Yasmin Nair

Let's Change the Paradigms of Gay Organising

Filed By Yasmin Nair | November 08, 2008 1:00 PM | comments

Filed in: Marriage Equality, The Movement
Tags: California Proposition 8, feminism, gay marriage, kinship, marriage equality, nostalgia, paradigm shifts, Prop. 8

A full 27% of gays voted for McCain in this year's election. That's up from 23% in 2004, the percentage that voted for Bush. It's easy to dismiss these Republican-leaning gays as either self-loathing or deluded, but perhaps the numbers ought to make us pause and wonder about the easy distinctions we like to draw between lefty/progressive/liberal gays and the rest of the cruel, conservative world that wants to take our rights away. And it ought to make us think about the outmoded paradigms of gay organising.

Perhaps it's time for us to openly acknowledge that the queer community is not as progressive as it likes to imagine itself. More importantly, it's time to acknowledge that the cause of gay marriage is not radical or progressive but one mired in a conservative philosophy that endows married and coupled people with the kinds of rights that ought to be available for all. Marriage allows the state to decide what kinds of relations are worthy of recognition, and that recognition is rooted in deeply patriarchal and capitalist ideas about the consolidation of property.

I understand the hurt and anger over Prop 8, but I'm not bothered about the measure. I'm far more concerned about the Arkansas ban on adoption by unmarried couples (and, I imagine, by singles) because that delimits how people, gay or straight, can define the kinship networks they form. As for the gay marriage fight, it's been relentlessly fought as a battle against the Right. This means that we've allowed ourselves to be defined by the Right and consequently emerged with a queer agenda that merely replicates the Right's ideas about what constitutes an ideal world. But it's now time to change the paradigms.

The pro-gay marriage crowd has long insisted that civil unions and domestic partnerships are less than marriage. Instead of beating that dead horse, why not strive to make such legal partnerships as good as or better than marriage so that people don't have to be married in order to keep their children; health care; their property, or have to leave it to the state to decide when they're legally dead in case of a terminal illness? Why not fight for ways that people who're not romantically tied but still close can designate each other as legal caretakers in times of crisis? At present, that process is legally cumbersome and culturally unacceptable.

Why are we fighting for the specious rights granted by an outmoded institution? Instead, why don't we fight for the right to live in more interesting and complex ways that actually reflect the reality of our lives in 2008, as opposed to yearning for an endless simulation of life in 1958?

Let's shift the paradigms, people.

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Instead, why don't we fight for the right to live in more interesting and complex ways that actually reflect the reality of our lives in 2008, as opposed to yearning for an endless simulation of life in 1958?

Umm, because upending the dominant paradigm is a whole lot more difficult and complex than equalizing access to its benefits? Far from being a dead horse, marriage is the trustworthy old nag who will never throw you.

It's simply unrealistic to think that we can achieve these fully featured not-marriage legal protections in our lifetimes. Marriage is the pragmatic solution that protects my third-grader now.

You're welcome to fix the sexism and patriarchy that are connected to the system of family law in the Euro-American tradition, and feel cool while you're doing it. I'll bake you some cookies. Great idea. Behind ya all the way.

Meanwhile, I'm getting older, my kid is growing, and I need financial planning tools to respond to reality as it is. Instead of assuming that the right wing set my agenda, why not assume that I set it myself based on my circumstances?

um, to start, marriage is a legal institution with decades of legal history. you cannot simply make a new one overnight.

second, we have marriage equality- because it is NOT gay marriage, in two states right now. It opens doors to understanding. it makes for inroads like no other effort in the LGBT movement has ever seen before. you don't have to like it but to give up is ridiculous and I find your assertions insulting.

I am not yearing for 1958. how dare you say that to me.

it is about being effective.

and separate is never equal. that's been ruled on before. remember?

It actually wouldn't be that hard to just replace marriage with civil unions for everyone, but that wouldn't achieve Yasmin's broader goal (at least as I understand it), which decoupling the various benefits of marriage from the one-size-fits-all package that we currently call marriage (but could just as easily call civil unions).

