Wednesday, March 10, 2010

"Gay Marriage": An Agenda for What and for Whom?

The poster is from the LAGAI website, here.
A bit on LAGAI before moving on. What follows next is from that website, linked to just above.

Who We Are
We are a small independent radical queer activist group. We started in 1983 as Lesbians and Gays Against Intervention and have been through a bunch of name changes, but kept our acronym, even though no one can figure out what it stands for any more. We are so grassroots, you almost can't find the root. We get no grants (well, okay, we got two small grants from Resist about five years ago), have no staff, don't lobby, don't try to control the gay movement. We work on local San Francisco/Bay Area issues and national and international issues. We are the proud publishers of UltraViolet, an every-other-monthly free newspaper.

What What We Believe
We are anti-authoritarian, anti-militarist, pro-feminist and anti-racist, and we demand that queer issues never be put on the back burner. We will accept nothing less than full civil rights for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgendered people, but we believe some rights are not worth fighting for. We do not think queers or straights should be in the military of a society like the u.s., or probably any government, and we feel that the queer liberation position is to oppose marriage as the central institution of patriarchy, not to try to get married ourselves.
Read  LAGAI member Kate's radical rant at the 2005 San Francisco Pride Celebration.

Listen to LAGAI member Deeg on Gendertalk Radio.

Check out UltraViolet, our official "organ".

What We Do
We do poster campaigns and small direct actions, and participate in larger demonstrations and organizing coalitions. We are active in protests against war, the death penalty and police brutality, in the Justice In Palestine Coalition and the struggle to save social security and workers' rights.

You can contact us by clicking here or by calling us at 510-434-1304.

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Next up is this piece by a Alexander Cockburn, titled "Gay Marriage: Sidestep on Freedom's Path". I found it *here* at Counterpunch. And I'll comment about the article within it and after it, with my usual "bold and in brackets" approach to rudely interrupting the comments of other people. A prerequisite for understanding my perspective on this matter, may be found by reading this discussion, "Is Gay Marriage Racist?", by Priya Kandaswami, Mattie Udora Richardson, and Marlon M. Bailey. And this piece, "Is Gay Marriage Anti Black?" by Kenyon Farrow. My sincere thanks to them for exploring this matter from a radical perspective.
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Gay Marriage [when will this issue be called "Lesbian Marriage" with everyone assuming that means "Gay and Lesbian Marriage"? And, note: this was written way, way back in March 2004.]

Sidestep on Freedom's Path [there are often these questions for me when I see this term "freedom" used in the context of social justice and liberation from oppression: Freedom for whom? Freedom from what? Freedom from whom? Freedom to do and be what? 

By ALEXANDER COCKBURN [this is what Alexander looks like: 

He's entirely white--born in Scotland in 1941, raised in the Republic of Ireland, and now a U.S. citizen, and, um, a man, and apparently heterosexual and sexist too, in that oh-so-cool Lefty whitehetboy way. He's known for being critical of Israel, and his book on being called anti-Semitic, titled The Politics of Anti-Semitism. Leave it to the non-Jews to tell us what is and is not anti-Semitic. He's liberal on "speech", speaking against Germany's attempt to crack down on Scientology. He's white-right-wing on Global Warming, denying it is caused by industrially "civilised" humans.]

Alexander writes [and I interject]:
I'm for anything that terrifies Democrats, outrages Republicans, upsets the applecart. [To me, this makes him sound like an intellectual rebel, not someone with radical political principles.] But exultation about the gay  marriages cemented in San Francisco, counties in Oregon and New Mexico and some cities in New York is misplaced. [One more time: who thinks it's sexist to call the issue "gay" marriage? I do. It's racist too, for maybe more complicated reasons, having to do with the fact that many man-folks who aren't white and are queer don't identify as "gay" if a man who loves men romantically and sexually. Some of us identify as Same-Gender-Loving, and some as Two Spirit, for example. And those are just two of the English terms. And I don't accept that any "Same-sex" marriage is "cemented" anywhere. Not with such laws being overturned by courts, politicians, and popular referenda.]

