Going beyond the issue of same-sex marriage

By Bridget Keenan

It was quite an eventful summer in the realm of social justice. One of the news stories hardest to ignore was the judgement regarding same-sex marriage by the United States Supreme Court. As I am heavily involved in queer politics, many people were surprised to hear my general discontentment at this decision.

What concerned me was not so much the judgment’s impact on the definition of marriage or its impact on queer politics as a whole, but that many of the people who supported the Supreme Court’s decision supported it for entirely the wrong reasons. To me, same-sex marriage served to confirm many queerfolk’s worst fears and nightmares about the fate of our community.

Before we start talking about the ethics of making same-sex marriage legal, it is vitally important that we address whom this bill will actually be benefitting. Liberal activists have a tendency to think that allowing same-sex marriage is the cure-all end-all to queer injustice. The myth that legalizing same-sex marriage directly benefits same gender-attracted people as a whole is little more than propaganda. While inarguably fair, this sentiment towards marriage equality often overwhelms more pressing issues affecting the same people. Queer-phobic bullying and assault are still major issues, and it is irresponsible to sidestep individual safety over something as frivolous as marriage.

Furthermore, marriage rights are a privilege rather than a matter of safety or respect. We marry to socially and legally validate our existing relationships; it has nothing to do with how safe you feel in that relationship in the first place. Supporting a wedding doesn’t exactly constitute supporting someone’s identity. It simply means you think marriage is appropriate for them. The marginalized orientations, gender alignments and intersex (MOGAI) movement is focused on the latter two. Claiming marriage to be a cornerstone of the queer rights movement grossly misunderstands queer culture as a whole. Calling an act that does so little to affect the well-being of the community as a whole, “a major victory” is misguided at best.

Centering such a diverse and individual social movement on domestic marriage derails MOGAI groups from their original function. The original stonewall gay rights movement was founded on the principle that everyone should be able to freely express their gender and sexual identity independently of the heteronormative culture.

Much of the movement was based on gay people identifying themselves separately from the mainstream culture, since mainstream acceptance was so far out of the question to the point of being unnecessary. It was only when gay people — read: white, cisgender, bourgeois homosexuals — became more accepted that issues such as marriage and public displays of affection were at all addressed by this group.

The movement shifted from questioning social norms to proving that gay people were “normal” enough to merit a place in heteronormative culture. Homonormativity is the systematic exclusion and invalidation of queer and trans identities based on their conformity to the domesticity-biased, amatonormative model of queerness. Most arguments for same-sex marriage revolve around homonormativity as a goal.

Worst of all is the fact that so many people who adamantly support same-sex marriage are willfully ignorant and bigoted against other MOGAI groups. Many straight, allo and cis people who supported the bill make no attempt to sympathize with any group other than the white, cisgender, allosexual, homonormative queer folk who meet the criterion for the narrow definition of what “queer” should be. This is heavily reflected in the push for gay marriage. This is a victory for homonormativity, nothing else. The only reason love “won” is that gender is already a lost cause.

All of this brings up the question: Why is marriage such a hot topic for activists in the first place? When you come right down to it, the government uses marriage as a way of systematically privileging people based on their relationship decisions. If you think I am wrong, it is worth looking into the 1,000-plus legal benefits legally married couples get over any other type of relationship. Not to mention the social recognition and benefits reserved exclusively for people who choose to marry.

It is hypocritical to claim to support marriage equality when the definition of marriage is by nature unequal. All in all, the Supreme Court’s decision only really affects homosexual and bisexual cisgender people in gay-accepting, domesticity-oriented areas; which in all reality is only a tiny privileged fraction of the people affected by the judicial decision.