The Queer Issue
Though I am a queer person living in San Francisco, I did not celebrate the California Supreme Court decision overturning the ban on same-sex marriage. Nor will I join those who say, "I would never choose to get married, but I think everyone should have the right." Sorry, honey—marriage is depressing, period. That means gay marriage, too. And here's why.
Gay marriage does nothing to address fundamental problems of inequality. What is needed is universal access to basic necessities such as housing, health care, food, and the benefits now obtained through citizenship (like the right to stay in this country). Legalized gay marriage means only that certain people in a specific type of long-term relationship sanctioned by a state contract might be able to access benefits. While marriage could confer inclusion under a spouse's health-care policy, it does nothing to provide such a policy. Marriage might ensure hospital visitation rights, but not for anyone without a spouse. Marriage may allow for inheritance rights between spouses, but what if there is nothing to inherit?
For a long time, queers have married straight friends for citizenship or health care, but this has never been enshrined as "progress." And even in the wake of California, the majority of queers—single or coupled (but not desiring marriage), monogamous or polyamorous, jobless or marginally employed—remain excluded from the much-touted benefits of legalized gay marriage.
And let's not forget the history of marriage as a legal method for keeping property within specific dynasties (property that originally included women and slaves). In fact, marriage still exists as a central venue for spousal and child abuse—there's a reason divorce is so popular, and suicide attempts among queer teens so prevalent. If social change is on the agenda, then the privileges associated with marriage need to be challenged, not embraced.
In fact, the push for gay marriage has shifted advocacy away from essential services such as HIV education, AIDS health care, drug treatment, domestic-violence prevention, youth programs, trans health, and homeless care—all crucial needs for far more queers than marriage could ever be. Sure, for wealthy gays and lesbians with country-club memberships, beach condos, and bulging stock portfolios, gay marriage might just be that last thing standing in the way of "full citizenship." For everyone else, it's a reallocation of resources in the wrong direction, as local, state, and national nonprofits that used to serve a variety of needs now focus the majority of their attention on marriage.
And this pattern will undoubtedly continue, as millions of dollars will be spent fighting an anti-gay-marriage constitutional amendment that is going to be on the ballot in November in California, at a time when social services are being scrapped across the country, and especially in California.
Gay marriage is part of a larger agenda of assimilation that sees the dominant markers of straight conformity—marriage, military service, adoption, ordination into the priesthood, gentrification, and consumerism—as the ultimate signs of gay success. Forget about the original goals of gay liberation—forging sexual self-determination, challenging police brutality, destroying hierarchies, and ending all forms of oppression—the gay-marriage "movement" declares that the pinnacle of achievement is access to this defining straight privilege.
The spectacle around gay marriage draws attention away from critical issues like ending U.S. wars on Iraq and Afghanistan, stopping massive Immigration and Customs Enforcement raids across the country, and challenging the never-ending assault on anyone living outside of conventional norms. While many straight people are reaping the benefits of gay liberation and discovering new ways of loving, lusting for, and caring for one another, the gay-marriage movement is busy fighting for a 1950s model of white-picket fence "we're just like you" normalcy.
And that's no reason to celebrate.
Mattilda Bernstein Sycamore (www .mattildabernsteinsycamore.com) is most recently the editor of an expanded second edition of That's Revolting! Queer Strategies for Resisting Assimilation (Soft Skull Press).