Why rejoice when state and church extend their grip, which is what marriage is all about. Assimilation is not liberation, and the invocation of "equality" as the great attainment of these gay marriages should be challenged. [This can get complicated, but let's keep it simple: civil rights struggles in the U.S. are not merely "assimilationist" and are not for a very privileged non-gay (as far as I know) man to term as only assimilation. I have been guilty of this too: of thinking everything that affords rights to oppressed people in an oppressive State are not at all liberatory. And, well, it's not for the privileged to make that call, in my current view. My views on same sex marriage have been formed by reading criticisms of it as a key agenda item for queer politics in the U.S. by radical queer people of color, primarily. And I do have my own more personal views that are more rooted in my history and life beyond social engagement with political activism] Peter Tatchell, the British gay leader, put it well a couple of years ago: "Equality is a good start, but it is not sufficient. [Maintaining "civilisation" isn't sufficient either, but I rarely hear white Leftyboys speak against civilisation. Equality is often a key step in establishing the social position to then do more radically transformative work. Although I'd be interested to know the history of this. To what extent does achieving "equality" with the oppressor instigate more radical action, or appease the masses of the oppressed? Not that it's gonna be either/or.] Equality for queers inevitably means equal rights on straight terms, [I'd say on white middle class straight terms, which is a large part of the problem] since they are the ones who dominate and determine the existing legal framework. [I agree that whites, het males, and the wealthy dominate and determine the existing legal codes and parameters.] We conform -- albeit equally -- with their screwed up system. ["We" often don't have a choice.] That is not liberation. It is capitulation." [Or, it's survival. Only the most privileged folks in a society can afford to assume it is only capitulation. And it may well be capitulation also. But to capitulate means to "give up" or "surrender" and that assumes a position of power from which one might negotiate other terms of social change and transformation.]

So the good news, as that excellent paper, Ultra Violet (newsletter of LAGAI ­ Queer Insurrection) recently put it, is not that 400 gay couples are now legally married in San Francisco but that 69,201 in the city (Ultra Violet's number) are still living in sin. [Well, that doesn't tell me much. Most of society is apathetic, so what motivates queer couples in S.F. to marry or not marry isn't revealed with a number. And to what extent does living in a queer-friendlier town mean that a non-het person in a "couple relationship" doesn't feel so compelled to "marry"?]

Marriage diverts us from the path of necessary reform. [I'd leave it to the most marginalised and invisibilised queer folks to determine the course of action, and certainly do not give authority to anyone who isn't queer to make such determinations. Basically, if you're a het white guy, please shut up about this matter.] Civil union, today lawful only in Vermont, is what makes sense as a national cause. Unmarried couples, straight or gay [he's quite politically correct, using sexist language, which is also evident if you hear how he speaks about het women], need to be able to secure joint property, make safe wills, be able to have hassle-free hospital visits and so forth. [I'd argue non-couples need to be able to do this as well: best friends, roommates, relatives in chosen families--many people who wish visit loved ones with whom they don't have sex or a romantic connection. As a committed single and celibate person, "civil union" has nothing at all to offer me and those who are closest to me.] But issues of hospitals visits or health care should have nothing to do with marriage, and marriage as a rite should have nothing to do with legal rights. [I agree with that.] Separate "marriage" from legal recognition of a bond, of a kinship. [I personally believe the separation of Church and State has always been more illusory than legal. I mean if most leaders in a country are Christian and white, het and men, to what extent are their spiritual/religious/moral/ethical/political views outside their political agendas? Given that under white het male control and domination, the society remains staunchly white het male supremacist, in custom and law, institutionally and interpersonally, means, to me, that a radical change in society is called for, and that an end to all white het male supremacist institutions is necessary for a society to no longer be ruled by the values and practices, customs and ideologies of white het male supremacy.]

