My Photo
Location: Kansas City, Missouri, United States

Doing my part to irritate Republicans, fundamentalists, bigots and other lower life forms.

Friday, November 25, 2005

Finally ... the other side of marriage speaks out

I don't know Joseph DeFilippis or John D'Emilio, but I'd like to shake their hands.

The two men were among the activists at the recent National Gay and Lesbian Task Force's annual Creating Change conference held this year in Oakland, Calif. They were also two of the loudest voices to question the LGBT movement's efforts to make marriage equality as THE queer rights issue.

"There were all these major marriage activists, and all these people who were really sick of it. Some people were sick of it because they felt it diverted energy and funds from other issues. And some people, like myself, are actually scared about what gay marriage is going to do," DeFilippis said in an interview with The Bay Area Reporter.

According to the article:

DeFilippis and others at last week's conference said they favored domestic partnerships and other ways to legally recognize nontraditional family structures such as the army of ex-lovers that often serves as a caregiving network for queers and polyamorous and extended families of all sexualities. Pushing for things like universal healthcare, they said, would be preferable to pretending that marriage would take care of LGBT people who do not have romantic partners or jobs with benefits. And upholding the notion that only romantically involved people are committed enough to deserve recognition, they said, could have devastating effects on the community.

If conferences like Creating Change are a microcosm of the national LGBT movement, then it is evident that more outreach must be done to bring pro-marriage and anti-marriage forces together in the struggle. This is particularly true in places like California, where the right wing has combined the issues of marriage and domestic partnerships in an effort to discriminate against all relationships – gay and straight – that deviate from the one man-one woman model of economic and legal responsibility.

Don't get me wrong. I have nothing against marriage - regardless of whether the couple involved has the same or dissimilar "plumbing." But the efforts by LGBT activist to portray marriage equality as the defining issue of our struggle has drawn attention away from issues that should be at the core of our movement.

At its most basic level, the LGBT movement's internal battles over the marriage issue brings into sharp focus the schism between assimilation and separatism in the LGBT community.

Marriage, argue the assimilationists, is an issue where we can show the straight majority we have the same need to love and be loved ... just like them. (Sure, and a guy who picks up another guy at a bar Friday night and takes him home for a weekend only to be tired of his trick du jour by Sunday afternoon isn't much different than Britney Spears' 52-hour Vegas wedding ... well, except that we don't have to go through the time and expense of annulment process in front of a judge.)

At the other extreme, separatists look at same-sex marriage as an attempt to mimic the straight oppressors. We should, they argue, be free to define our own relationships. Monogamy, polyamory, triads, and any other permutation or combination are just flavors to be sampled until we find a style that fits us in an off-the-rack world. (It's the kind of stuff the pro-marriage folks shake their heads about and go "tsk ... tsk" in much the same way as when they see a leatherman or a drag queen marching in a gay pride parade. Why can't those people just fit in? they wonder.)

Just estimating based on the people I know, I'd say about 20 percent of the LGBT community is thumbing through Bride magazine looking for wedding ideas. A similar number are in the opposite camp. That leaves a whooping 60 percent of us somewhere in the middle. We hope we'll find the man or woman of our dreams someday, but for now the idea of marriage is not at the top of our agendas.

This is where our national organizations have made a mistake. In pushing for marriage equality as the centerpiece in our struggle, organizations like Human Rights Campaign and others have alienated the anti-marriage separatists and left the huge group in the middle giving luke-warm support to the idea of marriage equality, but not buying into the idea because it has no immediate bearing on their lives.

The people and organizations who purport to be our leaders have failed to learn a fundamental lesson: Make sure their agenda for us fits as many of us as possible.

Instead of pushing marriage as a panacea that will magically turn us from society's outcasts to full-fledged accepted members, the fight for marriage equality needs to be framed as something that we all have a stake in. The battles over anti-gay marriage amendments would resonnate with more people - gay and straight - if they were portrayed as battles against discrimination instead of for the rights of a minority within a minority.

If our national organizations really want to lead us, then let them provide leadership on issues that affect the vast majority of us. Only a handful of states and a few dozen cities protect our right to employment. In the rest of the country we can be fired simply for being gay, lesbian, bisexual or transgender. And since the majority of us work, workplace equality should be a bigger issue than marriage. Likewise with health care issues. Those types of issues should be a no-brainer for HRC, NGLTF and other organizations to get behind.

Marriage is a fine and noble institution for those who choose it. But even the most solid marriage can come apart at the seams when faced with lost jobs or out-of-control costs for medical care. Putting marriage at the forefront of our agenda moves more universal issues to the back burner.

That's why I'd like to shake the hands of DeFilippis and D'Emilio. Agree with their ideas about marriage or not, they are finally pointing out that in promoting marriage as our primary issue, we risk losing ground on matters that affect an even greater number of us.