I'm really torn on that broader goal--I don't like the idea of the state valuing certain types of relationships (two people who are sexual, financial, emotional, and perhaps parenting partners) over others, I also think that it would be logistically difficult to force everyone to "design their own" package of mutual responsibilities, as well as having the dangers of removing some of the protections of that package from the people it's supposed to protect--people who give up income to raise children, the children themselves, etc.

While I whole-heartedly agree with Yasmin that progressives should be arguing for some of the benefits of marriage to be available to all people regardless of relationship or employment status (i.e., health care), but I've never seen a clear (and relatively simple) plan for how to deal with some of the other benefits of marriage/civil unions if we were to get the state out of the relationship recognition business.

For example, I'm not clear that it makes sense to, say, argue that we should be able to pass our property on to whoever we want without paying inheritance taxes. Currently, you can pass property on to a spouse without paying taxes, which seems fair, but if you want to pass it on to your children they pay inheritance taxes, which also seems fair. How do we deal with this if we get the state out of the marriage (or civil union) recognition business?

Reformed Ascetic | November 8, 2008 2:35 PM

Philosophically I agree in principle that individuals should be able to bind themselves to each other in ways that make sense for their circumstances.

However, that most obviously also includes marriage.

Not only are the legal parameters of marriage and divorce already established, LGBT people grow up in the same society as everyone else. And we all still live in the same society as everyone else. Many not only want to marry but really need the advantages that come with it.

I have to admit that marriage as an issue did not occur to me until a few years ago, but once it was brought to my attention the obviousness of the issue was startling. And more pragmatically, this is an issue that is both winnable and that will have a real impact.

The Right is not fighting this issue arbitrarily, but because they know when we win it, it will have meaningful repercussions on society's relationship to LGBT people.

If you think people oppose gay marriage because they fear it might be destructive to the institution, try telling them that you actually want to deconstruct that institution.

It actually wouldn't be that hard to just replace marriage with civil unions for everyone, but that wouldn't achieve Yasmin's broader goal (at least as I understand it), which decoupling the various benefits of marriage from the one-size-fits-all package that we currently call marriage (but could just as easily call civil unions).

I don't think your assertion is factually accurate. To accomplish what you suggest would require reviewing and in some instances changing every line in the US Code, The Code of Federal Regulations, Treaties, UCMJ, Regulations, Codes, Manuals, and operating instructions of every branch of the Armed Services and the Coast Guard, State Code, State Regulations, Corporate charters, policy manuals, instructions, and so on.

Administratively it is much easier to just call us married spouses.

At least in many states, when they want to change the definition of something or replace wording they pass a law that includes something like "Wherever in the general statutes the terms XYZ or any other term that denotes XYZ are used or defined, ABC shall be included in such use or definition" or "Wherever in the general statutes the terms XYZ or any other term that denotes XYZ are used or defined, ABC shall be included in such use or definition." They don't have to go through and change the language of every law--they just pass one law saying the language shall be considered to include the new concept.

Reformed Ascetic | November 8, 2008 5:58 PM

You are absolutely right that this is often done.

But the more agencies, laws and variations in language that need to be addressed, the more likely it is for legal problems to result.

Maybe there is someone on here that can specifically address the legal feasibilities in this.

And personally I think it would be harder to get married couples to accept that they now have CUs than to get marriage for gay couple.

And personally I think it would be harder to get married couples to accept that they now have CUs than to get marriage for gay couple.

I agree.

Reformed Ascetic | November 8, 2008 4:50 PM

This is also related to Andrew Sullivan's argument as to why allowing gay marriages doesn't throw open the gates to open sort of poly-union.

He argues that American society and institutions (from insurance companies to divorce courts) are set up to deal with two-person unions, but that the infrastructure just doesn't exist to deal with multi-partner combinations.

