So it turns out 55 percent of Americans now support gay marriage. I suppose my little queer heart ought to be delighted that we’re slowly stumbling into being treated “just like everyone else.” Instead, if I’m honest, I feel disappointed in the gay rights movement.
It’s hard for me to drum up excitement for an institution that is outdated in the first place. Fewer and fewer humans in the US are getting married every year, a trend that started before gay marriage was made legal in any state and has continued unaffected since. People still indicate the desire to get married, though cite it will be for love, not financial stability (as was often the case for women, and still sometimes is). Trends towards marrying later in life and a declining birthrate has made some worry that the “Traditional American Family” is in decline, whatever that means. It’s become more socially acceptable to live in sin, or to choose not to have a child, and people are taking advantage of that to make steps away from an institution ultimately put in place to trade women as chattel.
I find it interesting (and telling) that many articles I’ve come across discussing marriage and divorce seem to suggest that us modern types are too invested in our “marrying for love” versus arranged marriages schtick, considering divorce rates where this social norm are exalted are pretty high. Yet I feel it’s worth mentioning that any social acceptance of divorce is still pretty new in our timeline. People in abusive marriages can now potentially and legally LEAVE, which was not an option for much of the storied history of the institution of “man and wife.” The fact that people are taking advantage of this seems to me to be encouraging agency, not ruining relationships.
But gay people, mainly gay men, are invested in assimilation, often at the cost of other major issues, issues I believe are more pressing. In our scramble to be “accepted,” many gay people are climbing over each other to mimic the issues of the heterosexist, racist, ableist capitalist patriarchy. Rather than challenge marriage and the implication that “coupledom” should be the way in which we legitimize economic and medical rights, the gay community is pushing to re-enact it. I think it’s a shame.
Don’t get me wrong. I think that hospital visitation rights are important. I think child rearing contracts of accountability are important. I think financial stability is VERY important. But I believe it’s irresponsible to have people sign that marriage contract when the impact of that decision legally is pretty complex, and the fine print isn’t clearly written above when you sign on the dotted line. Each of these things could be managed with their own contracts, allowing the legal framework while also making space to make each decision consciously and without having the centuries of oppressive baggage. With so many relationship structures, why are we continuing to try to be like straight people? Even straight people are moving beyond monogamous coupledom!
It may seem like I’m just bitter because I got a civil partnership in the UK, and couldn’t get a divorce in the US since we didn’t have gay marriage OR divorce. But navigating the power dynamics of marriage made me reconsider the fight to support it, or, indeed, marriage at all. And it’s definitely not the issue every big gay organization should be working on. Here are some facts.
Trans women are dying. Remember the T at the end of LGBT? They’ve been waiting patiently, left behind since Stonewall was rewritten to ignore them. Trans women are struggling with employment issues, housing issues, medical issues, even using the bathroom safely. This is a life or death situation, deeply tied into the violent misogyny reflected throughout the rest of the world. Trans women are being told they (sometimes legally) need to be out about being trans to avoid consequences, but are also being shot to death for being upfront. When they are murdered, it is with a particular viciousness … and their murderers are rarely caught. This is more important than marriage.
Queer youth are becoming homeless at astounding rates. Forty percent of our homeless youth identify as LGBT — a large percentage of them are black. Foster home environments are not always welcoming to queer youth, where they may suffer verbal, physical, and sexual harassment. They are more likely to run away from their homes or placements, and are more likely to attempt suicide, engage in risky behaviours, and suffer depression. This is more important than marriage.
In San Francisco, the Pride committee is throwing a prison-themed dance party. Meanwhile, the reality of being gay in jail is horrifying. While we joke about prison rape and romanticize the power dynamics, gay men in jail run a special risk for being raped, abused, and emotionally tortured. Trans women, who are often forced into men’s prisons, deal with even higher risk of assault. This is more important than marriage.
And in light of this weekend’s shooting near UC Santa Barbara, I think it’s an important time to deconstruct the misogyny rampant in the gay male community as well. Not just misogyny as it applies directly to women, but also how it’s used as a justification for insulting and dismissing effeminate gay men.
I’m curious to see what will happen as gay marriage becomes passed in state after state. Will all the gay rights groups who rallied around this issue rally for one in which people are actively dying? I’d like to hope so.
But guess what? It doesn’t always just “get better.” We have to make it better.
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