April 20, 2015
A Less Perfect Union: Gay Marriage and the Subversion of the Republic
Posted on Oct 24, 2008
By Scott Tucker
Hundreds of years ago, members of the Society of Friends (also known as Quakers) defied the power of priests, ministers and judges by declaring their marriages of their own free will in their own public meetings. This tradition became so well established in Quaker strongholds such as Pennsylvania that this small sect did much to advance so-called common law marriage. In this spirit—and in open defiance of unjust courts and of savage politicians—we, the people (of all sexual persuasions), have every human right to declare ourselves married, with or without the blessing of any priest or politician. What we then demand from a law clerk or justice of the peace is indeed contractual. As contractual relations between corporations and workers are often antagonistic, likewise the marriage contract will bear the social imprint of a class-divided culture. If you hope a walk up the aisle is an exit from capitalist reality, you may be ready for a honeymoon but not for a life in the United States of America.
When Barack Obama addressed the nation in a speech titled “A More Perfect Union,” he raised hopes that we might soon enter the long promised land of racial reconciliation and social justice. Obama’s speech was lofty and general enough to become an instant classic of American transcendentalism. But the speech was also specific enough to include his personal story of being the child of a Kansan mother and a Kenyan father. In his own way, Obama underscored the same evolution of constitutional law that the justices of the California Supreme Court acknowledged in their recent ruling on same-sex unions.
Obama stated that “words on parchment would not be enough to deliver slaves from bondage, or to extend equal citizenship to all men and women of every creed and color. What was needed was a struggle over many generations. …” The republic was safeguarded over time “on the streets and in the courts, through a civil war and civil disobedience.”
He told this country “we may have different stories, but we hold common hopes … out of many, we are truly one.”
Square, Site wide
It is no finicky point to argue that our unity is a menace to democracy if we do not defend substantive plurality in sexual life and in political beliefs. So the old resounding refrains are not necessarily wrong, but social democrats must insist that the corporate state is not yet a democratic republic of all workers and citizens. The democratic left, generously defined, has maintained a historical consensus in favor of secular principles in public life, and social democracy in essential goods and services.
An injury to one is an injury to all. That has been one of the hallowed calls for solidarity in the labor union movement. In principle, that is also the ethical foundation of any genuine social democracy.
A secular republic that lacks fair provision of housing, education and health care for all citizens is a distinct possibility, so we cannot assume that the values of secularism are necessarily the values of economic and social justice. We must also grant the possibility that a state regime based upon religious fundamentalism might provide certain elements of social welfare.
What happens when a republic founded on secular principles is also founded upon brutal ethnic nationalism? The example of Turkey might come to mind, or indeed the example of the United States of America. In both countries, the official secular principles of government now coexist with powerful fundamentalist and theocratic movements.
The regressive crusades of the far right often advance over political territory deliberately abandoned by too many self-proclaimed “pragmatists” and “progressives.” Proposition 8 is a theocratic and anti-democratic effort to overrule freedom of kinship. In the view of the far right, it is not enough to regard the homes and personal bonds of same-sex couples as a less perfect union. That, after all, is a matter of personal prejudice and of personal faith. The Bill of Rights protects the freedom to hold and proclaim such beliefs. But the vicious and regressive program of the far right is not simply personal and metaphysical. No, this program is expansive and political. This is the reason we must fight the good fight against a political movement that aims to make this republic not only a less perfect union, but also aims to force a political marriage of market fundamentalism and clerical reaction upon the United States.
Here is a good example of the public morality of Concerned Women for America, which issued this message in a press release on the same day that the California Supreme Court published extending the realm of legal marriage:
“If people who engage in homosexual behavior want to dress up and play house, that’s their prerogative, but we shouldn’t destroy the institutions of legitimate marriage and family in order to facilitate a counterfeit.”
No one can predict how these national stories will unfold over the 21st century. We can only be sure the dimming 20th century is still throwing long shadows over the present political landscape. In the United States, many leading Democrats cannot be counted upon to fight fair and square for secular values in public life. Career politicians have made many fateful “pragmatic” concessions to the corporate and religious right. The consequences in personal life are often painful, and in public life the consequences are often truly disastrous.
Scott Tucker, a writer, democratic socialist and Los Angeles resident, was a founding member of ACT UP Philadelphia and of Prevention Point Philadelphia, a harm-reduction and syringe exchange program. He is the author of the 1997 book “The Queer Question: Essays on Desire and Democracy.”
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