Greg makes a good point that not only would society oppose changing existing marriage statuses, but that dealing with the repercussions would not be as simple as it may appear.

American society may well decide at some point to change the way these things work. But for now, asking people to give up their own marriage status and benefits is much tougher than arguing to share in the same.

As a point of information, I'm pretty sure the Arkansas unmarried couples adoption ban did _not_ cover single people. In other words, single (or "single") people can still adopt in Arkansas.

Reformed Ascetic | November 8, 2008 2:18 PM

Some of the discussions following the Arkansas vote have been:

Whether LGBT couples will split, or at least be forced to functionally appear to split, in order to adopt.

And whether agents will just interpret gay couples as single regardless since their relationships aren't recognized.

Let's not mention that the increase perhaps was not more gay individuals warming up to conservative policy, but rather the result of bitter Hillary voters.

Sara's indignation is tasty~

god, I forgot. it's all Clinton's fault! thanks for the reminder!

"How dare you?" ;)

Nah, more like stupid fanaticism on the part of SOME of her supporters.

Separate is never equal. Our opponents will chip away at all DP rights until we have none left- not even the right to make medical decisions for one another. One statute recently passed in Virginia even invalidated contracts that were made to provide marriage like obligations.

The anti-gay side has made this an all-or-nothing fight from the beginning. The most influential man in Christendom, the current pope said that every right associated with marriage has to be denied gay people when he was the head of the Roman Inquisition.

If you're ignorant about a subject, do yourself a favor and shut the fuck up about it.

Yasmin, you don't have to marry if you'd rather not, but it should not be legal for a government to actively withhold anyone's right so to do. By making this argument we're not being 'defined by the right', we're demanding equal treatment under the law. The updating of the 'outmoded institution' is quite a separate issue.

I don't think you all are getting Yasmin's point. The point (as I understand it) is not that same-sex couples should have civil unions or domestic partnerships while different-sex couples have marriages, but that we should dismantle "marriage" altogether and fight for people to be able to define their families however they want, without the state imposing as single model. Or am I the one not understanding the post?

This was interesting, Yasmin. It's not so much what you said, but the reactions of some people to what you said. The comments proves that even LGBT (yes, "T") people have a difficult time thinking outside of the box, or beyond binaries. It proves that society's antiquated "norms" are very much accepted by any person, regardless of their sexual orientation or gender identity. It's sad that people who society places "outside the accepted morms," cannot think outside those norms. If we didn't make fundamental changes in society's norms, then we would still have slavery, and this discussion is just another form of slavery.

Yes, Laura..that is exactly what she is saying. After all, many feel that sexual orientation is a full continuum in every person and we all 'chose' our spot on the line. We should also have the right to chose our spot on the continuum of family rights. FULLY, EQUALLY if we want.

Prop H8,ENDA, DOMA, DADT are the 'Stonewalls' and 'AIDS' of this centuries GAY Rights. Let's get strong together and fight for them

PS I a STRAIGHT FOR EQUALITY...advocate. Got to run and get to y towns PROP H8 rally!! Join us.

I can't speak for others. To my understanding, and certainly in the scope of my work, in the world of public health and civil rights, we do not think, nor does science show, that sexual orientation (nor gender identity) is a choice. To be clear: it is NOT a choice.

Further, the issue of same-sex marriage is not about gay or other, it's about equality. While even my own folks keep saying gay, gay, gay, the legal term and the fulcrum of the right is marriage equality. There's no 'gay test' to marry someone of the same sex. The topic of same-sex marriage, for same-sex couples, is marriage equality, equal rights under the law for all.

So, Diego, if it (sexual orientation/gender identity) should turn out to be a choice for some or many - what should we do? Cast them all out onto a drifting island and pretend they don't exist? Strip them of their gay membership cards? Make sure they're never given any rights under the law?

