Last week the Supreme Court ruled the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) unconstitutional, making it possible for married gay couples to access the federal benefits they were previously denied – for example, gay federal employees’ spouses can get insurance through their partners, and gay married widows can receive their partners’ social security benefits. Striking down DOMA, as well as California’s Prop 8, moves the marriage conversation forward, opening up the option for states to legalize same-sex marriage.
If you read the headlines, you would think we’d reached a rainbow utopia. EQUALITY AT LAST. AN END TO INJUSTICE. SCOTUS RULES ‘LOVE IS LOVE’. What warm-blooded person wouldn’t get weepy seeing photos of elderly queer couples embracing and sobbing with joy at the news? But the push for marriage hurts the queer and transgender community more than it helps the married gay couples who may now have access to benefits.
Same-sex marriage supporters don’t respond well to criticism. They deflect arguments, saying, “you don’t know what it’s like to have your life partnership valued at a lower level.” That’s true. But gay marriage only benefits people with class privilege.
Even as a radical, I support peoples’ choice to marry. Everyone should have access to the same choices, even when the choices may have problematic cultural or economic consequences. If I had a long-term partner and marriage would help one or both of us access affordable healthcare, I would do it, and that decision is practically a given for couples with children. I support the strategy of working with what you’re given in order to access resources you need, and I will support my survival and the survival of my loved ones at all costs.
However, the “equality” narrative is problematic. It has damaging consequences on our communities. Same-sex marriage does not create equality; it changes what inequality looks like. It does not even make married people equal to other married people. If two people without healthcare get married, they are no closer to accessing healthcare than they were before. The inequalities perpetuated by marriage greatly impact people of color. Although people of color make up a third of the population, they account for 57% of the population in poverty, and therefore have less access to healthcare, housing, and economic stability.
Like most other government-approved systems, marriage favors wealthy white people over everyone else. Marriage does not strengthen the LGBTQ community and all of the diverse and complex identities that community encompasses. Instead, marriage enforces the messed up hierarchies within the LGBTQ community, and restricts the money, resources, and political influence to the people at the top.
Couples in gay marriages face higher poverty rates than couples in straight marriages. People of color in gay marriages have significantly greater poverty rates than white people in gay marriages – Latina lesbians have three times the poverty rates of white lesbians, and Black lesbian couples report a median income of $21K less than white lesbian couples. Furthermore, transgender people, married or not, disproportionately suffer from poverty at soaring rates – 65% of trans* people are unemployed, making it impossible for most trans* people to access adequate healthcare.
DOMA is struck down, and now white liberal America is erupting in celebration. But the roar of these celebrations is drowning out important conversations, like the fact that the Supreme Court struck down the Voting Rights Act the day before, legalizing racial discrimination in state elections. For years, gays and lesbians advocating for same-sex marriage have overshadowed or intentionally silenced groups concerned with issues other than marriage. These issues include job and housing discrimination, youth homelessness, HIV and AIDS, addiction and substance abuse, everyday violence at the hands of individuals and cops alike, and a growing number of queers facing state-sanctioned violence within the prison industrial complex.
The push for same-sex marriage works directly against economic justice, politics of anti-oppression, transgender rights, and marginalized queers suffering at the hands of a merciless ‘justice’ system. Instead of asking what we can do to challenge systems that violently oppress poor people, people of color, and gender non-conforming people, the greater gay and lesbian community is begging for admittance to and acceptance within these systems.
This is not an attack on married, or soon-to-be-married gays and lesbians. Individuals should do whatever they need to do to obtain economic security and personal comfort. But if this is your situation, remember to ask: “why do I, as a married person, have more of a right to access healthcare, retirement benefits, parenting, and affordable and safe housing with my partner than someone who is not married?”
You can simultaneously celebrate you or your friends’ newfound access to basic rights while also demanding that everyone deserves these rights. Criticism born out of compassion brings the LGBTQ movement to a new level of recognizing all the people within it – instead of just the people who are wealthy, white, and legally allowed to marry.
Certain facts and statistics in this piece were sourced from several awesome people and groups, including Against Equality, Black Girl Dangerous, Nia King, Anders Zanichkowsky, and Vera Kelsey-Watts. Thank you for the information as well as the general inspiration.