Jessica Max Stein

Does Gay Marriage Endanger Queer Community?

Filed By Jessica Max Stein | June 26, 2011 10:30 AM | comments

Filed in: Gay Icons and History, Marriage Equality, The Movement
Tags: gay marriage, Jessica Max Stein, New York City, Pride, Stonewall

I was standing outside the Stonewall Inn Friday night at the moment gay marriage came to New York State. I had come to the Stonewall not to await the verdict, but as one of over 200 fabulous queers who had gathered at Tompkins Square Park in the East Village and paraded gaily together across town in the 18th annual drag march. takenbynicolemartin.jpg

The drag march had reached the Stonewall just after 9pm, then turned into a street party. At one point the police roughly tried to push everyone onto the sidewalk, and for a tense few minutes I thought of 1969 as the crowd moved en masse - one voice, one purpose - to take back the street, our chants drowning out the dance music down the block ("The people! United! Will never be defeated!"). Though I often satirize movement sloganeering ("The slogans! So tired! Will always be repeated!"), the moment was powerful as the police receded and we reclaimed public space for queer public use.

When the marriage verdict came in, I was deep in a queer sentimental moment, looking out over the crowd, amazed at the interconnected constellations of my community. I like to call them constellations - lots of glittering amidst that crowd.


The gathering felt homey, like the small-town fairs of my childhood. I saw a couple - one in magenta bridesmaid's dress and luxurious peroxided wig, the other in black corset and heels - who had welcomed me into their Thanksgiving at the last minute, the token dyke at a table of radical fairies; two partnered queer elders who had been close with Sylvia Rivera; a genderqueer friend in a 40s-looking black deshabille; hir ex moving in her own circles, both welcome in the crowd; my smirky babydyke next-door neighbor; our impish red-headed friend from down the block (who had just Domestic Partnered her roommate, though they weren't romantically involved); numerous polyamorous permutations; the populace of various Brooklyn queer shared houses; and even my friend Ruby's ex who is also the ex of one of my exes (which reads like an old lesbian joke).

When I fled upstate for the city 16 years ago, I dreamed of being ensconced in queer community; looking over the crowd, I knew I'd brought at least part of that dream to life. And as I watched that loud, lovely, celebratory community, dancing in the space we had made for ourselves, marriage was the furthest thing from my mind.

It would be convenient to say we were dancing to Sister Sledge's "We Are Family" when the rumor of statewide gay marriage spread through the crowd. People looked down at their devices to confirm the news; then a wave of cheering came down Christopher Street, and we knew it was true.

"Be careful, you know they're going to say this was a party for gay marriage instead of an anniversary of a protest," a friend joked. A few hours later I read from the Associated Press: "A huge street party erupted outside the Stonewall Inn Friday night, with celebrants waving rainbow flags and dancing after the historic vote." The gathering may have ended as a marriage celebration, but it hardly began that way - neither last night at the Stonewall nor in 1969. Gay marriage is not the Stonewall Riots' happy ending. The story of queer liberation is far from over.

And in the New York Times, the drag march had become little more than a footnote: "A drag parade on Friday from Tompkins Square Park in the East Village to Stonewall in the West Village also went on as planned - the ranks of the marchers augmented by people who gathered to be part of history."

Were we at the drag march - in its 18th year, commemorating the bulldykes and drag queens fighting back at the original Stonewall Riots, replete with its own tradition, custom and ceremony - somehow no longer "part of history" once gay marriage had been achieved? Or were we just being written out of history - fast?

Gay marriage is a happy victory for many LGBTQ New Yorkers. But I am concerned that, as my comrade Sloan Lesbowitz puts it, "marriage might narrow the group of people we care for into a 'family' at the expense of the expansive group of cared-for people we currently call our community." In this moment of great change for some of us, let us remember to think collectively, to recognize ourselves as part of a larger whole. To multiply life not by "the power of two," as the Indigo Girls would sing, but by the power of millions.

