Union Jack: Beyond marriage equality

March 21, 2013

Last week, many liberals were ecstatic after hearing the news that Senator Rob Portman, the reactionary Republican junior senator from Ohio, had changed his stance to become supportive of gay marriage. The abrupt volte-face was apparently provoked by family reasons; after his college-aged son came out to him, Portman came to the realization that he could no longer in good faith work to deny equal rights to millions of Americans.

Many of those same liberals are even more ecstatic now that former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton has declared her support for same-sex marriage. The former first lady and expected 2016 presidential contender made the remarks in an interview with the Human Rights Campaign, the most prominent organization that lobbies for marriage equality.

As one commentator on Facebook put it while linking to the video, “If the LGBT community needed more reasons to support Hilz in 2016!”

I can’t help but genuinely wonder what those other reasons are. I imagine the millions of other LGBT Americans whose lives don’t revolve around their ability to someday get married would too—the ones who have to struggle to get by in the increasingly unequal America of the 21st century, the ones who have to pay off tens of thousands in student debt as they join the growing ranks of the precariat, who have to find a job in spite of existing labor laws that allow employers to discriminate based on sexual orientation.

So would the transgender population whose daily preoccupations still aren’t politically in vogue or the homeless youth deeply impacted by the withering social safety net. A recent study showed that 40 percent of homeless youth identify as LGBT. For all of these groups—the real “LGBT community” that politicians are referring to every time they use that phrase—neither Clinton nor Portman have shown any evidence that they are allies.

It is, without question, both a major achievement and a remarkable testament to the successful organizing efforts of the gay rights movement in the U.S. that such high-ranking figures now support marriage equality. Even as recently as six years ago, Clinton was dodging a question about whether she thought homosexuality was immoral. Today, it seems that support for marriage equality is becoming a part of the basic litmus test for any serious Democratic political contender. Polls show more Americans support gay marriage than ever before, evidence of a historic and undeniably positive transformation in social consciousness.

But there is a tendency for many in the gay rights movement—most often, the upper middle class white males who provide financial backing to multi-million dollar foundations like the HRC—to boil down the LGBT struggle to the issue of marriage. With their insistence on marriage above all else, these LGBT advocates and their high-powered allies often pledge their support (which is then taken as the LGBT movement’s de facto blessing) to politicians that have otherwise shoddy records when it comes to defending low and middle income people—that is, most gay people.

Take, for instance, Democrats like New York Governor Andrew Cuomo or New York City mayoral candidate Christine Quinn, both neoliberals to their very core. Cuomo earned support from mainstream gay groups for his stance on marriage. And yet, his budgets have included historic levels of cuts in social services and laid off tens of thousands of state employees.

Christine Quinn, a lesbian who supports gay marriage, has earned the backing of groups like Emily’s List and the Human Rights Campaign. And yet, Quinn has used her position as City Council Speaker to single-handedly block the passage of legislation that would provide paid sick leave to millions of city employees. And as Harry Enton recently pointed out in The Guardian, Quinn has one of the least progressive voting records of any council member.

Marriage equality is a good thing, but it’s far from the only issue that matters to gay people. So long as the major gay rights organizations and the more privileged LGBT people pretend that’s the case, they’ll likely be giving more and more corporate-friendly politicians a free pass.

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Keith Pullman

Looking forward to more Democrats and Republicans evolving. We must keep evolving until an adult is free to marry any and all consenting adults.