Come on, people, you've got to see your own conservatism and heartlessness for what it is. Look at the ways in which you're (and I mean to address a number of you who've posted so far) demarcating who's deserving of rights and who's not. If that's not a conservative impulse, I don't know what is.

"Membership cards?" We're suppose to have membership cards? I've been queer (in some form) since 1974. Where's my card?

"I guess I didn't get the memo. How come I never get the memo?"

(My little tribute to Stargate SG-1, for those who know.)


Mine's silvery-grey, with a pink holographic triangle. Very flash. It came with the manual.

Reformed Ascetic | November 9, 2008 2:56 PM

I moved recently and I believe my current card was lost in the mail.

Could you please update me on the mailing list?

I tried, I really did. But the people in charge at City Hall tell me you'll have to supply three pieces of proof that you are, in fact, gay, and written affidavits from all previous employers. I tried explaining that the whole point of getting your card back was to prove your gayness, and that the card had been proof, and that they should have records of your status in the first place -- but...what can I say? This is Chicago, where civil servants hear no reason...Welcome to Kafka's pink nightmare.

Thank you, as a bi person I prefer same sex marriage as the term because being married to a woman doesn't make me straight just as being married to a man wouldn't make me gay.

Thanks to those who've responded. And thanks, Monica and Laura - you hit the nail on the head. Yes, I'm asking people to think outside the norms - but it's clear that most of us in a community that used to be about changing paradigms would much rather continue with the same old ones. The possibilities for different configurations have in fact been considered and put to practice in different countries, including our neighbour to the north. Nancy Polikoff's latest, which I've reviewed here, is a guide to crafting new paradigms, and I highly recommend it.

Of course, many of us in the queer *and* straight communities have, for years, been living outside the box. As John D'Emilio put it, "Since the early 1960’s, the lives of many, many heterosexuals have become much more like the imagined lives of homosexuals." You can read the full article here. I believe that the gay marriage fight, as it's currently articulated, puts us back. And by us, I mean society in general, not just queers.

Laura, thanks for the clarification on the Arkansas law - I'll take a closer look at that.

Reformed Ascetic | November 8, 2008 4:37 PM

So the response to people who want to express their personal freedom through marriage should be:

Tough luck. I will not stand up for you because your vision is not transgressive enough. Your reality is not as queer as it could be.

I don't think the community believes that "full dignity, full respect, and full citizenship will come only when gays and lesbians have achieved unobstructed access to marriage" [Emilio]. That seems a simplistic and insulting interpretation of other people's lives. Achieving marriage equality nationally or deconstructing marriage or both at once, will not be the end of the struggle.

And yes, one of the practical issues may be resolved on its own if some form of national healthcare is now achieved.

But standing up for people's freedom of expression also means standing up for their right to legally marry for as long as legal marriages exist. And we can reasonably expect that to be for some time to come.

Personally, if I were defining the agenda, I would probably put other issues ahead of marriage. For instance, I think the financial benefits of something like ENDA may well be greater than the financial benefits of legal marriage (by name or not). And that ENDA could well result in a greater social visibility than marriage equality.

But I am not convinced that I would have been right in doing so. The public progress the marriage struggle is bringing, including the losses and social divisions, is probably advancing LGBT people more than the agenda I would have dictatorially set.

More pragmatically, we are very visibly in the middle of the marriage struggle now and it is obviously very important to large numbers of LGBT people. Our choice now seems to be to give up or win.

Straight people have not been violating the traditional roles of the 50s out of some kind ideological transgressivism. It has occurred through simple pragmatism.