There's a fork in the road for progressives. [And a spoon, and several knives. And watch out, another tree is down, and one path is washed out. And who says radicals are progressives? This assumption alone tells us a lot about Alexander Cockburn. As it does when people equate being "liberal" with being "radical". Huh? Not on this blog.] One path is sameness, expanding a troubled institution to same sexers. [As opposed to the "opposite" sexers, I suppose. I don't think our people are so neatly categorisable, and I'm not talking about PoMo nonsense. I'm talking about the fact that there are intersex and trans people who don't have "a same sex partner" or "an opposite sex partner".] But that path detours the real problems of relationships today and their official recognition. [Like the maintenance of heterosexuality, and romance, and love, and sex, as those are currently defined and regulated?] As a generation of feminists and the divorce rate attest, marriage is in sore trouble, [Hmm. Does he mean to be implying a connection between feminism and divorce? Might a separate reason be that fewer people give a shit about religious imperatives? Might also "the Playboy" image have taken root with enough class privileged men to warrant them fucking around with many women rather than "settle" down with one woman? It's a patriarchal tactic to put the responsibility for all social shifts on feminism, as if feminists have ever had more power than ruling antifeminist het white men--who, increasingly, are choosing "a relationship" with pornography over a human being they live with.] well beyond powers of recuperation offered in Bush's proposed constitutional amendment which would be a touching souvenir of a world long gone. [GWBush is a sorry excuse for a person worthy of any form of leadership. How horrifying that he was--illegally and corruptly--president, twice.] Why are prenuptial agreements become common among people of moderate income? Prenups challenge the one-size-fits-all straitjacket of marriage, as do other important arrangements devised in recent years in response to changing anthropological and moral circumstance: coparent adoptions, adoptions by single people [ah, yes, the single people!], many varieties of public and private domestic partnerships, civil unions. Expand and strengthen the options. Get religion out of the law. [And get the WHM supremacist law out of society. Does it occur to Alexander that that's a problem?]

Civil union across the country would help to level a playing field that's got increasingly uneven across the past generation. [Alex, it's never been close to level. And in the last generation a lot has happened in society, most notably the near-death experience of social radicalism in the U.S.] In some corporations gay [not lesbian?] couples have health benefits that unmarried straight couples don't. [That's news to me.] Contrary to endless rants about the "marriage penalty" in the federal tax code, a larger number of people enjoy a marriage bonus, as the House Ways and Means Committee determined in 1999. [Who named that committee, anyway? "Ways and Means"?]

Unmarried workers may lose hundreds or even thousands of dollars per year in employee benefits compensation. For example, as the Unmarried America website points out, "Most states will allow workers to collect unemployment compensation if they quit a job to move to a new area when their spouse is relocated by his or her company. But state laws usually will not give these benefits to a worker who quits to relocate with his or her domestic partner." [Or to those who are single who leave work. Or who leave work to care for a more elderly person in their life.]
There are so many tricky questions, particularly now that morals and the surgeon's knife have deepened their own relationship. What happens, when someone who's had a sex change [does he mean penile implants in male-men? And does he get how not all trans folks--most, actually, are not having surgery? And that many intersex people resist having surgery?], who is already receiving domestic partner benefits at work for his [again with the sexist lingo: dood, please; read a womanist or feminist book and get a clue!] male partner, goes through sex reassignment surgery and acquires the physical impedimenta of the opposite sex? ["impedimenta of the opposite sex"? So he actually thinks women and men are opposites?? And "impedimenta" is his oh so cute term for "any objects that impede progress". Men's uses of our dicks as weapons impedes women's freedom from rapist society. Alexander's sexism and misogyny impedes women's liberation from male dominance.] Should the couple lose their bennies until they get legally hitched? [It's not the couple that should have the bennies, in this view, it's the community and its members. It's the people, irrespective of what sort of relationship they are in. If they're part of a society, they need the "bennies", yes? Do single people NOT need someone to be with them when hospitalised? Do class-privileged single people NOT need to decide what to do with whatever possession they have, before they die? And don't inheritance laws keep the rich rich, and not do squat to make the poor less poor?]

