Marriage equality activism has its roots in the AIDS epidemic of the 80s, when many people lost partners and were not granted hospital visitations or notified of partners’ deaths because they lacked legal recognition of their relationship. It is important to understand that the campaign for marriage equality was conceived due to real problems that affect an incredibly marginalized segment of the queer community, HIV+ men.
In recent decades, other issues have presented themselves to gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgender people that gay activists have tried to solve through marriage equality. (Note: I use gay activists to refer to activists who mostly work towards marriage equality and other assimilatory goals, while I use queer activists to mean activists who through their work and intersectional collaborations try to empower all queer people). For example, many states consider a transgender people’s gender what was assigned to them at birth, not their current gender identity, logic that has been used to separate countless households and deny trans*people custody rights, survivor benefits and other important social benefits.
It is obvious that these and other issues are real problems that need to be rectified. But marriage equality is not the answer. From the beginning of the gay movement, gay organizations have pushed for queer assimilation into mainstream culture. The Mattachine Society and the Daughters of Bilitis, the first two major gay organizations, demanded normative gender clothing of their members to make homosexuals seem more respectable in the white-picket-fence culture of the 50s and 60s.
The Stonewall Riots of June, 1969, inarguably the spark of the gay rights movement, were started by tired and angered street walking transvestites, drag queens and kings and poor gay street youth. Yet, when early gay and lesbian activists met to discuss how to build momentum from the Riots, the incipient movement silenced and kicked out all of these marginalized queer communities so that gays and lesbians would appear more appealing to straight cultural norms.
Near the end of the AIDS epidemic, a push towards monogamy came not only as a way to stop the spread of HIV, but to show how “normal” homosexuals could be to “normal,” straight America. This emphasis on monogamy by gay organizations continues to this day, and extends a long legacy of attempts to present queers in as normative to heterosexual, in the hope they will finally approve of us.
This emphasis on assimilation by gay activists is hugely problematic. Why should we queers have to fit into a normative model of love, sex, and romance to be accepted? Queer relationships often take on forms very different from that of norm—sexual but non-romantic relationships, romantic but non-sexual relationships, open relationships, polyamorous relationships, relationships between people who prefer hooking up to committed relationships. People can have no romantic or sexual desires at all and people can be in monogamous, same-sex romantic and sexual relationships. Yet marriage equality activists have continually denied this diversity of relationships.
What then about those of us whose ideal relationship does not take this form? We are still left without access to the thousand-plus rights and benefits like notification of a partner’s death and sponsorship of foreign partners for immigration.
So then how do we assure that everyone, regardless of their romantic and/or sexual preferences has the agency to enter or not enter into a relationship/s of their choosing, while still accessing these, in many cases, crucial rights and benefits? Instead of opening up marriage, we should fundamentally change the way the state offers people these rights and benefits.
A registry should be established in which people can list the people closest to them, whether they are lovers, best friends, or family, and grant them visitation rights, notification of death, funeral arrangements, and the other rights that are generally exclusively afforded to married couples. People should have more freedom to sponsor people for VISAs and Green Cards, not simply their spouse.There is a multitude of intimate relationships people can have with others, whether sexual or romantic or otherwise, and these relationships are equally deserving of state recognition.
In context of the Supreme Court decisions last Wednesday striking down the Defense of Marriage Act and Proposition 8, many people, including many gay activists, feel like the fight is almost over, that equality has almost been won.
What about the 40% of queer, homeless youth whose families have abandoned them? What about the queer undocumented workers who can’t report the queer-motivated violence against them because they fear they will be deported? What about the transperson in jail, forced to be housed in the cell that corresponds to their genitals and not to their identity?
Not only is marriage itself unnecessary, but the undue emphasis by gay activists on and financial sponsorship of marriage equality has left millions of vulnerable queers, ignored and penniless. By focusing so heavily on assimilation into straight culture , gay activists have forgotten that marriage will not help the most marginalized parts of the queer population.
Amazing work is being done by many queer organizations across the country and the world to combat the issues that confront the queer community. The Trevor Project, Queers for Economic Justice, the Sylvia Rivera Law Project, the Queer Undocumented Immigration Project and the Ali Forney Center are awesome groups seeking to support some of the most affected segments of the queer community: the young, the homeless, the undocumented, the class or racially underprivileged.
This is a small sampling of the hundreds of queer minded organizations that are doing vital and positive work . If you have wanted to get involved in queer or LGBT activism, I would encourage you to find other queer organizations doing similar work in your local and regional areas, and consider supporting them in any way possible. There is a lot of work that needs to be done before liberation can be achieved for all, but I know that we have the resources and the ability to make liberation a reality.
Contact Erika Lynn at [email protected]