Most LGBT people do not see and not want to see themselves as transgressive either. Does that mean we should force them to conform to the philosophies of people who know better?

but it's clear that most of us in a community that used to be about changing paradigms would much rather continue with the same old ones.
Passive aggression 1 Actual conversation 0
Andy Gilden Andy Gilden | November 8, 2008 3:03 PM

Yasmin's ideas, which I understand to mean a focus on the material betterment of lgbt people as opposed to fighting for the more symbolic (and arguably assimilative) benefits of marriage is a lot more attainable than I think the comments suggest. For example, Canada provides marital equivalent benefits (intestacy laws, property division, hospital visits, etc.) to all common law relationships and does not draw the line between marriage and non-marriage. Partially as a result, Canadians lgbt people have chosen to marry at a surprisingly law rate. See http://beyondstraightandgaymarriage.blogspot.com/2008/09/why-canadian-same-sex-couples-dont.html or read Nancy Polikoff's book for many examples of how the material benefits of marriage need not be contingent upon marriage. Legal reforms throughout the world and increasingly in our country, the marital/non-marital line has become increasingly blurred, and I think this is the best way to simultaneously "spread the wealth around" while not abolishing an institution that many people believe to be sacred.

Thanks to those who've taken the time to respond in a considered fashion, whether you agree with me or not. As to the rest: your righteous indignation and lowbrow sniping reveal more about the paucity of the cause than anything I could have written. Faced with both analysis and cold hard facts, such as the different ways of redistributing benefits without marital burdens that exist elsewhere, you've descended into vitriolic invectives that simply repeat the tired cliches about marriage.

Does it occur to those of you who're so determined to push for marriage above everything else that you're also advocating for shutting out those who don't want to have their lives - and benefits -- dictated by whether or not they choose to marry? Check out Bella DePaulo's website (http://www.belladepaulo.com/)and her book, Singled Out, for the unfair burdens on singles (who, by the way, may also be people with children and elders to care for - although that fact shoudn't make them more worthy of recognition).

To those who blithely state that I don't have to get married if I don't want to: well, that greatly simplifies things, doesn't it? You get scores of benefits for being married - isn't that the whole point of the gay marriage movement? The 1000+ benefits that you get for being married? And let's not ignore the fact that the poor among us, especially poor women with children, are held hostage to ideas like "marriage promotion," which are usually just ways of forcing them to stay in violent relationships.

So let's not pretend that marriage is a harmless little state-sanctioned ritual that people can just opt out of. Increasingly, the most basic elements of life - including health care - are being determined by marriage. I've lost count of the number I know who've felt compelled to marry for their partner's health care (especially when one of them wants to get pregnant), or for citizenship.

Get married if you want to, but at least admit that the institution isn't for everyone and that the gay marriage movement's wholesale adoption of it as the finest and best option implicitly and explicitly negates a range of lives and kinship networks. Worse, the promotion of marriage as it's advocated by the gay community falls back upon tired cliches about monogamy and two-parent households as being the best option for children and society in general.

I voted for Ralph Nader. He believes in equality. Barack Obama did NOT earn my vote. He did more things to tick me off regarding gay issues including saying he's against gay marriage the day before the election than he did to earn my vote. Also, I knew Barack's base would be black voters and they would shoot down or hinder gay rights progress in the Obama administration. 95% of black voters chose Barack Obama and overwhelmingly voted to eliminate gay people's rights in four states. And here we have Yasmin saying gay people should accept crums. How long have gay people accepted crums? For millenia. I am not waiting anymore. I want my rights, NOW!

you may think it sets us back but don't you dare accuse me of wanting 1958.

I want safety and safe guards for my kids. to be honest, marriage is far from perfect.

but my kids are 8, 11 and 13. it keeps them safe now. it keeps my wife to be the one who will get them- no matter what- if I die. it means she can take them to the hospital if they are sick with no questions asked.

you want to strip marriage from the world? I'm with you. I'm happy to see all religious institutions be taken away from government.

you go outside the box. I can't afford to. I have three kids.

I do think all efforts are good- please give me a break and get off your high horse and telling me I can't think progressively enough. you might not agree with me but don't disrespect me.

This won't be understood, Sara. Your having 3 kids and a wife might actually be interpreted as yet another heteronormative abomination in the world of "progressive" queers.