Gay marriage is a great step forward for many families; but let us never forget that we are family.


img by Nicole Martin


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I have to disagree with your premise. I have recently become a member of a family. For the first time in my life, I can actually say I have a home. Whether or not marriage is a part of that is a moot point as far as I'm concerned. I love my wife, and I love my children. Maybe I'm an old, sentimental, Christian fool for saying this, but I don't feel a special kinship with everyone else in the GLBTWTFBBQ community. I have a kinship with other veterans, because we have shared a burden of protecting the Constitution of the United States. I'm studying for a Paramedic cert. I'm far more apt to support better benefits for EMS personnel than I am for GLBT folks... or construction workers, who break their backs to make things better for our communities. Not just GLBT community, the community of humanity as a whole. I am proud of people who have done things with their life. Gay, bi, trans, or straight. Something to be proud of, simply being gay is not.

If you truly feel as though you have not faced any challenges, prejudices, or discrimination as a gay person navigating the world (which is ABSURD if you were in the military!), then perhaps your logic applies. In my experience, I am part of the LGBTQ community BECAUSE we have all faced challenges, great and small, as a result of being LGBTQ-identified. Frankly, the only tone I can interpret in your comment is one of frustration and annoyance, which probably stems less from your chosen vocations as a veteran and paramedic, and more from living as a gay person with internalized homophobia.

hank kelly | June 26, 2011 10:55 AM

Queer Community? Who decided to label every gay/homosexual person in the U.S. as being "queer"? Queer is mentioned at least 5 times in this article. I don't like straights labeling me as a fag. I equally resent gays labeling me as a queer.

Very much. It's not even GBLTQ - no it "queer" or nothing. So those of us who are hurt or triggered by that word, who have been attacked by people using that word? Apparently we're not part of the community Jessica Stein is so worried about losing.

It's amazing how every advance in rights is treated as a bad thing - another way to shame those who do not conform to such a very very narrow spectrum of what it means to be GBLTQ

I admit, I'm rather ambivalent about the word "queer", given the mixed connotations. My friends and I usually now just refer to ourselves as altersexual. But I can see how some people might take offense to the Q.

--Randall

I believe I can manage myriad definitions and constitutions of family and community, even as I'm wearing a wedding ring. Congrats New Yorkers!

Gods forbid people have different definitions of the family! Gods forbid we not all conform with how to be proper GBLTQ people - oh wait, it's not GBLTQ is it? It's "queer" or nothing. Gods forbid we're not all conforming to oen set of rules for how to be ourselves. Gods forbid we're actually CELEBRATING discrimination being struck down.

Do you find it so hard to be part of a loving marriage AND part of a greater GBLTQ community (I prefer to be part of the whole community, not just the Q)? Why is this so difficult?

Sparky there is a difference between the queer community and the LGBTQQI community. I for one fully respect a person's right not to ID as queer and I sure hope you will respect mine to ID as such and to enjoy the fact that I consider myself to be part of a queer community.

Jessica, while I truly agree with the mood and premise of your piece, I'm dumbfounded how you could write it without even mentioning how GENDA was tabled for the 4th time, basically so marriage equality could pass? How the SONDA bill was passed 10 years ago very consciously jettisoning gender identity and expression so non-gender variant gay people could be protected in housing and employment. How virtually no mention has been made by non-trans gay and lesbian bloggers of this situation unless first mentioned by malcontents from the trans community. Yes, celebrate (I remember when SF first started performing same sex marriages and the jubilant mood that followed, until... ). I'm very happy for all the loving same-sex couples, non-trans and trans, who will benefit from marriage equality, but I won't play "shut up and party" if people's rights are again put on hold for the 'better general good of the coalition.'

There are the LGBTQIA people who want gay marriage, employment protections and a white picket fence, and then there are LGBTQIAPPQA people who think about queer culture and where we are going as a society starting with the idea of polyamory and seeing what's out there.

I support gay marriage, and its possible I may get married, but I don't think its an end, only the next stepping stone on the move towards equality and evolution.

The Dallas Principles

Full civil rights for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender individuals must be enacted now. Delay and excuses are no longer acceptable.

We will not leave any part of our community behind.

Separate is never equal.

Religious beliefs are not a basis upon which to affirm or deny civil rights.

The establishment and guardianship of full civil rights is a non-partisan issue.

