? Hell no! It is wrong! Instead, I would like to see all forms of families honored, actually, i would like to see all people honored in whatever type of relationships they are – and relationship defined as broadly as possible not the narrow couplemanic definition. Instead of focusing on expanding the right to marriage, let’s take a step back and ask what would really support our community – as a community. For example, fighting for universal health care seems to be a much more inclusive fight, something that would resolve many issues that the marriage-bandaid is attempting to solve – but it would resolve it for more people and would no longer force people into marriage.