Without reading but a few of the preceding comments I'll just say this. Marriage for gays and lesbians or the privilege to adopt of foster children, it's all the same. Getting either one is a springboard to allowing the other; and that first one takes recognition that we're just the same as anyone else.

We often do not choose our fights, be they for adoption/fostering or marriage, so we must be prepared by simply being the citizens we want the straights to understand that we are.

I seriously wish we could have this discussion without the "How dare you"s and the "You're stuck in 1958"s and the "You're just trying to out-radical everyone else"s and the "I am more radical than everyone else"s floating around. This is a serious discussion that tends to get marginalized in queer forums and this is as good an opportunity to raise these questions as any.

But a couple thoughts on the substance here, though:

1. Those people who are saying that decoupling benefits from marriage is a lot harder than opening up marriage to same-sex couples, well, I don't think they realize just how hard opening up marriage to same sex couples is. We've lost in pretty much every state we've tried, save two, and even municipalities like Salt Lake City are making strides in opening up the benefits of marriage to unmarried couples (without much help from our community, either).

Allowing same-sex couples to marry requires a fundamental paradigm shift for many people, and most of America isn't there yet, and might not ever get there.

2. "Marriage equality" isn't full equality, since many people can't or won't get married but deserve some or all of the benefits currently associated with marriage. Many families are already being formed around alternative structures that aren't encompassed by marriage and wouldn't be even if same-sex couples were allowed to marry.

3. People shouldn't have to get married to gain the benefits of marriage. Marriage isn't for everyone, but hospital visitation, letting significant other onto your lease, designating power of attorney, etc., should be for everyone.

There are many good reasons not to marry, and those people's choices should be respected.

4. If you get a chance, check out Nancy Polikoff's book "Beyond (Gay or Straight) Marriage." She's doing brilliant work in this field and we invited her to contribute here a while back because of it.

Alex Blaze wrote:

1. Those people who are saying that decoupling benefits from marriage is a lot harder than opening up marriage to same-sex couples, well, I don't think they realize just how hard opening up marriage to same sex couples is. We've lost in pretty much every state we've tried, save two, and even municipalities like Salt Lake City are making strides in opening up the benefits of marriage to unmarried couples (without much help from our community, either).

Except you are forgetting something, Alex. Many of these marriage amendments have been written such that no benefits from government or private companies engaged in governmental contracts are allowable. Thus a fight for one is a fight for all.

We are being marginalized as citizens. It happened from the time I was young in other ways; ways that created a fear of even your own self. Now, without that ability to create a self-marginalized queer society one queer at a time, the religious right is seeking to enter that marginalization into law. We often cannot choose our fights (guess I said that above, too), but we can either choose to fight or lie down and let ourselves be run over. I won't, I did in the past to my own detriment, not any more.

They definitely are related. I'm just saying that when we're on the offensive, we can choose what we push for. And we've had more tangible success in a wider variety off places with the "beyond marriage" strategy than with the marriage one.

Not to say that we should give up. But we do need to broaden our focus.

Reformed Ascetic | November 9, 2008 3:35 PM

I'm beginning to wonder if many of us aren't arguing the same, or a quite similar, point via different language.

Personally, I think the US government should be out of the marriage business. And whether or not marriage is good for society, I don't believe it needs to be encouraged with legal rewards to occur.

And I tend to assume that any effective political leader will grab any strategic advance possible whether they are fighting under the rubric of marriage equality or something else.

I think what I'm saying is that I think the name of "Marriage Equality" for the struggle is probably the most politically expedient given the direction the struggle has taken and that it logically puts the LGBT community in the position of being denied a right rather than possibly asking to remove other people's privileges.

And in much the same way that people complain about trying to achieve marriage rights through contracts, it seems much easier to make use of existing systems than to start building large numbers of new ones. Even if it wouldn't personally do me a lot of good at this point.

I appreciate wishing there was more civility, Alex, but I'm not the one who started the tone.

and when you come after my family- and that's what it feels like- I will not sit quietly.

