Proposition 8 and the future of equalityPosted: February 10, 2012
Prop 8 was ruled unconstitutional again this week. The case is uncomfortable in a lot of ways, mostly because it should have been decided on standing (the proponents of Prop 8 should not have been deemed to be in a position to bring the case) and because the legal team’s complaint threw in a bunch of arguments that made no sense. The judges decided that it failed even the lowest level of scrutiny and that it served no purpose other than letting same-sex couples know they were second class citizens, which was already clear, thanks.
It’s always nice to see the judiciary give the smackdown to religious conservatives who want to enforce their nonsense on the rest of us, and I am sure this ruling comes as a huge relief to a lot of Californians for whom marriage means something personally or economically. This also goes for a fair number of non-Californians, although as usual with marriage issues the people I see who are most excited about it are straight and seem invested in pretending that the right to marry at the state level is the same as the right to marry at the federal level and that now, finally, they’re not participating in a system that privileges opposite-sex couples.
In the matter of killing DOMA, there is talk about this case going to the Supreme Court. I hope it doesn’t. The original complaint is poorly written and does not address the issues all that well. The California Supreme Court didn’t decide whether there was any kind of constitutional right to same-sex marriage, just that Prop 8 was invalid. It’s a narrow decision and gets the job done fine, which is pretty much what you want a Supreme Court to do.
The case I want to go to the Supreme Court is the SPLC’s case against DOMA specifically, which the Prop 8 complaint does not address. The SPLC’s plaintiffs are two women who were married in California during the period when it was legal. One of them is a veteran who has a service-connected disability. They want to ensure that if she dies, her wife will receive widow’s benefits from the VA and can be buried next to her at Arlington. The SPLC has a short statement and a video up here. This is the case I want to go to the Supreme Court. The Prop 8 lawyers, also known as the Bush v. Gore lawyers, are well known but not as good at this as the SPLC is, and the SPLC has picked a case that will arouse public sympathy especially for being so conservative – a disabled veteran who wants to be treated as an equal among other veterans so her spouse can be buried with her at Arlington? How much more conservative can you get?
The conservative nature of marriage is the major issue I have with it having become the watershed issue for gay rights. In many ways I feel that this is an issue the right wing has chosen for us because not only can they understand it and use it as a panic issue two men having sex! two men having sex! with wedding rings on! but it makes the issue of gay rights very narrow and does not address larger economic inequalities. A lot of the push for gay rights in the 1980s was focused around the AIDS crisis and the lack of available healthcare, and the goal was to get national healthcare so that people who didn’t have money could get care too. The right wing of the gay movement stepped in and said “oh but if we could get married, we could get care!” which certainly works for some people on a small scale but is not a big picture solution as not everyone in need of care is poised to marry a partner with fabulous health insurance just as soon as that pesky ban on gay marriage is lifted. Marriage equality as a solution to lack of access to healthcare is essentially “who do I have to fuck to see a doctor?” writ large.
Further, for me as someone who is against assimilation, fighting for the trappings of straight privilege rather than serious economic and social equality has always struck me as some serious bullshit. While I certainly want the same benefits as people in my economic and professional class, my vision for the future hardly ends there – I want those benefits for everyone, not just for myself and others who are similarly situated. I don’t want economic or healthcare benefits to be conditioned on being in a relationship that you file papers for at city hall, or on having one full time job rather than three part-time jobs, and I definitely don’t want people who are disabled from working or having trouble finding work to be denied care. I don’t want to reinforce a system where your best option is to marry rich.
To this end, I would like the LGBT (and I do mean T, not just the lip-service T) community and our allies to focus on something besides preserving the property rights of the upper middle class, who typically have access to lawyers and wills and whatnot. I want our focus to shift to sustaining our own community and addressing the issues of those among us who are the most vulnerable and try to tackle youth homelessness and suicide. Marriage rights may be nice but I worry a lot more about queer kids with nowhere to go than I do about upper middle class property rights. How much better off would we be as a community and a nation if when the right wing said “you can’t get married, you perverts” we’d dumped our money into shelters and programs for homeless teenagers instead of No on Prop 8 propaganda?
How great would it be to make youtube videos talking about what goes on for queer kids whose parents throw them out and scream about how the right wing is killing children?
How great would it be to respond to Dan Savage’s “It Gets Better” by actually making it better instead of just exhorting kids in terrible situations to hold out and hope it stops, an approach that in some ways reinforces their helplessness and the lack of resources available to them? I wish this project had been around when I was in high school – I wish the internet had been a real thing when I was in high school, for that matter – but for a seriously depressed and isolated teenager, hearing “it gets better later if you just keep taking the abuse now” seems like more bullshit that grownups say because they do not actually understand what’s happening and will not help you.
I am really happy for everyone who is excited to get married in California or feels like this is a step toward a better world – and it is a step! I want people to be able to do this if that’s what they find personally meaningful! – But that said, I hope we can turn our focus now from those among us who have the most privilege to those who are the most vulnerable, and demonstrate that community actually means something to us.