Contrary to what Super Tuesday writers would have you believe, marriage equality does not unite us — it divides us.
In 2012, Conservative British Prime Minister David Cameron made clear to the public something radical queers have known for decades. “I don’t support gay marriage despite being a Conservative; I support gay marriage because I am a Conservative.”
Gay marriage — and I use that term intentionally — is not a progressive, liberal, utopian vision, but an act of conservative assimilation. Gay marriage does not erase homophobia, transphobia, racism, sexism, classism, xenophobia, incarceration, colonialism and capitalism, but actually acts to further entrench these oppressive systems in the American legal system and collective psyche.
According to Dean Spade, Associate Professor at Seattle University School of Law, and Craig Willse, Assistant Professor of Cultural Studies at George Mason University, “Civil marriage is a tool of social control used by governments to regulate sexuality and family formation by establishing a favored form and rewarding it (in the U.S., for example, with over one thousand benefits). While marriage is being rewarded, other ways of organizing family, relationships and sexual behavior do not receive these benefits and are stigmatized and criminalized. In short, people are punished or rewarded based on whether or not they marry.”
Marriage in the United States is not, as it is romanticized, a way to celebrate love, but a way to dole out financial and social benefits. These benefits, however, are often inaccessible to low income people, a category queers and people of color disproportionately fall under. As Jasmyne Cannick shares in The Advocate, her girlfriend could not find a job in California due to past convictions, so her girlfriend moved to Alaska to work in a 16-hour-a-day, minimum wage seafood processing job.
“[My girlfriend’s] ability to get married,” Cannick says, “doesn’t outweigh her being able to pay her share of the rent and bills while putting food on the table — which is the same mentality for a lot of black and brown same-sex couples. And that’s what the white gay community has ignored.” For queer of color parents, who are disproportionately low income and live in states with no jobs protections ordinances, marriage offers them little more than a piece of paper.
Similarly, gay marriage will not help the majority of queer immigrants, documented or undocumented, as they try to access life in the US. As Priya Kandaswamy notes, “an immigrant’s dependency on her citizen spouse for legal status in this country can produce or at least exacerbate exploitation and abuse with a relationship…in many cases, immigrant women are faced with the dilemma of having to choose between remaining in an abusive relationship or deportation.” Such was the case for NanHui, a documented Korean immigrant who, when she fled to Korea from her physically and emotionally abusive spouse with their child, was arrested when she reentered the US on charges of child abduction and entering the country illegally.
Or black and indigenous transwomen, one in two and one in three of whom, respectively, will be incarcerated at least once, like CeCe McDonald, who was charged with murder when she acted in self-defense?
Or the 11 transwomen, mostly of color, this year who were murdered?
The reality is that marriage does nothing for these marginalized groups and marriage never will. Those who have funded marriage equality activism have not shown the same regard for more marginalized groups, preferring to give to the already privileged, already financially loaded, overwhelmingly white marriage activism scene. Furthermore, marriage equality activists have clung to linear, progressionist narratives of activism to extend the myth that marriage equality is somehow a first step and that other marginalized groups must wait in line for their time. Why is it that we must wait decades for privileged, white, economically well off gays to have their marriage before we are allowed to address the systemic oppression that is literally killing us?
Gay marriage is a strategic tool to obfuscate and pacify gays. It serves to elevate privileged voices and erase multiply marginalized lives. The public has been force fed the lie that when marriage equality is achieved, everyone — gay and straight! — will be fully equal. But on the day after the Supreme Court strikes down gay marriage bans — it undoubtedly will within the next decade — will people start to magically care about multiply marginalized queers?
We must demand a more radical solution that works to eradicate systemic oppression for all queers, not just the most privileged among us. We must transition to single payer health care, we must ensure a $15 minimum wage, we must open up the borders, we must abolish the police and prisons, we must teach acceptance in schools and normalize consent and respect from an early age, we must decriminalize sex work and actually deal with abusive partners, we must decriminalize drug usage and we must decriminalize homelessness and provide adequate housing and job-training options.
Ultimately, we must strive for liberation from oppressive systems, not inclusion as a tool to maintain oppression within and outside of the queer community.
Erika Lynn Abigail Persephone Joanna Kreeger ‘16
Contact Erika Kreeger at ekreeger ‘at’ stanford.edu.