I started to write an aside about same-sex marriage in the last post, and it kind of took on a life of its own. My asides tend to do that.
I’ve read some very eloquent arguments (including others I can’t find right now) recently by people urging Californians to vote against Prop 8, or infuriated by its passage. And I’m persuaded to an extent, and to an extent I didn’t even need to be persuaded. If we’re going to have marriage, I believe that couples of any combination of genders should be allowed to marry. Hell, I’ll go further, just like the anti-marriage people always fear we will: I believe that any number of consenting adults of any combination of genders should be allowed to marry, If an amendment to ban gay marriage is going to be on the ballot anywhere, I want it to fail, and I’m offended by what I perceive as the bigotry and hatefulness of the people who vote for it. I do not, however, think that marriage equality should be the main goal of the queer community, or the main focus of our energy and resources. And this is not only because I’m dubious of state-sanctioned marriage to begin with (for all I know, I’m dubious of state-sanctioned marriage to begin with because I was raised to believe it’s wrong that everyone who’s in love can’t get married.) I’ll freely admit to having my doubts about marriage, and wondering why queers want a piece of big, expensive weddings, government approval of their unions, assimilation, and heteronormative family structure. I’m not sure it’s something I’ll ever want for myself. But I understand why people who are denied those things, and who are also discriminated against, disregarded, and mistreated in so many other ways, would want the legitimacy they convey. I even believe that changing the law, by changing the ways people act, over time sways public opinion, and that any change in the law that will legitimate queer identities and queer love is a change for the good.
I don’t think it should be our top priority. I’m frustrated with the way it appropriates a disproportionate share of our advocacy and resources, to the exclusion of things I feel would be a much better use of those things. In many places we can still be denied housing and employment because of our sexuality. This is true in almost all places of those who don’t conform to binary gender norms (and those of the gender assigned to them at birth, thank you very much). People are still being harassed, beaten, raped, and murdered for their perceived queerness. Trans folks are still being harassed, beaten, and raped by the cops. Gay men are being arrested for the crime of having sex. Many medical professionals are still trying to counsel and medicate queers out of our sexual preferences or gender identities, and giving us less than their best care besides. And many, many of these things are happening disproportionately to queers who are young, old, outside of the gender binary, poor, and/or not white. The segments of our community who have the fewest rights and resources of their own. And we are, in my opinion, abandoning them to their fate so that middle-aged, middle class white men can push for their right to join the straight people at the top of the ladder of oppression. Save for the controversy over an ENDA that left out trans folks (and now that we have the kind of Democratic majority in Congress that even the people who wanted to leave trans folks out in the cold said we’d need to pass an inclusive ENDA, could we get on that, please?) pretty much everything I’ve heard about queer rights from mainstream sources in the past several years has been regarding marriage. I think this is a terrible misprioritization, and a gross misappropriation of our attention and energy. I rank marriage as less important than people’s lives and bodily integrity, and I don’t understand how the “gay agenda” doesn’t.
And no discussion of same sex marriage taking place right now would be complete without a mention of the appalling racism that’s currently dominating the discussion (I like Dan Savage less because of his unapologetic biphobia; if he keeps up the blatant racism, too, I will simply have to stop liking him). Everywhere I turn the past few days, I run into the statistic that 70% of black voters in California voted for Prop 8, and the associated opinions that it’s all of the new black voters Obama inspired who are to blame for homophobic legislation, and queers aren’t racist in nearly the percentages that blacks are homophobic. Never mind that simply phrasing the statement that way – with its assumption that all queers are white and all blacks are straight – belies the point. It is probably true that queers need to do more education in and outreach to black communities, but that is the point to be made here: we need to reach out more. It is not true that all or most black people are homophobic, or that black people are a monolithic whole as implied by the way the discussion is framed, holding one set of opinions and voting one way across the board. There’s so much “Shame on black people for getting their rights and closing the doors behind themselves,” but shame on white queers for believing everything we’re told about how another minority group thinks and acts and harms us. We’ve been on the receiving end of such smear campaigns, we should know better than to buy into them and turn against people who are themselves oppressed, and who could be our allies. And not only were the majority of people who voted for Prop. 8 white (the majority of Californians, after all, are white; and it was a close vote), but the people who financed the campaign for it and advocated heavily for it were almost entirely white.
For more information on how the election would have gone had all of the black voters in the country stayed home — teaser: Obama would have lost in a landslide, and all of the homophobic legislation that went through on Tuesday would still have passed except for Prop. 8, which would been defeated by the barest of margins — check out this collection of links and statistics.