Beyond Marriage Equality

By Tomás Ben-Sefis

queer as in fuck youPride 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.

27 thoughts on “Beyond Marriage Equality

  1. I can’t think otherwise on any of the points you’ve mentioned. I regret to say that I was unaware of a few of your statements. Odd that two senior gets, each with mobility issues, already married, don’t see a change in eligibility or qualifications, but that two disabled persons wanting to marry will lose them, and their quality of life be substantially reduced. That’s some idiocy going down..


  2. “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.”

    Could you explain how these people have been left out? are they not allowed to get married?

    This is small victory in much longer series of battles, don’t begrudge those who fought it and who are celebrating that victory . The rest will come, just give it time.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. We have been left out in that the “LGBT” movement claims to represent us but doesn’t want to be associated with us because our differences are too threatening to average Americans. We have been left out in that the wealthy leaders of “LGBT” organizations like the HRC have decided that same-sex marriage is the most pressing issue facing our community today, ignoring things like youth homelessness, lack of access to healthcare, violence against trans women of color, and employment and housing discrimination, because those issues generally don’t affect wealthy white cis gay men.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. I don’t disagree with any of those being problems, I am wondering why marriage equality cant be a win in the ongoing series of things that need looking at? Bit at a time and all that.

        am I right in thinking it’s legal to discriminate in the workplace in the US over things like being LGBQT?

        how does the lack of healthcare thing work? People cant get insurance because of assumed risks by insurers? (alien planet the US, when it comes to healthcare for someone living with socialised healthcare)


        Liked by 1 person

      2. Marriage equality is a farce all around– it is a tactic of assimilation and nothing more. The institution of marriage is a social and legal mechanism that perpetuates heteronormativity, which is itself a capitalist construct, and can only continue to exist by holding us hosta,ge in exchange for a myriad of benefits: tax breaks, power of attorney, financial security, the ability to immigrate, and so many more.

        Moreover, the very concept of marriage itself is that it maintains the state’s role in legitimizing individual relationships, and discourages those relationships that by their nature cannot be capitalized on: poly families, intimate partners who do not live together, asexual and aromantic relationships, and those that have nothing to do with intimacy at all, like households consisting of blood relatives who are not married (and cannot get married), and those consisting of caretaker situations.

        Marriage equality does absolutely -nothing- for the long-term goal of justice for ALL non-hetero and non-cis people and their relationships. Here’s an example from my own life: I’m AFAB and happen to be androsexual, so I’m lucky that my marriage can pass as hereto, otherwise I wouldn’t have been able to get married 4 years ago, and I wouldn’t have been able to start immigrating to Canada using a spousal sponsorship. And now to add insult to injury, I’ve found out that the CIC uses extremely heteronormative and classist criteria to judge whether applicants are “really” in love or not. Bullshit like the presence of a diamond ring or photos of a wedding ceremony with family in attendance go a long way to pricing that your relationship is legit to them– and mind you, Canada is a country that has had marriage “equality” for years! So, even though we count as a straight couple, we very well could be dismissed for not being married to the standards of the state. We might actually have to go out of our way to provide evidence of how much we love each other just so I can legally cohabit with him.

        That’s fucked. And that is exactly the sort of thing that marriage equality doesn’t give a shit about.

        Liked by 1 person

      3. For a very in-depth analysis of the inherent limitations of the marriage construct in the US (and frankly anywhere else in the world that uses marriage as a means to financial security) from the perspective of the family unit, please read ‘The Autonomy Myth’ by Martha Albertson Fineman. It doesn’t set out of be a queer critique of marriage, but it actually winds up being one, and I’ve found it very useful in building on other queer criticisms.

        In the end, she more out less comes to the same conclusion as folks like me: abolish marriage and state regulation of relationships altogether.


  3. Very much agree with Milo’s comment above.

    I responded to someone’s question recently on a gay (male) oriented social site asking who wouldn’t get married now that SSM is legal and why. Someone else on that same thread made this statement, I kid you not: “marriage is the ultimate human right.” I wanted to say something to them, but I just didn’t know how to respond to someone that delusional.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I agree–it’s not “the ultimate”. Freedom to live, and be accepted, as who you really are strikes me as a better candidate for a UHR.


  4. Thanks for all the comments everyone! I wanted to RE on the health care a little bit more.

    Many of you who live in the U.S. know about the whole Affordable Care Act “Obamacare” debacle, which has been gutted by Congress a few times and many politicians threaten to repeal it in the future.

    That being said, the ACA has done a lot of good for those of us who are uninsured but it is by no means a perfect system. It does not provide full coverage, especially for things like mental health.

    People who do not get insured under this system are assessed a fee which some argue is cheaper than getting the insurance which is why we still have a huge uninsured population.

    Furthermore, despite all the private insurance companies offering coverage as required by law, their premiums are enormous and expensive.

    One way marriage in this country has functioned is as a means to an end in getting insured. One partner can get on the other’s insurance plan if their employment (etc) provides a cheaper rate for couples or is more affordable than other options for them as single people.

    So that’s kinda what I was getting at.