Individual involvement and grassroots action are paramount to success and must be encouraged.

Success is measured by the civil rights we all achieve, not by words, access or money raised.

Those who seek our support are expected to commit to these principles.

Non-partisan means more than just "Republican v. Democrat".

> Full civil rights for lesbian, gay, bisexual and
> transgender individuals must be enacted now. Delay
> and excuses are no longer acceptable.

Would be better as : "Enact now the removal of all discriminations and barriers to equal access to full civil rights on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity or expression."

This would defuse the endless tension caused by names and terms, and match the language used, and endorsed by the US government at the United Nations, where diplomats long ago figured that words can so easily be culturally or linguistically imperialist, and cause unnecessary barriers to agreement.

This is not about who is in or who is out it's about not loosing the forest for the tree. I'm a gayby and I fear the sigma that will become attached to because after being together for 20 years they don't get married, but more than that I fear the loss of rights they will face when they do that. Suddenly they risk loosing the rights to see each other in the hospital if one gets sick, the right for my non biological mom to make decisions for me (were i still a minor) despite having raised me, and a million other rights because of this law (any of this sound familiar?). Legalizing marriage in NY does just that. It gives rights to some people but takes away the rights of others. How is that equality? Why can't we give without taking away? Oh and one last thing minimizing Jessica reminds us of who was involved in the actions at Stonewall in '69 let's not forget who was there and how transfolks, queens, and queers will be some of those who this law will not provide equality for.

How will New York state's marriage equality law cause anyone to lose right?

You ask 'How will New York state's marriage equality law cause anyone to lose right?"

I guess it depends on how you are looking at it.

People who formerly felt free to disdain our relationships as less than equal might feel the pressure of being though of as bigoted because our formal relationships actually will be *legally* equal to theirs.

On the other hand, I know a few women who are now feeling pressured by long-term partners to actually get legally married, when they have spent decades cushioning the pain of societal rejection by rejecting the society right back - marriage isn't for us? then who needs marriage!

Way back when, the rights and responsibilities of legal marriage really were sex specific in a way that made it virtually inconceivable to even think about legalizing marriage between members of the same sex. The question "which one of you is the husband" actually would have made more sense in a context other than assumptions about sexual activity, because of the differing bundles of rights based on the sex of the party.

However, as the legislatures have made most of the laws relatin to the bundles of rights associated with marriage (as well as divorce and things like child custoduy, support and maintenance) gender neutral, it became possible to conceive of completing the process and making the connubium (the "right to marry") gender neutral as well. Since each spouse now has the same bundle of rights in legal terms, the distinctions between "husband" and "wife" no longer have meaning - a marriage of two wives, or two husbands, can have the exact same bundles of mutual rights, responsibilities, privileges and obligations as a marriage with a husband and a wife. There is the possibility of a legal complementarity based on gender-neutrality despite the physiological and patriarchal differences traditionally associated with a differing bundle of rights.

At one time, husbands nearly always got the children in a divorce. This was Roman law as well as the law in the most "traditional" societies. Women had little or no rights once they were wed - "the two become one, and that one is the husband." Later social theories created a situation in which ex-husbands often had to pay ex-wives alimony and child support, and the ex-wives got the custody of children. These days, most courts arrange for joint custody and property division, support and maintenance is not sex-of-the-spouse-specific any more under the law.

The gender-neutralization of the domestic relations laws relating to marriage divorce and the custody and care of children made it possible to take the last step and make the connubium gender neutral as well.

So, the rights of bigots to treat us as less than human, or less than equal, have been diminished. They are still able to keep us out of their churches and religious-organization-based reception halls, and they can't lose tax benefits because they do not perform same-sex rituals or allow wedding parties. They can also enforce rules limiting employment to members of their religious sect, but I don't believe this law means they can discriminate in terms of adoption placement or employee benefits (the latter items being among the things that State Senator Greg Ball wanted to have added to the "religious protections").

The right of people who had previously looked at marriage through the perspective of the fox in the Aesop fable involving the inaccessible grapes, and deemed the institution to be "sour grapes," might be impacted. They still have the right to not get married or have anything to do with the institution, but some of them will be feeling pressure from partners, the same way that many straight people feel pressured when one party is ready to settle down and get married while the other might not believe in formalizing any commitments.