You may think you're not "out of the box," but in reality you are. There is nothing wrong with that, and you are in a very common situation. If you got everything in the law that you expect to get from marriage, but it is called something else, would that matter? Does the word "marriage" have some mystical, magical power to heal all that ails us? I want you and your wife to have all the rights as a "married" couple. But, there are so many paths to reach that goal. Why can't we be creative in finding those other paths?

separate is never equal.

I won't budge on that.

either abolish marriage completely- fine with me- or have equal access to a government supported institution.

hey, I don't want to serve in the military but I should have the right to.

But, equal is still equal. My life has already made me "separate." I just want to be equal. The rest is just meaningless fluff.

Sara, you are my hero! But I also wanted to add on observation that we are not always the ones choosing where and when we will fight. Many times we end up fighting defensively because we are threatened. These propositions are not battle fields of our choosing so much as the fields where we are being targeted.
I want to add also that I have five kids and I will do anything to protect them. Part of this is simple for me in as much as I want my son to be able to marry the woman or man of his choice because he could go either way.

Reformed Ascetic | November 9, 2008 2:51 PM

I am a single person with no plans to marry at time. If marriage equality across the nation passed tomorrow it would not serve me directly at all. It could well be that some of the alternative forms/solutions proposed would serve me directly. I promise you that I have been single tax payer all of my adult life. I am quite familiar with all the issues, including relying on friends in medical situations.

Solutions that worked culturally/legally in other countries are not necessarily the best solutions for the US. I want some form of national healthcare, but even after that is achieved in its optimal state, it will be substantively different than it is in other countries.

I doubt there are many LGBT people that are truly unfamiliar with the losses in the marriage equality battle, but it seems fair to say the successes (and the time frames involved) have been paradigm changing. I believe it could easily be argued that those municipalities like Salt Lake City mentioned that have broadened access to “marriage” rights have done so in the face of and in response to the marriage equality battle.

Especially given that the rhetoric has become that LGBT people are trying to destroy marriage, as it exists, do you really think it would be less challenging to answer, “Yes, in fact we are.” Not only large portions of the straight community, but large portions of the queer community believes that marriage is stabilizing and good for society, and that society has an interest in rewarding people who marry. Maybe this speaks to why the discussion gets marginalized in queer forums and how successful it would be outside queer forums.

I support the fight for marriage equality not because I live in California, or Florida, or because I have plans to marry, but because I support those who do. I support the fight for marriage equality not because I think it is the defining aspect of equality, but because I am seeing it bring strategic advances across the country.

One of the simplest and most common strategies in negotiating or persuading is going high and being prepared to fallback. Those recent advances in Salt Lake City, which I celebrate, are directly related to other losses.

Thanks to Andy and Alex above for giving the shout out to my book. Indeed, there are lots of models for accomplishing the tangible legal consequences that same-sex couples say they want from marriage. (You can read the introduction to the book online for free at www.beyondstraightandgaymarriage.com/thebook.php) And those models have the potential to protect all the different kinds of relationships that LGBT people form. My single friends are always reminding me that they care about who makes their medical decisions if they are unable to, that their children should not be disadvantaged, etc. The gay rights movement started under the banner of respect for family diversity so that no family deviating from patriarchal marriage would be considered second class. This is something we CAN accomplish. We'll be having a "Beyond Marriage" workshop at Creating Change this year. We won't be bashing those whose priority is marriage, but we will be talking about what's left out of the fight for marriage and what we can accomplish now in the places that ban same-sex marriage as well as the places that allow it. Please join us.

Chris Daley | November 9, 2008 4:03 PM

Nancy -

one of the things I have not heard about up to this point (and that may simply be because I'm not looking hard enough for the information) is what proactive steps have been taken to adance the Beyond Marriage agenda? It's been two years since a large group of folks issued the Beyond Marriage statement, but I have not seen information about which local jurisdictions are being approached by that group of folks to implement some of these ideas (either as municipal employers recognzing larger definitions of family, policies regarding how local agencies and health care facilities recognize families, or changing local laws to more broadly define family in that jurisdiction). To date, I haven't heard about any efforts to get companies or universities to implement some of these policies for their employees or students.

