With the recent Supreme Court ruling on the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA), gay marriage has been in the news a lot lately. It’s a hotly contested topic, and most people fall tend to fall into one of two categories: the pro-marriage equality side sees it as a civil rights issue, while the other side usually cites things along the lines of “it’s immoral/the Bible says no” as their reasons for their opposition. But there are a lot of different reasons people support/oppose the concept of gay marriage.
Against Equality, a collection of essays and interviews by the members of the LGBTQ community who oppose gay marriage, has been on my radar for a while. I actually finished reading the book the same week as the Supreme Court ruling, so some of these arguments did seem a little dated considering all of the renewed momentum of the past few weeks. A lot of that is besides the point: the eleven essays in this slim volume are meant to serve as historical documents as well as a collective queer critique of gay marriage — these authors are by no means the only members of their communities who have spoken out against gay marriage.
There are a few recurring ideas here in their arguments against gay marriage, and they are all excellent points: the marriage equality movement has been fueled largely by the middle class and wealthy, white gay community. They’ve built their movement by drawing on the language of the black civil rights movement of the 1950s and 1960s, and in doing so, have succeeded in repackaging gay marriage as the civil rights issue of our generation (think about how many times in the past few years you’ve heard gay marriage referred to as the last big civil rights battle we have to win). The image being pushed is that families with gay parents are just like families with heterosexual parents, and that they should have the same civil rights as everyone else so that everyone could live happily ever after.
Meanwhile — this is where most of the critics in this book come in — there’s a huge portion of the LGBTQ community that still wouldn’t be anywhere close to having equality or civil rights. A lot of these authors are activists who work with the disenfranchised portion of the LGBTQ community; they’re still fighting for AIDS education, fair housing, fair employment practices, resources for the homeless LGBTQ teen population, the battle against police brutality, immigration rights, hospital visitation of loved ones, etc. Most of the LGBTQ population, they argue, does not benefit from gay marriage. And every time a gay marriage battle comes up in their area, they’re forced to divert resources to fight for something they consider a low priority. Instead, the millions of dollars and sheer manpower poured into the marriage equality battle could have made significant changes that benefitted the entire LGBTQ community.
Some of the authors also point out the racism of the gay marriage movement; In “Is Gay Marriage Anti-Black???” Kenyon Farrow cites occasions where gay marriage election losses were pinned on the allegedly homophobic black community. In “Who’s Illegal Now,” Yasmin Nair writes about Shirley Tan, an undocumented immigrant from the Philippines who became the poster child for the positive effect of gay marriage on immigration, even marriage would only solve a tiny portion of the immigrant LGBTQ community’s problems:
[Immigration Equality and other supporters] have continued to emphasize the sheer American-ness Tan and her family (Her kids play soccer! She’s a stay-at-home mom! She sings in the choir!) while, in not-so-subtle ways marking her as the preferable alternative to those other nasty “illegals.” [In People], Rachel Tiven of IE was quoted saying, “They are exactly the kinds of immigrants you want in this country.” (emphasis Nair’s)
Most of the authors argue that yes, marriage will bring things like tax credits and federal benefits to married couples…but shouldn’t they be fighting for those things for everybody? I agree 100%. But what I think a lot of the authors fail to consider is the cultural validation and personal significance people place on marriage. It’s important to a lot of people and important to their children and extended families. While I don’t think marriage is necessary, I don’t think the government should prohibit certain groups of people from participating in it. And like I said earlier, in some states this is now a moot point with the DOMA ruling. Let’s just hope that in places where gay marriage is now a reality, people will continue fighting against the many LGBTQ civil rights inequalities that still exist (I know that’s probably wishful thinking, but here’s to hoping).
Against Equality: Queer Critiques of Gay Marriage was published in October 2010 by Against Equality Press.