None of this should have anything to do with various rites of marriage such as a hippy New Age union cemented waist deep in a river with solemn invocation of the winds and other natural forces, or a white wedding in a high Episcopal church. [Any institutionalised, ritualised practice that is normalised in dominant society WILL have something to do with everything, in my view.]
"The pursuit of marriage in the name of equality", says Bill Dobbs, radical gay organizer, "shows how the gay imagination is shrivelling." [It was strategic, and built on the best case scenario for white gay men with class privilege, in my view. Nuclear family values have usually been tied to white and class privileges.] Judith Butler, professor at UC Berkeley, exhibited kindred disquiet in a quote she gave the New York Times last week. "It's very hard to speak freely right now, but many gay [and lesbian?] people are uncomfortable with all this, because they feel their sense of an alternative movement is dying. Sexual politics was supposed to be about finding alternatives to marriage." [Well, I agree with JB there, and feel queer culture on the whole has taken a turn towards either assimilationism or breaking off. And neither route really has staying power, to me. A radical agenda, radical reforms, not joining the military or marriage, is what I hope for, personally. But again, given my levels of privilege, it's not for me to set that agenda.]

As Jim Eigo, a writer and activist whose thinking was very influential in the early days of ACT UP put it a while back, what's the use of being queer if you can't be different? [That presumes a lot about being queer. Like that it is, necessarily, a difference in the ways that heterosexist society makes it out to be. It isn't necessarily. But it can be, on our own terms.] "Why are current mainstream gay [and lesbian?] organizations working to strike a bargain with straight [male] society that will make some queers less equal than others? [Um, given that queers are different classes, races, and genders, we are, already ranked differently both beyond and within our communities. So let's be honest about that, at least. Rich white gay men in the Castro don't give a fuck about poor gay men living on the street, and gay men have never demonstrated any radical commitments to lesbian issues, ever.] Under its terms, gays [and lesbians?] who are willing to mimic heterosexual relations [um, we can do that, and do that, with or without marriage rights] and enter into a legally-enforced lifetime sexual bond with one other person [which some queer people desire and want and ought to do if it works for them] will be granted special benefits and status to be withheld from those who refuse such domestication...[benefits and status also refused single people of any sexuality or gender, especially females, and benefits and status denied to all people who are not "coupled" heterosexually.] Marriage has no more place in efforts to achieve equality than slavery or the divine right of kings. [Well, that's a bit much. Marriage, currently, is not slavery, except for women who are enslaved by their husbands. I find that kind of hyperbole racist and classist to the core.] At this juncture in history, wouldn't it make more sense for us to try to figure out how to relieve heterosexuals of the outdated shackles of matrimony?" [I'm all for dissolving all marriage rights.]

And why marriage to just one person? Why this endless replication of the Noah's Ark principle? [Alexander, are you aware of a concept, in practice, called polygamy?? And the fact that marriage has never stopped any man who seeks it, from obtaining sex outside of marriage?]

For me the cheering political lesson is that Mayor Gavin Newsom of San Francisco felt the hot breath of a challenge from his left (in the form of his Green opponent Matt Gonzalez) and felt impelled to radical action to consolidate his victory. That's good, because it shows the value of independent radical challenges, but that's where my cheers stops. Gay marriage is a step back in the march towards freedom. Civil unions for all! [Civil and human rights for all, regardless of relationship status!]

[I'll conclude by saying that my own political stance is far more in line with radical lesbian feminism, asexuality, and intersex oppression, than it is with gay agendas, bisexuality, and transgender politics. And that, friends, is a conversation for another time. I don't think that just because we toss a bunch of letters together, such as LGBTIQA, that that means we agree on much that we're supposedly fighting against, and for.]

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