    Liked by 1 person

  5. There are many battles to fight, but most of us only have the energy to fight so many battles so we must pick a choose the battlers we will take on. In my case, I am nearly seventy with health and disabilities that more or less keep me housebound. So I only can take on a few battles, and most of them must be long distance. Travel of any kind, and any distances is beyond me. Up until Litha, I did run an online magazine ACTION and did long interviews with people on various issues, and in various communities.

    Nothing wrong with pointing out battles yet to be fought, but I am not sure attacking each other is the way to get this accomplished. The marriage battle was not personally important to me as a person, but t was to others. We Pagans have a long history of back stabbing, and infighting, which often does us more damage than any attack from the outside. Can a small minority afford to balkinize itself into even smaller minorities. I don’t think so. However we do need to talk less and listen more to each other. This was basic to my interviewing, my opinion as the reporter was not important because we were telling the story of the person that I was interviewing. I let the interviewee suggest back ground material for me to research to create my questions from. because this would show me what was important to that person.

    Liked by 2 people

  6. Way to make me think! My primary reaction to this was knee-jerk resentment “hey, that issue is important and this just hurts morale!” but then I discussed it around my breakfast table and I see Tomás’ point.

    This is primarily in response to Milo but I can’t reply directly. I am Canadian; I’m also a B in the Alphabet Soup, and I’ve been active in the movement since my teens. You are not wrong about Canada’s archaic forms about a lot of things, and that’s one of them; but that’s a reflection of Canada’s basic stubbornness against changing systems that they can’t see are broken until those systems completely collapse, not a bourgeoisie straight conspiracy.

    That doesn’t mean that it doesn’t need to be changed; and if you want to see that in action, I invite you to look up the rules about incorporating as a federally-recognized Religious Charity sometime – which is the only way you get to call yourself a “recognized religion” in this country and the only way you get to do things like be a chaplain in the military, etc. That’s got a serious Abrahamic bias. There’s a huge Hindu cultural group in BC that does not have legal marrying rights because of this sort of horse dung.

    At the same time, we *have* had marriage equality up here for a decade. I have watched the social changes. When I was 19 I was thrown out of a restaurant for kissing my girlfriend. A couple of months ago when my poly partners were in Ontario for my husband Erin’s medical reasons, and he introduced Jamie as his husband, nobody batted an eye; not on the bus, not at the hotel, not in the doctor’s office. We are hardly the “wealthy gay elite” and it’s already improved our lives considerably. A worthy cause is no less worthy because there are other worthy causes that require our support.

    But IMO the writer (Tomás) is not wrong in that the way marriage is currently structured is to make it into a capitalist contract system to ensure inheritance and divide the classes. So winning marriage equality is a victory for sure, but one that must be viewed with caution. We need to make it the starting point for a societal revolution, not the ending point.

    Liked by 2 people

  7. I’m going to have to disagree here since I witnessed the first wave of anti-SSM legislation passed in the 1990s. Marriage prohibitions were never about marriage. Why pass prohibitions against something that didn’t exist, and wasn’t even on the horizon in the states where it was pushed?

    True story here. 20 years ago I came out of the closet in front of a contentious and potentially violent city council meeting in the state of Indiana, putting my voice in favor of an city ordinance that would have prohibited housing discrimination. Shortly after, I was told the ordinance was unenforceable. Housing for cohabiting people was respecting a relationship equivalent to marriage, and the state legislature just banned that by statute.

    Conservatives didn’t ban nonexistent marriage to block marriage. They used marriage as the legal doctrine to challenge non-discrimination ordinances and statements, support centers, health care initiatives, education, and suicide prevention. Even our recognition in art needed to be silenced to preserve marriage, as demonstrated by NOM’s multiple boycotts.

    So I have no regrets of depriving anti-gay bigots of that particular legal shotgun.

    Liked by 1 person

  8. This hasn’t honestly been my experience with marriage equality organizing. I live in a majority-minority city, and opposition to an anti-equality ballot initiative a couple of years ago was not by any means dominated by wealthy white folks. Immigrants and the working class (black, white, and Latin@) were by far the most on top of the issue around here; they were far more likely than the WASPier types to *very much need* the benefits of marriage, including protecting their children (working-class queer couples, it seems to me just by eyeballing the situation here, were much more likely to be raising children together than white professional couples) and taking advantage of medical benefits. I agree that marriage in general shouldn’t affect those things as much as it does, but it does, and it affects how marginal or secure a queer family of color or a queer family in poverty is far more than a middle-class one. Here, at least, the support of the anti-Prop 1 movement was largely middle-class white folks writing checks and sporting bumper stickers, but POC and working-class queer folk doing the vast majority of the organizing and heavy-lifting in terms of coalition building. We often talked wryly about how the folks with the tech-sector money didn’t get involved because they actually didn’t need the benefits of marriage; they already had financial plans and legal documents and separate benefits packages that mimicked the security benefits of marriage, and they really only cared about the symbolic victory. The rest of us had a real quality-of-life stake in the issue that made it a far more pressing issue.

