Bil Browning

Look beyond marriage

Filed By Bil Browning | July 28, 2006 4:21 PM | comments

Filed in: Marriage Equality, The Movement
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Here in Indiana it wasn't any of the leading LGBT organizations that pushed for gay marriage, but the Indiana Civil Liberties Union that instigated the lawsuit to legalize same-sex civil marriage. However, most national organizations now include gay marriage as part of the basics of LGBT organizing. But do we focus too much attention on marriage? Have other portions of our demographic been ignored?

I must admit that I think a lot of our focus on gay marriage is simply facile. It's entirely stupid to put the cart before the horse. When I weigh marriage for a few as versus discrimination protections for all, I'll fall on the side that benefits the most people. We have to have the right to keep our jobs and homes before we demand tax breaks and insurance for our spouses...

What are your thoughts?

While the document supports efforts to secure marriage equality for LGBT couples, it also states that "marriage is not the only worthy form of family or relationship, and it should not be legally and economically privileged above all others".

The signers say that "the struggle for marriage rights should be part of a larger effort to strengthen the stability and security of diverse households and families".

The document, called "Beyond Same-Sex Marriage: A New Strategic Vision for All Our Families & Relationships" says that the focus on gay marriage often leaves out senior gays, single parents and extended families.

It advocates for a flexible set of economic benefits and options, regardless of sexual orientation, race, gender/gender identity, class, or citizenship status.


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Melissa Williams | July 28, 2006 5:16 PM

I don't think of this as an "either/or" situation but a "both/and" situation. Focusing on marriage rights might be the thing that gets people interested in activism, but most will choose to work on other issues too (if they have the time and energy). There are not enough people involved in working for any of these issues. I sometimes get overwhelmed by not only GLBT issues, but environmental and education issues. Where do I put my limited time without getting burnt out?

Unfortunately, if people feel like their issues aren't being addressed, they will need to mobilize themselves and not wait for someone else to get the ball rolling. There is too much to do and not enough hands/minds/hearts/mouths to do it.

Nick Clarkson | July 28, 2006 9:43 PM

I got really worked up about the BeyondMarriage.org document when I first posted about it in my INTRAA blog. I really like it. Theoretically, at least, I'm completely on board with it. It depresses me to read that document and think that the queer politics the authors envision is probably never going to happen.

I get really unhappy with marriage-focused GLBT politics because it seems to usually be dependent on rhetoric along the lines of "we're just like you." I think that's a really bad direction to go; what about the queers who really aren't just like straight people? Seems like they usually get left behind.

I think a more worthwhile approach might be to, as the beyondmarriage.org document suggests, argue for the separation of church and state, for example. Pursue a course that allows queers who want to be in state-sanctioned monogamous couples to get that. And that those who want their religious ceremonies have them, separate from the state-sanction stuff.

I feel, though, like asking for state sanction on relationships requires agreeing to certain moral proscriptions about what our relationships can and can't be. I really don't like that. Maybe having a more complete separation of church and state accomplishes this, but the entwined nature of the two at this point is making it really difficult for me to even imagine what separating the two looks like.

This is in response to Paula's trackback - where she posted on her own blog in reference to this post. I have also left the same comment on her site (which is a really good site - you should go check it out!)
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Thanks for the mention, Paula! I'm glad you've added your two cents to the question...

You should really go read the article. Apparently over 260 nationally known LGBT leaders wrote a letter to the large national groups asking them to focus less on trying to achieve "traditional" marriage for, well, a rather untraditional group of people. "Our people" (of which I firmly believe the transgender are among us and an integral part of us) have needs other than just marriage - job protections, housing protections, freedom from violence and bigotry, etc. Plus, not everyone in the LGBT community will ever use marriage rights - not everyone wants to get married or considers it their highest priority.

In a lot of states it boils down to the same thing Indiana has going currently - you have marriage in one hand and civil rights in the other. You can only choose one right now. Which do you choose? Which do you focus your time and energy on? Which will help the most people and do the most good? Because most of all - you only have limited resources...

It's a thorny question, true. But I have to say that I'd vote for civil rights over marriage. By achieving the former, you can take a large step towards the latter.

Chris Douglas | July 29, 2006 9:28 AM

This is an immensely important discussion.

For years there have been parallel strategic tracks underway.... Those pursuing the track on marriage and relationship rights through the courts have generally fallen (in my opinion) into groups. The first has been the group, generally emerging from the coasts, that has already seen a great deal accomplished in nondiscrimination in their own states, and seen marriage and relationship rights as the next logical step. They have commanded control over HRC and Lambda Legal, and have generally been insensitive to the need in middle and southern America to concentrate on moving nondiscrimination forward as a necessary precursor to discussing relationship rights. They have pressed their own strategy without significant support to getting done in other states what had already been done in their states.

The second group pursuing relationship rights through the courts have been naive middle Americans who have had insufficient understanding of their own environment to appreciate that nondiscrimination must be accomplished first.

Those pursuing the nondiscrimation agenda, which must be accomplished through the legislative and executive branches, have pursued that track, and have generally not publicly criticized the marriage track as being strategically unfit for Indiana.

(There were quiet confrontations however, including a fierce argument between a group of activists and the ICLU when it filed. The most furious was Marla Stevens, who in a state of apoplexia, supported by a more somber Kathy Sarris, predicted to the ICLU that their effort would produce a constitutional amendment banning marriage in Indiana. Even Troy Liggett was furious, predicting that the lawsuit could produce the loss of the Indiana House of Representatives by offering a major campaign issue. But these ferocious arguments were never made public, out of what has generally remained a restraint from public criticism by one group of activists of the other.)

What we now know and must regret is that the marriage track not only was doomed to be ineffective without a priority having been given first to nondiscrimination, but that the marriage track would produce disastrous results setting back not only marriage and relationship rights, but in its tidal wave nondiscrimination as well.

Alas, there is no question that a priority now must be given to defeating the marriage amendment in Indiana, for its long term consequences in regard to other relationship rights would be disastrous. That is why so many who were (in my my opinion effectively) engaged in forwarding nondiscrimination in Indiana, have had to refocus their energies to control damage emanating from the marriage track.

There are serious and practical consequences to the community coming to a more sophisticated and broader understanding of effective strategy; it cannot be done without a sober shift of financial and human resources away from supporting the courtroom marriage track and toward the democratic processes consolidating and growing public and political support for our causes, which support is not insubstantial, and would be greater now if our resources had not been so distracted.

Rick Sutton | August 1, 2006 8:25 AM

Chris is so right.

We allowed ourselves to get caught up in a word: marriage. The word alone instills fear in a large majority of the population. Why not just wave a red flag in front of a bull?

We can instead focus on nondiscrimination, full protection of the Constitution's equal protection clause, and other similar issues? If we have that, I don't personally care what term we use. Let's not be married to the word "marriage".

The Amendment fight is coming, regardless who controls the House after November. We can gear up by using our best weapon: our friends, family, associates. They know how we live our lives, and that we're not a threat to anyone. Let's define ourselves before the opposition does. Their picture isn't pretty, as we all know.

Talk to those friends and family now. Don't wait. Let them know that an Amendment like the one likely to be introduced, is hateful and harmful.

If we can do that, we'll win by not losing. And then maybe we can pick up the pieces and rebuild from the foundaiton up. It'll happen. Our issue is fairness, and over time, that rarely loses.