This week was, no doubt, historic. The Supreme Court rulings on DOMA and Prop 8 are landmark cases. I woke up to a text proclaiming that the church bells were ringing. The news page of my phone was full of headlines about the SCOTUS decisions. Twitter and Facebook were overflowing with hashtags like #equality and #lovewins.
Marriage has always been a socioeconomic institution used to trade and amass wealth and property. The rich marry the rich and get richer, capitalism at its finest. Marriage is the cornerstone of our patriarchal society. Despite all that, the media and the government make marriage incredibly enticing. Capitalism and the media sell marriage as a beautiful thing. It’s full of flowers and happy tears and love, as long as you’re willing to pay for all that. We, as a society, even place a high value on marriage and commitment. We think more highly of married men, especially, because of the supposed commitment they show to their spouses and families. But it’s the government that really sells marriage.
After all, the argument made in court over same-sex marriage centers on the federal benefits offered to married couples. There are over 1,138 of them. Married individuals get tax breaks, easier access to health care, can obtain citizenship through their partners, don’t have to testify against each other in court, and, well, it goes on and on. In fact, the case against DOMA started when Edith Windsor was forced to pay over $300,000 in taxes on the 4.1 million dollar estate left to her when her life long partner Thea Spyer passed away. Had they been legally married, she would have been exempt from this estate tax.
So yes, I understand why people are fighting for marriage equality, why they are seeking those federal benefits, but it’s not enough. There is no reason that access to healthcare, among other things, need to depend on marital status. I want to know why I have to pay more taxes than a married woman. Why is my marital status so important to the federal government in the first place? Why do they care to propagate this outdated family structure? Marriage is a conservative value. Unlike certain commentary suggests, fighting for marriage equality is only strengthening the institution of marriage and the heteronormative gender norms it is built on.
While maintaining the social status quo, marriage equality is destroying the LGBTQ rights movement. When most people think about, talk about, and write about gay rights, it’s about marriage. Let’s take a look at the LGBTQ population. LGBTQ youth experience higher levels of bullying, depression, suicide, and homeless compared to their peers. As adults, LGBTQ individuals face barriers accessing health care, continue to have more mental health problems, experience higher levels of poverty, face discrimination in the workplace and while buying or renting a home, and are still victim of hate crimes, even in gay neighborhoods of large cities. And, overall, LBT individuals experience higher rates of sexual violence. But, as anything else in the world, these issues do not stand alone. The intersections between class and race mean that poor queer people of color suffer a lack of basic human rights. While their rich, white, attractive, gay counterparts are out fighting for their Crate and Barrel registries, they are mostly forgotten in their struggle to be afforded basic human rights.
But that’s exactly the problem. Mainstream gay politics are built on these heteronormative, wealthy, gay individuals and the corporate money that backs them. The largest national lobby on LGBT rights is the Human Rights Campaign (HRC). Borrowing from one of my favorite bloggers, it’s all about the GGGG community (gay, gay, gay, gay). In 2004, the HRC supported a version of the Employee Non-Discrimination Act (ENDA), that included sexual orientation, but did not include gender identity. The HRC was ready to sponsor a bill, under which, it would remain legal to fire trans* people for their gender identity and/or expression. Then, at a marriage equality rally this April, members of the HRC repeatedly told a trans man not to display the trans flag, and told undocumented individuals speaking at the rally, not to speak about their immigration status.
The largest “LGBT” “rights” organization in our country, itself, is suppressing the voices of the most marginalized members of our community. And they’ve done a good job convincing people to spread their message via the pretty little pink and red equal signs all over Facebook.
That equal sign is actually the HRC’s logo. Making it your profile picture is not only publicly supporting “equality” but also the HRC, and that is something I refuse to do. Corporate money pours into such organizations as companies try to project themselves as inclusive and in support of social justice for their own economic benefit. In fact, the HRC’s largest donors are companies that manufacture drones. Painting a rainbow on a corporation that values profits over human lives hardly constitutes social justice. What started as the gay liberation movement has now devolved into an equality movement that is run by corporate America.
Social justice never stands alone, and our rights are bound to intersectionality. The queer community is incredibly diverse and includes every segment of the population, and those intersectional identities impact our every day lives. So, while yesterday, the Supreme Court stood up for the rights of queer people, on Tuesday, the same court stole voting rights away from people of color, including queer people of color. The voting rights act was in place to prevent states, who had a history of discriminatory voting policies that prevented people of color from voting. Six states have already moved forward in passing new voter ID laws. Anything requiring legal identification particularly hurts the trans* community, many of whom face several obstacles in acquiring proper identification. All in all, queer and trans* people lost this week. Having their right to marry undercut by their right to vote does not represent a victory. Marriage does not magically provide people with healthcare, or estates to inherit. For many queer people, marriage will never buy equality.
DOMA was a terrible act, that existed only to take rights away from people, and I am thrilled to see it go. I hope, that we will use this momentum to make real changes in the lives of LGBTQ people. Especially those whose intersectional identities mean that they suffer from layers of oppression. Marriage equality no more turns our nation into a “safe space” than having a black president ushered in a post-racial era.
DOMA might be dead, but discrimination and oppressive political and social structures live on.
A collection of critiques of marriage equality can also be found at http://www.againstequality.org/about/marriage/