    Obviously other places and other levels of organizing have different dynamics (I’d never defend the HRC for any reason, for example). But it definitely seems like an overstatement at best to say that marriage equality bypasses poor people, people of color, immigrants, and bisexuals. I know (or am in!) a number of families in those categories that care very much about the issue and have or will benefit significantly — in material and not just symbolic — terms from it. I agree with your article in broad strokes, but I feel a little like your lead-in devalues and erases the passion and dedication of poor, working-class, immigrant, and POC marriage equality activists by suggesting they are somehow dupes who went to the mat for a cause they were too foolish to realize is immaterial for them.

    Liked by 1 person

  9. Um… ok,I’m late to the party, just found the site. And while I fundamentally agree with the author on some issues presented here, my first instinct is to tell him to do something unpleasant to himself. I can understand anger, I can understand wanting to represent who we truly are and the diversity of who we are, but this : “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.” deserves a great big expletive. Just who do you think you are leveling your finger wagging like that? Get over yourself. I don’t know what your circumstances are but they DON’T make you any more special than the rest of us who have been fighting the same fight. Way to go singling out members of your own community for ridicule because they don’t fit your ideal of challenge.

    Some of us believe in marriage as ritual and commitment, even if it has become, primarily, a social institution. And we might also happen to think that re-defining that social instituion is pretty damn important thing even it it takes a while and has to be done piecemeal.

    Very rarely have I been made so angry by an article on the subject of gay rights.


    1. Hi Robbie, from your comment I understand that you demand respect for your right to believe in marriage, be married, etc. and yet you absolutely refuse to respect anyone else’s right to critique it. Maybe you should check that out! I never said that people shouldn’t get married. As for your “who do I think I am”, I am a QUEER PERSON and I have every right to critique the fuck out of marriage. Thanks for responding.


      1. Tomas, no where did I say that you didn’t have a right to critique it. In fact, you’ll note in my opening I stated that I fundamentally agreed with you on some of your points. How do you interpret that as saying you can’t critique something? I take offense at your divisive name-calling and finger wagging. The right to marry means something to me, hence by your logic I am one of the horde of white, gay elites who deserves your torrent of scorn.

        Since none of that appears to have been clear to you from my original statement, I’ll re-state it for you: I hear you, if you want me to listen to you, maybe you shouldn’t go calling me names and somehow suggesting that your struggle is so significantly different from mine, especially when you don’t know a damn thing about me.

        Seems that you are the one who can’t handle opinions or beliefs that differ from your own. If you’d just left out the name calling and the marginilization of those of us to whom it DOES matter, you’d have had a damn fine piece of writing there. Instead, you turned it into a screed. If you could have restrained yourself and removed those 3 sentences, 1 little paragraph, you’d have had an ally and not a critic. Instead, that colored my reading of the rest of it and left me feeling like someone had kicked me in the stomach.

        And your reply to me goes perfectly hand-in-hand with that, you aren’t interested in dialogue, just in the sound of your voice.


      1. I disagree. Any author crafts their words to provoke a response. I posit that this might not have been the response the author expected (but then again, the author may very well have, we’ll never know since he seems disinclined to respond with anything but slogans and curses), but one that could have been avoided with a touch of editing. I’m relatively certain the author didn’t intend any of the ‘monied white horde’ to be prompted to self-reflection by his derogatory and inflamatory remarks.

        And I’m not first respondent to question the tack taken here, I’m just the only one who provoked a simililarly visceral response because I refuse to write a reasonable and polite missive in response to something inflamatory.


      2. As the editor of Gods&Radicals, I fully support Tomas’ work, and hardly found it inflammatory. Actually, it was a desperately needed piece to counter the heteronormativity of gay-marriage discourse.

        As a queer gay male myself, and from a life of abject poverty, the rush of upper-class white male gay men to beg government for recognition of their sexual unions not only speaks nothing for me, but actually makes things much harder for those of us who refuse to let other people define what our love means.


  10. Well, Rhyd, I find your support of your author’s words commendable; if, in my opinion, misplaced.

    Tell me, if I may be so bold as to ask, who decides exactly who is a member of the “monied White horde” of “gay elite”?

    And as to your suggestion that I might need to delve into why I had a visceral reaction, I say this: I know an insult when I see one. Insults are not in the eye of the beholder, they lie in the intent of the author.

    And its such a small part of the piece, that truly means nothing to the overall message. As editor, I’d think you would see that. But then, you put yourself in a group that is other than me with the statement “for those of us who refuse to let other people define what our love means”, when you really have no idea how I feel on the subject. You do not know why I champion the cause nor how I love, yet you set yourself apart from me.

    I am not the one making these divisions. I am not invalidating anyone’s else’s struggles by making sweeping and divisive statements about what a “movement” means to those who champion it. I am not seeking to elevate myself by cutting down someone else.

    Its sad, really, that neither the author himself, nor you his editor and champion has addressed the actual issue that I have with the piece (and that others before me have raised, though more politely), all you have done is be dismissive of the issue and me.

    If it wasn’t for those three sentences, I can honestly say, I might embrace Tomas as a brother, that’s how much I agree with some of what I have read.


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