Same-sex marriage movement, too civil

By Tracy Kronzak Jun 20, 2007

June is high holidays for Queer folks: parades, fundraisers, and important announcements for Pride activists. So far this year, we’ve seen civil unions in New Hampshire and the final defeat of an amendment to ban same-sex marriages in Massachusetts. Both are important victories for the Queer movement, but with one small problem: these aren’t total victories. I’m not the first person to say this. Somewhere in the pages of signatories, you’ll find my name here. But supporters of same-sex marriage are quick to point out that the gay-marriage movement is a Civil Rights Movement alongside the end of slavery, Loving vs. Virginia, Brown vs. Board, and the “I Have a Dream” speech –But is it? How do Queers for marriage have the legitimacy to claim language, imagery, context and many other elements from Reconstruction right on through to Martin Luther King Jr.? Is it because so many gay men sincerely believe that beneath their skin resides the soul of a Black woman? Or is it because in lieu of creating a genuine multi-issue movement of our own that aggressively examines questions of racism and privilege, same-sex marriage supporters must draw upon the most convenient historical anecdotes? I’m a Queer white woman. And despite my many years of proud participation in the Queer movement, I find it painful to hear“separate but equal” and “segregation” being tossed around in the same context as “same-sex marriage.” Marriage, and for that matter the public debate surrounding same-sex marriage, is an institutional privilege in our society. It’s simply another means by which the status quo is upheld, which includes the decades-old skeleton in the Queer movement’s closet of racism. I’m not saying that Queer folks don’t deserve relationship recognition, but the obstacles faced by same-sex couples in accessing healthcare, legal assistance and other forms of social and public policy support aren’t unique or special to us. I sincerely doubt that marriage is the lynchpin to solving these problems. And the strategy by which change is being pursued so far only reveals how much we’re willing to compromise the Queer movement’s credibility to achieve it. Because marriage has all kinds of financial and social service access associated with it, it doesn’t come as a surprise to me that the greatest beneficiaries of same-sex marriage will be the most privileged gays and lesbians, who are also the whitest and wealthiest. Maybe what we really need to do is force everyone who so earnestly pronounces same-sex marriage as the Great Equivocator of the 21st Century on to Welfare; where under the provisions of the 1996 Welfare Reform they’re required to be married. The historical roots of marriage do not lay in liberation, but in control. So "winning” same-sex marriage on the current trajectory we’ve been taking is remarkably shortsighted. And in the meantime, using analogies and metaphors drawn from the tremendous accomplishments of the civil rights movements to support the cause is not only disingenuous, it alienates us further from building a Queer movement that dismantles institutional racism. Because same-sex marriage proponents haven’t taken the time to understand the context of what they’re saying, and instead opt to “borrow” from people of color in the same fashion as Apple’s iPod commercials to look and sound legitimate. So in the meantime, we haven’t won anything other than the prize for demonstrating a remarkable proclivity to take history out of context, whitewash racism, and throw away time and money in an effort to become part of the elite ties that bind.