The gender-neutral connubium of marriage is no longer sour grapes - it is nearly a reality in New York, as it has already been in several other jurisdictions. It's a right, not an obligation - and it shouldn't be seen as harmful to anyone at all.

My biggest worry is that many marriage advocates will turn to marriage in other states, repealing DOMA and other federal issues, while possibly not remembering to remain allies to the trans commuity in New York to push GENDA over the finish line.

After reading the New York TImes analysis as to how marriage got through the New York State Senate, I began to despair at the idea of using it as a blueprint for a GENDA strategy. The trans community does not have millionaire donors. We don't have a large population or access to a lot of professional resources. We don't even have thinge we can compromise on, like "religious protections" in the marriage bills. We do have some committed legislators, and committed advocates, but the strategy outlined in the Times piece may not be replicable for GENDA in 2012. We may have to hope that redistricting brings us a 35 vote Demicratic majority in the Senate in the 2012 elections which means we could see GENDA enacted as soon as January 2013. I don;t see how we can convince a Republican-controlled senate to allow GENDA to go to a vote even though we have had a whip count at 32 for over a year.

Ah, the indigo girls... I remember liking them before I knew they played fest, also before I knew I was a lesbian. Now they are behind a no-pay wall for me.

Om Kalthoum | June 26, 2011 3:47 PM

Sometimes some people just can't take "yes" for an answer.

Headline:
Meteor to Strike Earth
Transsexuals and Queers Prepare to Take Brunt of Blast

I'm not sure what the anger at Max's words is about. I was in Albany fighting for marriage all week. I believe strongly in marriage. I officiate at marriages because I believe it is a wonderful, holy institution. I also believe Max is right. If we start to think of family as only those people to whom we are united by blood or law, we will lose our soul. If we fail to understand that family includes the entire LGBTQ community, we will lose our power. If we fail to take the good lessons of "family" that we learned during the years we were hated by almost everyone, the years we were dying of AIDS and rallied around each other, the years we had to lean on one another, we will fail. Max is right. And if you get angry because she chooses to call herself "queer", you already don't get it. The movement is about freedom. Freedom to get married, and freedom not to do so. Freedom to call yourself "gay" or "lesbian" or "queer". Freedom to call yourself none of the above. I stood in the Senate gallery on Friday night and cheered as hard as anyone. And yet I read Max's words and I hear truth.

Rev - thanks for your efforts.

I doubt GENDA will be up again in 2012. NOM and Co still have lots of money to campaign against politicians who would be for it, and we don't have any friendly millionaires to help fight that. Nor former Presidents, nor Film Stars.

But at some stage in the future - maybe 3 years, maybe 10, we might have a realistic chance once more. May I ask you to help us out then? I've got no right to ask of course, but frankly, we can't do it alone. There aren't enough of us, and so many of us will die in NY because GENDA didn't pass that there will never be that many. We don't have money because we don't have jobs, we don't have jobs because we don't have GENDA, we don't have GENDA because we don't have money...

Absolutely. In fact, before I moved from Massachusetts I lobbied for the trans protections bill that has been stuck in committee so long. I'm hopeful Mass. will have equal protections soon.

I am counting on the demographics of redistricting to allow for a change of control in the Senate to Democratic Control in the 2012 elections. I can reasonably expect a 39-27 Demicratic majority, which means that GENDA will have a strong possibility of passage. The only reason GENDA did not get a vote in the 32-30 Democratic majority senate last year, was because (a) Ruben Diaz was on both of the committees that it was in, first Investigations and Government Operations, and then Judiciary, and (b) the Republican who was supposed to vote to allow GENDA to go to the Rules committee and then to the floor (to make up for Diaz), Andrew J. Lanza. changed his vote during the committee meeting.

If we have a 35 voe Democratic majority, we could lose Diax and poessibly two other Democrats and still get the bill through. Last year was effectively a 31-31 tie in terms of how we would have looked at the Senate for GENDA purposes, and this year is 33-29 (again counting Diaz as eeffectively Republican for purposes of GENDA, rathrt than the official 32-30).