Any updates that you - or anyone else reading this - have would be appreciated (to the degree it makes sense to share them in a public forum).

Chris, and others,

That's a great question, about what actual measures are being taken to implement changes at the local and state level. One of the biggest issues facing alternative measures is the lack of funding for something that's considered distracting from the marriage fight, a fight that (in relative terms) is extraordinarily well-funded and (relatively) well-organised. The rest of us have to struggle for crumbs and simultaneously explain the need for alternatives, which is difficult because what we're really trying to do is define "not-marriage." That, as we can tell from the preceding discussion, is fraught with legal difficulties and emotional landmines.

The history of the marriage fight (which tells us a lot about the fate of alternatives) deserves close scrutiny (it's an entire chapter in my own work), but for now it's important to stress that much of its success so far (at least as something that's been portrayed as *the* gay fight) has to do with segments of the gay community knowing how to garner and keep political influence. It also has to do with a powerful section of the community being able to fund the fight.

The idea that the marriage fight has been propelled as the fight for us by a bunch of gay elites is not a popular opinion, I know, because it implies that *everyone* who wants marriage is a rich, white, male HRC-type and that's certainly not the case. Marriage is an emotional, cultural, and legal choice for many who're genuinely invested in the institution. The problem is with the way the marriage issue has been *framed* -- such that it leaves many of us are persuaded that there are no alternatives when, in fact, we were always fighting for some amazing alternatives and beginning to win. We've been persuaded to forget our own history of forging alternatives. In Massachusetts, right after the recognition of gay marriage, several large employers dumped domestic partnership benefits for unmarried gay couples because, well, we could all just get married now. They may have amended that since (and it wasn't a change that swept companies), but it's yet another example of what happens to bystanders (like gay couples who, surprise, don't want to marry) when we insist on marriage as the only possibility.

Unlike some of my friends and colleagues whom I trust and admire, I have no faith in NGLTF doing much to advance the beyond marriage agenda; it's so far been pretty invested in the marriage issue. There's a reason so many of us refer to the annual NGLTF conference as "Creating/Keeping the Status Quo."

I return to John D'Emilio's words "Since the early 1960’s, the lives of many, many heterosexuals have become much more like the imagined lives of homosexuals."

Those words, and the conversation we've been having here (which I'm delighted to see) reminds me of a line from Mattilda Bernstein Sycamore, which I'll paraphrase: "Our dreams have become so small." We used to have bigger and more inclusive ideas about what works for all of us, and, forgive the cliche, our dreams used to inspire others. I feel, sadly, that we're now bent on pushing people into the same one-size-fits-all box.

Chris- The Beyond Marriage group does not have any money or paid staff and so as a group has not done anything other than spread the word wherever possible. Queers for Economic Justice made Beyond Marriage one of its projects, but no one has raised the money to get the project going. In Michigan, where the constitutional amendment bans both same-sex marriage and recognition of unmarried partners, public employers were forced to eliminate domestic partner benefits. So instead they instituted benefits based on a set of criteria that can be met by economically interdependent people who may not be romantic partners. This is the approach that Salt Lake City takes, which I discuss in my book. The Alternatives to Marriage Project (www.unmarried.org) has one paid staff person, and they have produced literature and done some local advocacy.

as always, i worship at the yasmin plate. yes yes and yes. i am less concerned about prop 8 and more concerned about the trashing that some folks are getting because they dare to critique obama's decisions... wow...

Thanks for your post (and I do know Ali - he's wonderful!). It's interesting to me that allowing gays to marry is the pragmatic solution (despite the continuing success of these ballot initiatives) and that any other suggestions are written off as pie-in-the-sky. Before long, we may have to turn to a different paradigm out of necessity.