Thursday, June 25, 2009

Chocolate Rations Raised Again!

Okay, let's see, where was I? Oh, yeah: President Obama has severely disappointed many of his gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgendered, and queer supporters by by permitting the Department of Justice to issue a brief defending the Defense of Marriage Act, and then committing damage control with a derisory executive memo offering minimal benefits to same-sex partners of Civil Service Workers. Cue the reaction shot:

Now some of the mainstream GLBT organizations are fighting back, not only by de-friending the President on Facebook but by aiming at any politician's most vulnerable spot, his fundraising: "a steady stream of usually dependable Democratic stalwarts dropped out of a normally prestigious and well-attended LGBT DNC fund-raiser being hosted by Vice President Joe Biden on June 25 -- David Mixner, blogger Andy Towle, the Human Rights Campaign's Marty Rouse, former Clinton adviser Richard Socarides, millionaire Bruce Bastian, Gay and Lesbian Advocates and Defenders attorney Mary Bonauto, and the National Stonewall Democrats, to name a few," Kelly Eleveld reported at the Advocate website. Such a daring move, though some other high-profile homos are going to attend anyway. (P.S. June 26: And it didn't keep the DNC from raising even more money at that dinner than last year.) How long they'll be able to hold out before they rush back under the safety of his wings, I don't know.

The more discussion I've seen on this dust-up, the less I'm inclined to support same-sex marriage. I don't support mixed-sex marriage either, after all. Far from being a matter of equality, as the advocates of same-sex marriage keep saying, marriage is a matter of inequality: inequality between the spouses, and inequality between married couples and other family arrangements -- or between married couples and single persons. One commenter at Alison Bechdel's blog, for example, complained that she and her English partner cannot be together because of the Defense of Marriage Act, which prevents them from being "married in the eyes of the federal government and therefore she has no immigration rights." As the writer said, this is "heartbreaking," but why should someone have to get married to get "immigration rights"? (She didn't explain why she doesn't move to England, where she could marry her partner.) In his book The sexuality of migration: border crossings and Mexican immigrant men (NYU Press, 2009), the scholar Lionel CantĂș, Jr. quoted a representative of a gay organization working on immigration issues that changed its focus from "just talking about immigration categories being too restricted because they didn’t recognize different kinds of families." When marriage became a hot issue, he said, "what we were trying to push for was opening it up" (66). By stressing just one kind of family, albeit the most prestigious kind, I'd say they were pushing to close it down. Besides, marriage doesn't automatically, naturally, magically solve the problem of immigration. In the early years of the 20th century, American women could lose their American citizenship if they married a foreign (especially non-white) man. Not until 1936 was this changed.

Why should someone have to get married to get a pension, or health insurance? Why should someone have to get married to visit a sick person in the hospital? On the subject of children, Nancy Polikoff has written in Beyond (Straight and Gay) Marriage (Beacon, 2008),
It’s especially troubling when marriage-equality advocates make similar assertions [to those of the religious marriage movement]. The constitutional mandate and law reform of efforts of the late 1960s and 1970s reflected the understanding that children are not supposed to suffer harm as a result of having unmarried parents. The lifelong disabilities of “illegitimacy” have been erased. If a law discriminates between a child born to married parents and a child born to unmarried parents, it is subject to heightened scrutiny under the equal protection clause of the U.S. Constitution.

… Some who urge marriage as the solution to children’s needs fail to distinguish between consequences of marriage and consequences of parenthood. For example, a National Gay and Lesbian Task Force publication refers to the lack of educational assistance for the children of deceased public safety officers “who lack legal recognition of the parent-child relationship due to the lack of marriage rights of their parents.” But a child does not need his parents to be married to get these rights; the child needs his parent to be legally recognized as his parent. The same is true for children of heterosexual parents.... [100-101]

Marriage-equality supporters also invoke the specter of illegitimacy and quote marriage-movement rhetoric about child well-being. The American Psychological Association, in its briefs in same-sex marriage cases, has argued that children of gay and lesbian couples will benefit from their parents’ marriage because nonmarital birth is widely viewed as undesirable. Referring to the historical stigma of “illegitimacy” and “bastardy”, it argues that “this stigma … will not be visited upon the children of same-sex couples when those couples can legally marry.”

… Herdt and Kertzner assert that “marriage denial has had particular effects on the well-being of children reared by lesbians and gay men by undermining family stability and perpetuating false claims about parental fitness.” But the research on children of gay parents uniformly finds no damage to them. The claims for marriage equality made for the sake of the children unfortunately echo claims the marriage movement makes when it blames poor child outcomes on parents’ failure to marry.

Evan Wolfson, of Freedom to Marry, wrote that “all children deserve to know that their family is worthy of respect in the eyes of the law. … That respect come[s] with the freedom to marry.” I agree with Wolfson’s premise but not his conclusion; the respect comes from the law equally valuing all family forms ... [102-103].
Some might argue that once same-sex marriage gets legal recognition, these little problems can be dealt with, and all other family forms will also be valued. I doubt it. Even granting the best intentions to the advocates of marriage, I would expect them to want a rest, in terms of time and energy as well as money, from such political activism. And I'm not inclined to take their goodwill for granted. As Polikoff shows, they are too willing to buy into the marriage-supremacist rhetoric of the religious Right where the well-being of children is concerned. Suppose that same-sex marriage were legalized in every state and at the federal level. What would happen to a couple from different countries who want to be together, but don't want to marry? From what I've seen, I don't believe they'd get much sympathy from the gay marriage movement. Why wouldn't they want to marry? Why are they so selfish and immature and ungrateful? Why not exercise the rights they've been granted, thanks to the hard work of dedicated activists over many years?

I believe the appeal of marriage as a solution to so many problems is due to inequality -- the prestige of marriage over other kinds of family bonds. That's not something I am inclined to support or encourage. While Obama's waffling doesn't make him look any better to me, he couldn't fix that by reversing course and putting a full effort into advancing the recognition of same-sex marriage in the US. There's too much else wrong with him.