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A Less Perfect Union: Gay Marriage and the Subversion of the Republic
Posted on Oct 24, 2008
By Scott Tucker
At the Democratic convention, Barack Obama finessed the issue of same-sex marriage by saying all people of good will could disagree about gay marriage and still be opposed to discrimination against gay people. What does this mean in reality? Obama has said he is comfortable allowing each state to decide for itself on the issue of gay marriage. He has also said that he, personally, favors traditional marriage. Politically, his personal views are of interest only to the degree he translates those views into public policy. In fact, putting his “personal” views into the political arena is a political action.
There really is a crisis in both personal and political values, as reflected in genuine concerns about gays, guns and God. For many long decades, certain “pragmatists” have advised waiting for all reactionaries to age and die, until a young and beautiful generation greets the golden dawn. The political result of this advice has been decades of concession to corporatism and fundamentalism. We would do well to step up to facts on the ground, including the existential concerns of fellow workers and neighbors. Reducing all politics to a mechanical kind of economism was one way the traditional left in Germany (both Social Democrats and Communists) simply abandoned the terrain of cultural struggle to the Nazis.
Nazis and industrial death camps are not, in fact, the looming threats in this country. However, a corporate command economy (including multibillion-dollar bailouts that strengthen the fist of the corporate state) does have serious links with historical fascism. The corporate state is the essential engine of fascism, and imperial adventures predictably follow.
The corporate state is rarely satisfied for long with mere secure borders, but always seeks abroad for monsters to destroy. When the hammer of the state is aimed at “resident aliens,” who will be surprised if immigrants, labor militants and dissenters of all sexual and political kinds get hammered? Splitting the baby was not the aim of Solomon, but it has become the general rule for bipartisan “pragmatists” eager to do business across the aisle. This means splitting the body politic along lines that facilitate corporate rule, and there are times when rank religious fundamentalism serves that cause. That is why sexual and religious reaction is not a side issue in any consistent fight against the corporate state.
It is politically provincial to rule the better anarchist, socialist and feminist critiques of marriage out of order. Why indeed should marriage be the big brass ring, the only reason to ride the carousel? In a genuine social democracy, we can fully expect that more couples would be unmarried without suffering economic penalties or social discrimination. But here and now we are facing a storm of right-wing religious reaction in California. We have this much in our favor: Marriages for same-sex couples are now among the facts on the ground. So the burden of argument lies with the right wing to prove the state constitution must be amended and that all such marriages should become null and void. This is the case we should present starkly to the general public.
As Hannah Arendt once noted, “The right to marry whoever one wishes is an elementary human right. …” She had fled Nazi Germany and thus had direct experience of totalitarian racial laws which forbade marriage between Jews and “Aryans.” The context for her argument was a debate within the American left during the 1950s over Jim Crow laws which forbade whites to marry blacks. There were some people on the American left who were reluctant to cross the minefield of “miscegenation,” and they gave the most grotesque “pragmatic” reason for their position. Essentially, they claimed that a direct economic struggle must leave the deeper prejudices of the general public in peace. Arendt knew that the mingling of peoples is a perennial fact of life, and is indeed one of the essential kinds of human freedom. This kind of common sense was raised in her case to a very high political level, and we may rightly call her a radical republican.
“Even political rights, like the right to vote,” Arendt wrote, “and nearly all other rights enumerated in the Constitution, are secondary to the inalienable human rights to ‘life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness’ proclaimed in the Declaration of Independence; and to this category the right to home and marriage unquestionably belongs.”
Are the leaders of the Democratic Party defending the right to home and marriage? Anyone who thinks this question is outrageous has not yet been outraged by the daily news. Obama and Biden are making the case for states’ rights in regard to gay marriage. Are all of the historical ironies lost on “progressive” Democrats? Have they forgotten the years in which racists made the states’ rights argument for slavery, and indeed for “anti-miscegenation” laws restricting choice of marriage partners and kinship? Their historical ignorance cannot really be ignorance. No, it can only be outright evasion and denial of actual social struggles. In practice, this means actual political regression throughout the ranks of career politicians and party apparatchiks.
Any Democrat who makes the “pragmatic” argument that politicians such as Obama cannot possibly challenge the prejudices of the public is already doing the dirty work of the far right and of sexual authoritarians. We might learn a lesson from European social democrats. In Spain, Prime Minister Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero publicly made civil unions and gay marriage one of the decisive political lines of battle against clerical reactionaries and against neo-Francoist nationalists. Zapatero made a strong case for solidarity among citizens of a secular republic, and indeed he has argued for the solidarity of human rights beyond all national borders. Yes, Zapatero is a Socialist. “Pragmatic” Democratic Party hacks assume this is one more reason a career politician in the United States cannot possibly make the case for social democracy. Social democrats, on the contrary, argue openly for a class-conscious movement which will challenge corporations and the entire political class of corporate career politicians.
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