Published: March 7, 2012
Last time I checked, the Republican Party was not a fun place to be a queer person. As many on the right have told me (including conservative family members and friends) in addition to certain politicians like Representative Michele Bachmann and Governor Rick Perry, traditional values means heterosexual marriage only. However, now more than 130 (and counting) prominent Republicans have signed an amicus brief supporting marriage equality in the infamous Proposition 8 case.
Because of this anti-LGBTQ majority in the party, several voices on the blogosphere are heralding this new, considerably sized lot of LGBTQ supporters as “the GOP’s entry into the 21st century.” But I would argue that, for better or for worse, the GOP is already in the 21st century, despite some of the concerns and backward philosophies of the Tea Party and other conservative groups. More importantly, recent growing support for same-sex marriage from Republicans isn’t representative of the whole GOP. As positive as it is that there is more conservative support for marriage equality, marriage equality is only one part of a vast movement. It might make sense for a lot of gay couples in our country, but this does not give people who care about social justice a break from continuing to reflect and find other systemic injustices that affect the queer community.
As a queer person, I am hesitant to hang my hat on all of the tenets of the increasingly popular “LGBT equality” platform. The gay liberation movement was at one time a radical and countercultural force that questioned everything about hegemonic society. However, now gay rights discourse has proliferated to the extent that it’s being assimilated into other structures such as marriage, legal codes and the military. With this proliferation inevitably come schisms within and without political parties, such as the one that the marriage equality debate is creating among socially libertarian and socially conservative Republicans. So while Republicans like Ken Mehlman (once the current chairmen of the Republican National Committee) who formerly held powerful positions in the party are becoming more tolerant, it is the current party leaders like Speaker John Boehner stubbornly look the other way. LGBTQ activists are even being turned away from participating in this year’s Conservative Political Action Conference.
Consider the implications of the marriage equality movement— a relatively recent strand within the overall LGBTQ movement that specifically seeks to assign the rights and privileges of marriage to gay couples. Even more specifically, it addresses a largely middle-to-upper class demographic. In what other way could a wealthy, white, cisgendered person be legally disadvantaged, aside from being told who they can’t marry? If folks are discriminated against, common sense (sometimes unfairly) dictates to us that there’s a problem. But other issues are easily swallowed up by the no-brainer approach to marriage equality, one that imposes an ancient, patriarchal and problematic institution onto same-sex couples.
This is not to say that I won’t be happy when same-sex marriages are recognized at the federal level. I’m simply pointing out the ever-increasing complexity of what we may have thought to be a simple solution. Marriage equality may have progressed to a point where it has become a common-sense, even conservative, solution to the “problem” of gay rights. We have to think harder about other issues that affect the queer community: access to health care, access to housing, working against HIV, LGBTQ homelessness and education against bullying, to name a few. We cannot ignore these other problems, for the sake of another issue that is really only one piece of a puzzle.
The libertarian argument that “the government can’t tell me who to marry” is one that was used successfully in New York and other states in passing same-sex marriage legislation. However, much of the stigma against non-heterosexual people and the horrors of gay marriage have come from the religious right contingents of the Republican Party. Let’s not forget when politically-vocal Timothy Cardinal Dolan compared marriage equality to human rights abuses in North Korea, or more generally all the times that LGBTQ people have been pathologized, demonized and marginalized.
The question now is not whether same-sex marriage should exist. That much appears to be a no-brainer for an increasing majority of us. What we really should be asking ourselves is: how are we including LGBTQ people into heteronormative themes and institutions? Perhaps a more compelling question would be: does including LGBTQ people into heteronormative themes and institutions actually produce desired and effective paths to equality?