I am tryong to convince the anticipated Demcratic leadership to consider GENDA so important that they will push it through in January 2013 rather than waiting for the budget to be finished. Of course this presupposes we have that Demiocratic senate majority then.

I don't think Max is talking about marriage being terrible, nor talking about how this is a horrible thing that happened. It's much more about how this one thing, marriage, eats the whole LGBTQ community's multiple and varying agendas. There are plenty of LGBTQs out there who have way more pressing needs - from immigration to health insurance to what-have-you. I wrote about this on my blog here -- the whole idea that suddenly, now that we have marriage, does that mean everything that isn't marriage doesn't count or is somehow invalid?

It's more than a little strange that ENDA and similar state legislation has so thoroughly been shunted off to the side by marriage equality. It seems to me that many more people would be affected by civilian employment anti-discrimination legislation than would be affected by marriage equality laws and court decisions. And then there are all the other anti-discrimination protections, including housing, that tend to be included with employment in the state-level legislation.

If I understand Max's concern, my reply is that the LGBT community has always had its respectability seekers and its excluders, and the rest of us will deal with them as best we can, like we always have.

Great thoughts Ms. Stein. Marriage is momentous, especially for some. But our community is much larger than that. The anniversary of Stone wall should never be a footnote or marginalized and there is so much more work to do! Winning Marriage in one State is like winning one game in a tennis match. There are five sets, many games to win. Now is the time to sit down, hydrate, towel off, and plan how to win the whole match!

Bill Perdue Bill Perdue | June 27, 2011 12:05 PM

The sole eaning of the victory in New York is that the battle is just beginning.

We desperately needed a victory in our defensive fight for same sex marriage. We've been battered and bullied since Bill Clinton championed and signed DOMA, with the overwhelming support of Congressional Democrats and Republicans in 1996. As soon as Clinton signed DOMA he began to batter the LGBT communities with putrid ads on redneck radio stations boasting aoubt it and asking for bigot votes.

Since then same sex marriage has been the battering ram in an unrelenting attack on our rights spearheaded by Bill Clinton, BushBrain Rove and now by Barak Obama, who bellowed the phase "God's in the mix" to justify his opposition to SSM before millions of TV in 2008 and torpedoed same sex marriage in California, Arizona and Florida. He remains pigheadedly opposed to SSM, calling a states rights issue as do his probable Republican opponents.

The victory in NY will serve to spur, not curb the growing disgust in the GLBT communities with both the Democrats and Republicans and help us refocus our energies on repeal of Bill Clinton's DOMA and the passage of ENDA, which has been ignored by Democrats for 15 years.

Some activists are supporting a comprehensive, inclusive Civil Rights Amendment to the Constitution guaranteeing equality in employment, housing and public accommodations, providing for harsh fines and jail time for offenders, especially religious cults and making it easy to sue bigots, racists and misogynists for compensation.

There will inevitably be those who take the NY victory as a sign that the fight is over and they can settle down in some fat suburb and become Stepford wives and husbands. Let them.

The next big steps for us will be to break with the twin parties of bigotry and to get into or create unions where we work. Unions are the heavy infantry of social change. That will allow us to firm up our growing connections with the left wing in unions and to become a part of the broader fight against austerity and union busting but always independently and on our terms.

Please never use the extremely offensive term "queer". In addition to be offensive to all gay people, it is inaccurate when used in such a context. The word "queer" has nothing to do with sexual orientation but rather means 'strange' or 'odd'. There are far more queer heterosexuals than there are queer gay people. I am gay and have many gay friends, relatives, colleagues, and neighbors; none of them are in any way queer or would ever identify with such a term. Please write only on the Family Research Council site if you are going to use such a heinous term.

Please never tell someone what term they should use to define themselves. I use the term queer because to me it beat explains not only my sexual orientation but its relationship with my gender identity. If you want to dictate what people may and may not do, perhaps you are the one more qualifies to post on the FRC site.

