Editors' note: Ryan Miller, a native Texan, attends the Harvard Graduate School of Education where he is studying Higher Education Administration as a Point Foundation scholar. He completed a bachelor's degree with honors in journalism as a Point Foundation scholar at the University of Texas at Austin. After graduation, he worked for UT's vice president for diversity and community engagement and co-taught intergroup dialogue courses.
To be clear: I acknowledge, appreciate, and respect the work of everyone who worked against the anti-marriage ballot initiatives that passed on Tuesday. You were on the side of justice and I understand the disappointment because I feel it, too.
But Wednesday and Thursday were generally happy days for me after the election. Not so among some of my (white) gay and lesbian peers. Many I encountered seem to be in a depressing haze following the passage of Proposition 8 in California that banned marriage for same-sex couples.
Why was I not so upset?
Maybe it's cynicism. Or because I'm not in a long-term relationship. Maybe it's that I remember clearly a few years ago when one of these bans passed overwhelmingly in Texas and few others in the country really cared. I know, I know -- it had actually had a chance of being defeated in California. But our country doesn't have a stellar track record of defeating these bans.
Perhaps it's because the image of white people walking around depressed after the first person of color was elected to the presidency is a little jarring. That we can so cavalierly dismiss such an important and emotional moment as unimportant or not good enough.
Maybe it was the racist, divisive pronouncements that "Gay is the new Black," or the suggestion that racism has somehow ended. I resented being told I drank the Obama Kool-aid and I was being fooled that he would be a kind president toward LGBT people. I was disgusted at the not-so-subtle assertion that African-Americans in California tipped the amendment toward passing (never mind that they are a minority of voters, and whites were in fact the majority).
I witnessed an attitude that said in not so many words that Black people have now had their day, and what about the gays? So where does that leave gay Black folks who don't have the luxury to neatly foreground one identity while forgetting another?
And speaking of racism being over, I didn't hear any immense sorrow that bans on affirmative action passed in two states. Why was that not a part of the upset?
Maybe I'm just looking out for my own mental health after eight years of a vitriolic and hateful president, and facing disappointments in my own advocacy as well. I need a few days to just be happy.
Here's the one I'm really not supposed to say -- that Obama's election was more important than any gay marriage ban. I know, I know -- we could have had both, and they're not mutually exclusive. But we're in two wars, and then there's the economy, among many other incredibly pressing issues. It's a good thing "gay issues" weren't front and center in this election, because frankly, they're just a distraction employed by the right. Even if Obama does nothing for four or eight years on LGBT issues (which I don't think will be the case), he's done a better job than any of his predecessors. If anything will be Obama's undoing, it's the unrealistically high expectations.
Perhaps it's because I hope -- but doubt -- that my community will come to its senses and say, hey, maybe marriage isn't a winning issue. To be sure, I don't think for a minute gay folks decided to put forward any of these losing ballot initiatives in the last decade. But -- crucially -- I believe that we generally allowed marriage to become The Gay Issue, the last step toward full equality for "us."
As long as "us" does not include transgender people, immigrants, single gay people, promiscuous queers, genderqueers, low-income people, and the list goes on. And straight people who aren't excited about marriage, too.
As long as "us" does not include people without health insurance, relative financial security, and any number of other issues that should never depend on being married or partnered.
We can advocate for multiple issues. So feel free to advocate marriage. Personally, I'm more concerned with basic individual rights that are not secure. Every time I hear the reasons that marriage is and should be the most important battle, I only hear about rights that should be granted to every individual, regardless of marital status. In my dream, we'd all get those rights.
Want to be able to inherit and pass on property and belongings to those you love? I think we probably all deserve the right to designate these things (should we be lucky enough to have property and belongings) to those of our choosing.
Want to make sure your loved one can be in the hospital room with you? I think we should all get to decide who can make these important decisions for us, whether I want my neighbor, co-worker, or best friend to do so.
Want your partner's health insurance coverage? I say each one of us, married, single, and otherwise, deserve health insurance that is not dependent upon our wealth or whether we have jobs. Health insurance that's not dependent on anything at all.
Want the tax breaks and perks married folks get? I think things should be a little more equitable -- that single people are not inherently inferior to couples. (It's bad enough I have to buy giant "family sized" portions of nearly everything at the grocery store that I don't need.) We don't live in an agrarian economy anymore and don't need to sure couples are together to have and raise children. So I'd get rid of those perks. If you ask me, the state has no business privileging marriage or partnerships over any other arrangement.
Marriage and partnerships don't work for everyone. Actually, the numbers bear out that they don't work for most people in this country. Most people are not married -- they're single and happy, or partnered but unmarried, or living in threesome bliss, or living with a bunch of a friends. And that's just fine with me.
I fantasize that when these ugly initiatives come up, we could band together and say that we aren't going to play that game. We're not going to allow homophobes to set the agenda anymore. That the rights of a minority should not be up for a vote of the people. That we are not going to waste a single moment or dollar fighting a ridiculous marriage ban. I know that's pie-in-the-sky, and these are hard to ignore in practice. But oh do I fantasize.
If I can still be fired in most states in this country, I'd love to look at that. If queer people, and queer people of color and trans people disproportionately, are targeted for violence and criminalized for being who they are, let's work on that. If people cannot enter this country legally, let's think about that. As HIV and AIDS still ravages our communities, let's not pretend it's a thing of the past. Let's also not forget that if we don't make space for environmentalism with a quickness, all of these will be moot points. Ideally, we'd do all of this at once to some degree, and we'll probably all continue to specialize in one or two of these issues -- but I feel strongly as though marriage has had a chokehold on so much space in our world, in terms of gay money, attention spans, and so much else.
Maybe I'm mad at myself and my communities for making empty gestures for all of us to come together without really backing that up. I still have hope for doing this work so that next time maybe we won't be so divided. But today, I feel quite a bit apart from those who are supposed to be my people.