Why I’m Both Happy And Cynical About Yesterday’s Marriage Equality Ruling
Yesterday was a milestone for the LGBT+ movement; the United States Supreme Court ruled in favor of same-sex marriage in all fifty states. What seemed at first as just a dream is now a reality for many same-sex couples in America. As I write this, more than twenty-four hours after the historic ruling, I’m happy that our nation is one step closer to full equality for LGBT+ folks like me. And yet, I’m also cynical about how the fight for marriage equality, while an important one, often got pushed to the font line at the expense of other issues.
There’s no argument that marriage equality has its benefits. Now legally married same-sex couples can receive inheritance from their spouses’ estates, have insurance through their spouses’ work benefits, have hospital visitation rights, make funeral arrangements when one spouse dies, and many others. Legally, marriage equality only makes sense.
Also, from a feminist perspective, same-sex marriage challenges our patriarchal society’s notions of what makes a “real” family. As Rebecca Solnit wrote in 2013:
Gay men and lesbians have already opened up the question of what qualities and roles are male and female in ways that can be liberating for straight people. When they marry, the meaning of marriage is likewise opened up. No hierarchical tradition underlies their union. Some people have greeted this with joy. A Presbyterian pastor who had performed a number of such marriages told me, “I remember coming to this realisation when I was meeting with same-sex couples before performing their ceremonies when it was legal in California. The old patriarchal default settings did not apply in their relationships, and it was a glorious thing to witness.”
The patriarchy loves “traditional” heteronormative male-dominated marriages. The husband’s duty is to be the breadwinner, while the wife’s duty is to stay home, raise the children, cook all the meals, and please her husband at all times even when she’s tired. It’s the Proverbs 31 Woman that the Christian patriarchy salivates over. With same-sex marriage, though, who is supposed to fulfill what role? Which husband is supposed to be the breadwinner? Which wife is supposed to stay home and raise the kids? These are questions that will no doubt make the patriarchy’s head explode Scanners-style, and good for it!
However, as an institution itself, marriage is problematic. Why should only legally married monogamous couples have visitation rights, or receive Social Security, or health benefits? By reserving these benefits for legally married couples only, it says to committed unmarried couples that their relationships aren’t valid in our society. Also, while the mainstream LGBT+ movement (a.k.a. the GGGG movement) has been focused primarily on marriage equality for the past decade or two, several other issues affecting LGBT+ people have been largely ignored: queer homeless youth, violence against LGBT+ people, racism, immigration, economic justice, etc. Marriage equality, while having its perks, only benefits those in the LGBT+ community with the most privileges.
This isn’t to say that same-sex couples who choose to get married are traitors to the movement. Far from it! Being married doesn’t make you any less queer. What I am saying is that we need to take a more intersectional approach to LGBT+ activism now that we won the battle for marriage equality. Everything is connected: racial justice, queer rights, women’s rights, economic justice, disability justice, etc. We need to find solutions that benefit all people, not just the most privileged among us.
Despite all my radical queer socialist cynicism, I am still happy that my married queer friends can finally be seen as equals under the law of the land. However, our work is far from over. Love may have won the battle for marriage equality, but it hasn’t won the war against oppression yet.