Marriage Won't Save You

America is in the grip of a religious revival. God's ravening flock are on the loose, and they're out for blood.

Our Crusader in Chief and his theocratic followers have surpassed their Reaganite models: clamping down on "obscenity"; pushing abstinence-only AIDS education; backing other "faith-based" social services; undermining the teaching of evolution; blocking stem-cell research; letting pharmacists refuse to dispense the "morning after pill"; drastically restricting access to abortion; stacking the federal judiciary with defenders of "traditional values"; demolishing the wall between Church and State.

And how have mainstream lesbian and gay activists responded? With an all-out campaign for same-sex marriage.

Sure, it's hard not to get behind something that pisses off religious conservatives so much. But must we pour precious time, money, and energy into everything evangelicals oppose? If Dubya told us not to jump off the Brooklyn Bridge, would we leap to our deaths just to spite him?

Of course straight opposition to gay marriage is fucked up. But any strategist worth her salt knows you've got to pick your battles carefully. Even if same-sex marriage was the good fight, it wouldn't be the smart one.

Without any help from us, marriage is the proverbial burning building. Instead of pounding on the door to be let in, we should be stoking the flames. And we surely shouldn't be spouting the same propaganda our enemies preach: idealizing lifelong, monogamous, procreative, property-owning couples.

Still, for some members of our community -- including dedicated, passionate, lifelong gay activists -- marriage is intensely meaningful. To you we say: If marriage is your heart's desire, then by all means, hire a band, invite your family and friends, have a ceremony, and call it a wedding. If marriage for you is a religious affair, demand that your church, synagogue, mosque, temple, zendo, or coven sanction same-sex marriage -- or join a homo-accepting congregation. but check out your motivation: Are you fighting for straight society's blessing?

Or are you fighting for equal rights and opportunities? Because if you're concerned about hospital visitation, child custody, immigration and asylum, health insurance, and the hundreds of other material benefits marriage brings, then fight to make them available to everyone, not just married couples. The state should encourage bonds of mutual support with whomever we trust -- friends, lovers, roommates, relatives, neighbors, comrades, you name it -- not just husband or wife. Isn't a point of our movement to give people more options, not fewer?

Besides, there are life-and-death gay issues to work on:

Out of the millions of homeless youth in America, a quarter or more are lesbian, gay, bi, or trans. Ditto for teens who commit suicide. How about saving our children?

Almost anywhere in the U.S., you can be mocked, beaten, or killed just for being lesbian, gay, or trans. Why not march in a different city, suburb, town, or village, every single week, to "Take Back the Night"? Why not offer free self-defense courses for every faggot, dyke, trannie, and queer, all across America? Why not make antigay violence a national shame?

In most of America, you can still be fired, or never hired at all, kicked out of your home, or never allowed to live there in the first place, for being lesbian, gay, bi, or trans. Why not descend on Congress and every state legislature, again and again, demanding equal employment and housing protection?

HIV-transmission among young gay men continues to rise, especially among gay men of color. Shouldn't we make AIDS in Harlem, Miami, Detroit, and East LA as important as AIDS in Africa?

As for those material benefits marriage bestows, if there's anything queer history teaches, it's that we must decide how and with whom we love, fuck, set up house, form families, raise children, protect our lives, care for our sick. We should be fighting tooth and nail to wrest control of these issues away from the state. and from organized religion. Especially where sex is concerned.

Religious conservatives, of course, continue their venerable tradition of sexual immorality, whether fringe figures like Phelps gleefully proclaiming that God hates fags and Matthew Shepard is in hell, or more respectable ones like Falwell declaring, "AIDS is not just God's punishment for homosexuals; it is God's punishment for the society that tolerates homosexuals," or the Vatican calling homosexuality "an intrinsic moral evil" and teaching the developing world that condoms don't prevent the transmission of HIV, that they may even be responsible for spreading it.

