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Why We Won’t Wait
Posted on Apr 19, 2010
By Scott Tucker
Fine. Let’s hope we agree on that much, but the practical battle divides even those who agree in principle with equality of kinship. And those are the words I do prefer to use—equality of kinship—not simply the “equal” right to marry. I must make this distinction because I am a gay socialist, and no honest social democrat will be content with marital laws that carve out a bunker of privilege for married couples. Will there be no justice and solidarity for single people or for people living in communal households? Equality of kinship is consistent with democracy and socialism, whereas an obsession with private households and marital privilege is in complete contradiction with basic social democracy. Try finding corporate donors and capitalist politicians willing to be consistent defenders of equality of kinship. You will be hunting for unicorns.
In the United States, this fight for equality does not begin on level ground but precisely with inherited institutions and history. We are now left with the tough work of disentangling church and state not only at the federal level, but closer to home at the state and local level. We are left, in short, with the usual trench warfare and with the usual enemies. This does not rule out civil conversations with all kinds of friends and strangers. But it does rule out taking marching orders from newspaper editors and politicians.
The argument has been made that California should follow the lead of states that grant civil unions to queers, thus bypassing the “culture wars” battle over the definition of marriage. But California already has a form of civil unions that covers many of the same legal rights granted automatically to traditional marriages. The problem extends, however, across state lines and also reaches to the realm of constitutional principles. Traditional marriages are granted “full faith and credit” across state lines, but the situation with same-sex civil unions is altogether murkier. The Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA), signed into federal law by President Bill Clinton after being passed by a large bipartisan majority in Congress, must be overturned. That law now stands as an immense obstacle to justice, a bipartisan monument of bigotry and discrimination that must be torn down. But it must remain a lasting lesson to every serious social democrat. At the level of federal law it undermines “full faith and credit” and denies same-sex couples married under state laws the scores of federal benefits that accrue to traditional marriages.
Overturning DOMA is among the explicit promises President Barack Obama made to gay people, and that has been duly postponed in the interest of bogus pragmatism. Some say Obama has bigger issues on his agenda, including fighting wars, reforming health care and lifting the economy. Anyone daring to make that case should notice that we were promised hope and change, but we are back to the old program of war and empire; that the health care bill is founded on quicksand, since it forces us to buy the same bad product from the same insurance companies; and that the economy has been placed back in the hands of thieves, banks and corporate royalty. Anyone making such an argument already dismisses and erases the many gay people who are soldiers, or who seek medical care, or who have lost jobs and homes along with their friends, families and neighbors.
Anyone who offers such excuses for career politicians may be serving the Democratic Party very well, but is serving simple democracy very poorly. For years to come the legal situation for gay people will be a haphazardly built shack rather than a public shelter. In this cold climate, we are told we are lucky to be given the castoff rags of charity, but even the rights we gain are subject to the outrageous veto power of volatile voters. Majoritarian referendums on basic human rights such as kinship and marriage do not occur simply because the far right has the most clever strategies and the biggest donors. On the contrary, these injustices are also the creation of every citizen who accepts the old brutal code of Realpolitik, a code which has long kept in power an unelected corporate government and two parties devoted to the crass amorality of the “free market.” Only in such a moral and political climate can we be so careful to protect the careers of politicians and so careless in defending social solidarity.
Civil unions for queers, and marriage for everyone else—that solution, too, is often proposed. And it may sound so practical and so simple. But this “solution” is also the very definition of first- and second-class citizens. This leads directly to enshrining principles of segregation once again in civil law, however genteel the excuses and the provisions may be.
Nor do civil unions, when proposed in this manner, achieve the aim of bypassing theological debates over the nature of marriage. That never happens, neither in the court of public opinion nor in courts of law. One pointed example will serve here, and it concerns a glossy, full-color broadside distributed to many thousands of homes in Los Angeles during the public battle over Proposition 8. The proponents of Prop. 8 quoted the words of Obama and Vice President Joe Biden on this ad. Obama was quoted saying “I’m not in favor of gay marriage” when interviewed by Chris Matthews of MSNBC on April 2, 2008. Obama was also quoted telling a candidates forum at Saddleback Church in Southern California on Aug. 16 of that year “that marriage is the union between a man and a woman. … Now, for me as a Christian, it’s also a sacred union. God’s in the mix.” Biden was quoted in the vice presidential debate of Nov. 2, 2008, saying, “Barack Obama nor I support from a civil side what constitutes marriage. We do not support that.” Biden was hardly eloquent or precise, but his meaning was construed by the proponents of Prop. 8 to suggest that even civil unions were opposed by Obama and Biden. The right wing did not bother noting that Obama had endorsed civil unions and opposed Prop 8, but was glad to pick up the other ammunition that the Democratic Party had left in easy reach.
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