Rev. Emily C. Heath,

Of course, you can use any term you want to describe yourself. I was just pointing out (as hank kelly, rkrause, Mark Hampton, and others did above), that the term 'queer' is highly exclusionary and offensive to most gay people. Also, in the English language it means 'strange'; it does not mean 'gay'. While some may argue that language and semantics do not matter, I think they can be quite powerful. The use of a term that is (or at least is widely considered) vague, demeaning, ambiguous, and inaccurate does not seem advisable in general.

DB, if you do not think that the word "queer" has, as one of its several valid uses, both the connotation and denotation of homosexuality, then maybe you need to consult [=Wiktionary.org=].

Check out definitions 3. and 4.

Tolerance even in language is a virtue -- I do not even criticize African-Americans if they choose to use the n-word, even though I am extremely careful at using it myself.

Following your logic, then I would like to kindly ask gay people to stop using the word "gay" as a convenient shorthand term to describe all non-heteronormative sexualities. Whenever we talk about LGBT socio-political issues and action, I frequently hear "gay rights", "gay marriage", "gay politics", "gay bullying", "gay suicide", "gay hate", "gay equality", and the list goes on. Even GLAAD, GLSEN, and GSA speak for all LGBT people but fallback on the term gay in their own name -- because it is all about gay after all. I find "gay" to be far more offensive then queer, personally. Gay does not equal LGBT. We should not all have to be forced to identify as "gay" just to be included.

--Randall

I don't often say this, but...

THIS, THIS, THIS.

I am not gay. Gay rights, gay marriage... It means nothing to me. Gay people are not the only people represented in LGBTQ.

So true. I'm not gay, and its important in my identity that I have never been. I am bi/lesbian, and I have a history of transsexuality, starting consciously at 2, so I was not gay before that. And I'm not at all queer. As a kid, "queer" and "faggot" were the choice words thrown at me as spit, or physical assaults headed in my direction, and since I knew for certain I was just a girl being forced to live as the wrong gender, in the wrong body, they are burned in my memory as "not me".

I have fought for equal marriage since long before most of you were conceived. I was so angry, at 9, attending my first wedding (the whole gorgeous deal in an English country church), that this would never be for the likes of me, that I refused to ever attend another. And I brought that burning sense of equal human rights denied into my lesbian activism. When my lover realised we could marry, because my change of sex was not legally recognised in this benighted country, and proposed, I told her we had to wait until other lesbians could marry too. And I've been active in the fight right along the way. So don't dare call these victories just "gay marriage" affecting the "queer" community.

The problem with all these different terms is that they are used too often in arrogance, or perhaps it is just thoughtless enthusiasm gone wrong.

What I would suggest the entire range of people in the many LGBT communities, and the individuals not in communities too, should do, to resolve all this, and be able to move on productively, is become punctilious about specific, meaningful, and repeated acknowledgement of the diversity of those affected by matters of sexual orientation and gender identity and presentation.

This, mature, respectful, and intelligent approach, I would suggest, will only assist in efforts with outside bodies, since most will be more than familiar with the same being the case in other areas of human rights, such as ethnicity and disability.

Gay marriage? I think the correct term is Bi marriage.

Ooops. Pardon me as I dust myself off and increase my bi-visibility within the extremely homo-centric prejudiced LGBT community.

PS. In all seriousness: Say NO to gay marriage. Say YES to marriage equality. We are not granting a class distinction to gay people.

--Randall

DaveinNorthridge | June 27, 2011 8:04 PM

Indeed. Marriage equality. Equal protection, as in the 14th amendment.

As for "gay community," sorry, folks. There are LG (the omission of the rest of the initials is intentional) communities, but there is no such thing as a gay community, and there wasn't one in 1969 either. I know, as I was struggling with coming out then, and there was no place I could go for support (once I was 3000 miles away from almost everyone I knew in 1971, it was easy).

"Family" and "Community" serve two different needs. People will gravitate to the place where they get their most pressing need filled first, but neither one can replace the other. To say that some people should not form a personal "family" in order to remain available to "community" is a good reminder, but ultimately selfish. I have built a community of people who love me, but they are rarely available to meet my needs for companionship and love in the same way a family unit would be, if I had one. Yet, to simply disappear into family and ignore community is also destructive to one's soul. The two should coexist.