As for "progressive people of faith", the only sex they actually promote is between two adults in a committed, long-term, loving relationship. The most support they seem able to muster for any of the other forms of sex that can figure positively in a person's life is a defense of sexual privacy, a stance that, without support for sexual freedom, amounts to little more than "Don't Ask, Don't Tell." In a homophobic world, fighting for the right to privacy is not progressive. Which is why straight support for gay marriage, especially among religious liberals, is a mixed blessing at best. It's like their support for gays in the military or for "AIDS victims": they accept us when we fight for America or when we're dying -- or both! Anything but when we fuck. Gay marriage is a godsend to straight liberals: they can stand up for gay love and forget about gay sex.

Yet queers have a lot to teach the world about sex: about taking it both seriously and lightly, about appreciating its beauty and power, but also its ordinariness, even it absurdity, and above all its variety. Over decades, even centuries, we've developed an ethic that, however imperfectly lived up to, doesn't just admit that sexual tastes vary enormously, and sexual activity can take countless forms and have countless meanings, but actually celebrates this variety. That's one of the reasons we should not be begging straight Americans to let us prove we can live up to their ideals. they ought to live up to ours!

Rightwing Christians have us on the defensive, scrambling to prove how nice and normal, how patriotic and churchgoing, we are. But we'll never convince our enemies we're just like them -- and not because many of us aren't. That's true, but irrelevant. Homophobes don't hate us because we're different; they call us different because they hate us. When we romanticized promiscuity, they condemned us for not forming long-term, monogamous relationships; when we romanticize long-term monogamous relationships, they condemn us for "mocking" and "destroying" marriage. We're their scapegoats. They need to call us guilty to feel innocent. They need to call us dirty to feel clean.

Today's evangelicals and fundamentalists dream the same dream as the fanatics who landed on Plymouth Rock four centuries ago: freedom to persecute anyone who deviates from their religious beliefs, freedom to establish a theocracy. Trampling democracy is not a by-product of the war on terror; for our homegrown Taliban, it's the aim. Sound exaggerated? Recall those achievements of Dubya & Friends: clamping down on "obscenity"; pushing abstinence-only AIDS education; backing other "faith-based" social services; undermining the teaching of evolution; blocking stem-cell research; letting pharmacists refuse to dispense the "morning after pill"; drastically restricting access to abortion; stacking the federal judiciary with defenders of "traditional values"....

We've got to convince the majority of Americans that their freedom is threatened by religious fanaticism, at home as much as abroad, and that protecting their freedom depends on protecting ours. We've got to remind them, or teach them, that nothing protects all of us -- the devout and the disbelieving, the prudish and the promiscuous, the straight, the gay, and neither -- like separating Church and State.

Demanding same-sex marriage may seem like that fight, but it's not. It strengthens both Church and State. For conservatives have framed the debate: whether gays are let in or kept out, marriage itself -- its legitimacy, its virtue, its supremacy -- goes unquestioned. If we win the fight, only "good gays" triumph, the ones who conform to the hetero norm. If we lose, all of us lose, for we'll have sanctioned the very system, marital dominance, which excludes us.

Should we just ignore the anti-gay marriage offense that's spreading homo-hatred across the country? Of course not. Instead, to every bill that bans same-sex marriage, let's attach an amendment addressing a more important queer crisis: the abuse of queer children, homophobic and transphobic violence, housing and workplace discrimination, immigration and asylum discrimination, the AIDS epidemic, particularly among gay men of color. Let states ban same-sex marriage, but at a price: providing explicit safer-sex education to every home, school, and workplace; adopting and enforcing anti-bullying policies that include homophobic and transphobic bullying; hospital visitation rights for anyone of our choosing; shared health insurance with anyone of our choosing; child custody rights; inclusion of LGBT material in public schools... Let the theocrats wrap themselves in the sanctity of marriage, let them hug it to their chests like a Confederate flag. Let them win their symbolic victory. Let's win the real one!

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