Bob Ostertag, over at Huffington Post, has written an excellent article arguing that elevating same-sex marriage to the forefront of the LGBT movement is ill-advised both strategically and morally. Even more thought-provoking, he writes that rather than an enemy, Rick Warren might actually be someone the LGBT community can work with.
Regarding the first point, as much as I support equal rights, I have been disturbed by the prominence that marriage has assumed in our movement, to the exclusion of all other issues, including the idea of equal rights for queers and straights who decline to marry.
"Gay marriage" turns the real issues of equal rights for sexual minorities upside down and paints us into a reactionary little corner of our own making. Yes, married people get special privileges denied to others. Denied not to just gays and lesbians, but to all others. Millions of straight people remain unmarried, and for a huge variety of reasons, from mothers whose support networks do not include their children's fathers, to hipsters who can't relate to religious institutions. We could be making common cause with them. We could be fighting for equal rights for everyone, not just gays and lesbians, but for all unmarried people. In the process we would leave religious institutions to define marriage however their members see fit.
That's how you win at politics, isn't it? You build principled coalitions that add up to a majority, and try not to hand potent mobilizing issues to your opposition in the process.
We have done the opposite. Instead of tearing down the walls of privilege enjoyed by the nuclear family, we are demanding our own place at the married couples' table (leaving all those other unmarried people out in the cold).
I know the idea of gay liberation is ancient by today's standards, but it wasn't so long ago that a lot of gay and lesbian activism began from the premise that the queer perspective was one that could offer a particular contribution to a more just society as a whole. My how times change.
Indeed. Why should people have to marry to attain immigration rights, health insurance, lower tax rates, the right to visit a loved one in the hospital, or basic recognition of their relationships? Ostertag adds that in the end, most of us won't marry even if we have the right to; and of those who do, divorce rates are already high.
It IS interesting , isn't it, that we're putting so many eggs into the basket of an institution in historical crisis?
Arguing thusly, Ostertag is far from alone in the LGBT community. Where he really deviates is when it comes to Rick Warren. Ostertag disagrees with Warren on many points, including the existence of hell and the idea that a divine being sent his only son down to Earth 2000 years ago to save humanity.
When it comes to Warren's position on lesbians and gays, however, Ostertag seems to be saying that focusing on MARRIAGE to the exclusion of everything else distorts the improvement Warren actually represents in the evangelical movement. Ostertag quotes more extensively from the interview in which Warren infamously compared gay marriage to incest and pedophilia. From that interview:
Q: Which do you think is a greater threat to the American family - divorce or gay marriage?
A: [laughs] That's a no brainer. Divorce. There's no doubt about it.
Q: So why do we hear so much more - especially from religious conservatives - about gay marriage than about divorce?
A: Oh we always love to talk about other sins more than ours. Why do we hear more about drug use than about being overweight? [Note: Warren is quite overweight.]
Q: Just to clarify, do you support civil unions or domestic partnerships?
A: I don't know if I'd use the term there but I support full equal rights for everybody in America. I don't believe we should have unequal rights depending on particular lifestyles so I fully support equal rights.
Q: What about partnership benefits in terms of insurance or hospital visitation?
A: You know, not a problem with me.
Ok. Warren uses the noxious buzzword, "lifestyles," and equates our existence with sin. Blagh. Still, considering Warren's earlier bluntness, it seems we can take him at his word when he states that if we call our legal relationships "civil unions," he will support them. "Separate but equal," in my book, IS unequal. On the other hand, Warren's position is an improvement on earlier evangelicals in that he is publicly stating he supports equal rights of a sort for gays and lesbians.
And this is the heart of Ostertag's argument. He says that Warren is the emerging face of America's evangelical movement (80 million strong and growing) and as such, is an improvement over the old face. Warren recognizes the human agency and urgent nature of global climate change--a critical issue today that, IMO, surpasses in importance same-sex marriage. Further, and this is something I didn't know, Warren "reverse tithes," giving away 90% of his income to causes like poverty and AIDS, while keeping 10%.
How many gay men or lesbians do you know who give 90% of their income to fighting AIDS? Or poverty?
Ostertag ends by saying:
I am delighted that there is a new generation of evangelicals that thinks the biggest issue isn't homosexuality but global climate change, AIDS, and poverty. And who "don't believe we should have unequal rights depending on particular lifestyles." I am so ready to make common cause with them. I couldn't care less about what they think of gay marriage.