Editors' Note: For #throwbackthursday, we're republishing this piece from early 2013 by Yasmin Nair. It inspired quite a bit of conversation last time, but keep in mind that any personal attacks or slurs will be immediately deleted.
Gay marriage will soon be legal in the United States. This may not happen in the next six months or even a year, but it's an inevitability.
A major reason for the push forward in recent months has been the support from powerful conservatives like David Cameron and Meg Whitman. Out of all this emerges an implicit statement, that even conservatives support gay marriage, that even conservatives admit that gay marriage is a good thing. It means that there is somehow a separate left argument to be made for gay marriage.
But there has never been a left case for gay marriage. Gay marriage is a conservative cause.
Jumping on the Bandwagon
It's not just Cameron and Whitman. Many other conservatives have jumped on the bandwagon, recognising what we at Against Equality have been saying all along: that marriage is neoliberalism's handiest little tool. Michael Bloomberg, every Democrat's favorite billionaire, chipped in, as did the executives of several Fortune 500 Companies.
All of this has led gays and their straight allies to exult in having the support of conservatives. Apparently, there is nothing that confirms that a cause is right and progressive and just dandy more than the fact that a bunch of fat cat capitalists who have supported the looting of the world and generally have appalling politics around race, gender, and neo-colonialism also support it.
Of course, as many of us have pointed out from the beginning of this deluded campaign to invest in a sexist and capitalist institution, the advent of gay marriage here or anywhere else is by no means a guarantee of the end of inequality. As I've said before, I will see gay marriage in my lifetime, but I'll never see universal healthcare (the real kind, not Obamacare).
There's a rush amongst various groups and individuals to declare their uncritical love and support for gay marriage or, at the very least, to appear gay-affirming. Straight celebrities are snogging each other mightily, and coming out as gay will now be a career requirement for everyone, part of the the packet of dossiers and headshots taken into casting agent's offices. Soon, instead of being asked if they have any gay secrets in their closets, aspiring celebrities (no one wants to be an actor anymore, only to be really, really famous, for nothing in particular) will be asked why they have no gay past, present, or future.
When Liberals Use Conservative Arguments
But there has never been a separate left case for gay marriage. Nothing that the left, progressives, or liberals have stated in support of gay marriage has ever been anything but a profoundly conservative argument.
Gays and lesbians should be allowed to marry for healthcare? That simply shores up the power of the neoliberal state, compelling people to marry and take on the burden for their own care, instead of creating, for instance, a system that grants life-saving benefits to everyone, regardless of marital status.
This is a matter of "simple equality?" How is a system that systematically denies those same benefits to single people ever anything but fundamentally unequal?
Denying marriage to some is denying them their ability to love or to have their love affirmed? If your love depends upon the recognition of the state, your relationship is in greater trouble than you think.
Poor people will somehow benefit from marriage by accessing healthcare through their partners? Poor people's problems don't arise from their inability to get married and in a country without universal healthcare, marriage only compounds your poverty. And, really, if you're poor, neither you nor your partner is likely to have healthcare anyway; the last thing you want is to increase the burden on your household by increasing the number of people in it.
And then, of course, there are the arch-conservative arguments for gay marriage made by the gays which, perhaps for fear of being labelled as homophobic, straight lefty-progressives have been unwilling to denounce. These include the blatant assertion that gay marriage will make for better and more stable families, or that two married people are better parents than those nasty, slutty single parents. Or, the icing on the cake: that gay marriage could help end AIDS - an argument which I'll tackle at length in a future post because, really, this is such a shitty, insensitive, wrong-headed, asshole argument that it deserves more than a few words.
Nothing About Gay Marriage Is Progressive
For now, let me simply say that if anyone said that (straight) marriage prevents STDs or that single women/men are worse parents than married people, they would be laughed at, derided, tweeted out of existence. Jezebel and Feministing and many irate feminists would have weeks' worth of postings on all this. Yet, when the gays say such things, their straight friends simply stand by and nod - as if these were not the most vile, disgusting neanderthal comments to ever emerge from the mouths of misogynistic pigs disguised as rational gays and lesbians (and yes, women can be patriarchal misoygynists too).
It's no accident that David Cameron is coming out in support of gay marriage at the exact moment that Britain's National Health Service is facing cuts that could eviscerate a system which benefits the poorest in ways that most Americans can't fathom (and won't actually fully support). Cameron isn't just coming out in support of gay marriage because he thinks marriage is a good idea for society (which suits neoliberalism just fine): he's doing this because he would like more people to get married and take care of each other so that the state can go back to defunding national healthcare.
Mostly, what Cameron and Bloomberg and their kind are acknowledging is that marriage has never been a cause for rank-and-file queer people, as Against Equality's archive amply demonstrates. In fact, marriage has been the antithesis of everything queer people have wanted, and it only became an issue in the mid-'90s, with the rise of a conservative gay community that began to assert its power through organisations like the Human Rights Campaign and the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force.
I think most lefty-progs who read these statements from conservatives actually understand them as reflective of the reality of gay marriage and, because, really, come on, David Cameron. But they're unwilling to push at their discomfort and expand their critique of this fervent desire for gay marriage because they don't want to be read or seen as homophobic, and because most lefty-prog-liberals have no idea how to unwrap their heads from the entirely erroneous idea that Gay=Left.
Let us, queers who understand the problems with gay marriage as an economically and socially conservative issue and our straight allies, begin to dispense with the silly idea that there has ever been anything about gay marriage that could even vaguely be described as left/liberal/progressive. Rather, progressives, liberals, and self-described lefties would do well to echo Republican Jon Hunstman, and speak the truth plainly, that gay marriage is a conservative cause.
There is no separate conservative case for gay marriage. There has never been a left/progressive case for gay marriage. The surprise is not that gay marriage is now being embraced by conservatives and neoliberals. The surprise is that it took them so long to do so.
(Yasmin Nair's work can be found here and on www.yasminnair.net. Gay marriage graphic via Bigstock.)