Beyond Marriage Equality
By Tomás Ben-Sefis
Pride season is drawing to a close and I’m left with lots of conflicted thoughts and feelings. This essay is an attempt to organize them into some coherence.
Recently I went to the gay pride parade in downtown Portland and was struck by the overwhelming presence of corporations and big businesses. The irony of Air BNB marching by while my city struggles under the boot heel of gentrification was not lost on me. I did not cheer for their employees. I did not cheer for the sheriff’s department. I was disheartened by all those that did.
A few weeks later the SCOTUS ruling filled up my Facebook feed with rainbows and ally cookies. Again I was disheartened. While I don’t want to begrudge people who want to get married, I feel that the “Love Is Love” campaign and similar campaigns are paltry and deny the true meaning of marriage as a transfer of material benefits. Why should these benefits only exist for a privileged few? Shouldn’t every person have a right to health care, to housing and other securities that marriage brings? And why should we have to get married to receive them?
So I ask, who is this movement for? It is a movement that has largely left out, queer, trans, bisexual, poor, people of color, immigrants, and disabled people. Do not forget how the Human Rights Campaign threw trans people under the bus and removed trans protections from the ENDA. Do not forget that marriage equality means that disability recipients who marry will lose those vital benefits. The marriage equality movement does not honor the diversity of our experiences, relationships or our belief systems.
The marriage equality movement is for the gay elite, for the monied White hordes of gay men and lesbians who are “acceptable “enough to warrant the rights straight people have had for so long. Marriage equality is an insidious assimilation strategy. So what then, does this victory mean for the rest of us?
I fear that the movement for marriage equality has eclipsed other more pressing issues facing LGBTQ people from a variety of backgrounds. The LGBTQ community is not as concise, Whitewashed and upwardly mobile as the HRC and other marriage equality organizations and “activists” want the majority to believe. We are not the same. We’re different, messy, diverse, resilient, and beautiful.
So many issues affect our communities: housing discrimination, police brutality, gentrification, employment discrimination, lack of healthcare, substance abuse and addiction, teen suicides, youth homelessness, immigration, deportation, incarceration. Do not believe for a minute that the AIDS crisis is over just because some people can afford PrEP.
What does marriage equality do for these problems? Nothing. Marriage equality activists and organizations have distanced themselves from these issues in order to be more palatable for straight society and the State. One can see the change in language when we talk about the history of gay liberation vs. modern gay rights. Now we are focused on individual rights (“freedoms”) rather than the liberation of entire communities.
Another example of this change is seen in the issue of police brutality and solidarity with other minority communities. Our movement has its origins in protesting police harassment and abuses against us. It was pioneered by trans women of color, the most oft quoted are Sylvia Rivera and Marsha P. Johnson (may they rest in power), so why isn’t the LGBTQ community up in arms against police brutality? Where is LGBTQ solidarity with the Black Lives Matter movement? Through all the murders of Black folks throughout this country on the part of police officers, I have seen deafening silence from the mainstream LGBTQ community.
I find this very troubling. We do not live single-issue lives, as Audre Lorde reminds us. Each person is a vast constellation of identities and we all face many different challenges. So why has our movement morphed into a single issue? I feel as though I must ask again, who is this marriage equality movement for?
I believe in more than marriage, and I will continue to work towards a more just society beyond capitalism and beyond marriage, where each person is protected and valued not for their productivity or legal status, but for their passions, their artistry, their contributions to community, their ideas, themselves.