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beyond rhetoric

July 28, 2006

A statement was recently written by a group of 20 queer writers, educators, and activists (among other professions) called “Beyond Marriage.”

We offer this statement as a way to challenge ourselves and our allies working across race, class, gender and issue lines to frame and broaden community dialogues, to shape alternative policy solutions and to inform organizing strategies around marriage politics to include the broadest definitions of relationship and family.

According to the website, the statement was a product of a meeting held in April to discuss marriage politics in the US. The statement, a summary of which you can read here and the full version of which you can read here, is remarkable in the way that it manages to frame queer politics of marriage, family, and inclusivity in a productive and realistic way:

All families, relationships, and households struggling for stability and economic security will be helped by separating basic forms of legal and economic recognition from the requirement of marital and conjugal relationship.

Their critique is extensive and yet totally on target:

The Right’s anti-LGBT position is only a small part of a much broader conservative agenda of coercive, patriarchal marriage promotion that plays out in any number of civic arenas in a variety of ways ­ – all of which disproportionately impact poor, immigrant, and people-of-color communities. The purpose is not only to enforce narrow, heterosexist definitions of marriage and coerce conformity, but also to slash to the bone governmental funding for a wide array of family programs, including childcare, healthcare and reproductive services, and nutrition, and transfer responsibility for financial survival to families themselves.

It’s often difficult to talk about queer “opposition” to the current framework of the gay marriage debate without coming off like a self-righteous radical contrarian. I didn’t really mention that part of my struggle with this debate in my post about some of these issues. I really feel like this is a statement I can really put my weight behind. It addresses the different types of families that would not benefit from same-sex marriage as it is currently being proposed and why the debate really needs to be widened. And unlike so many “anti-“ arguments, it actually proposes something different and still concrete, even bringing in examples of specific states that have made strides in reframing this debate to include different permutations of “family” (Arizona, South Carolina, and Utah). This was one of my favorite parts, specifically because I had no idea that there were actual examples of efforts towards legislation in the US that sought to broaden the term “family” and address the large context of the gay marriage issues, (adoption, health care, etc.) which often seem to exist in a sort of gay marriage vacuum, unrelated to other issues/people. They end the section of those summaries with:

Different regions of our country will require different strategies, but we can, and must, keep central to our work the idea that all family forms must be protected – not just because it is the right thing to do, but also because it is the strategic and winnable way to move forward.

The statement has some impressive signatories, over 250 of them, including a number of my former professors; academics through whose writings I learned a great deal about queer and gender theory, history, and Jewish feminism; Barbara Ehrenreich (who spoke at my commencement), and Leslie Feinberg; among many others. I like. My only question, of course, is what does this document do for us now that it exists? Firstly, you can sign it yourself here. After that I’m not sure what else. My guess is that they wrote it to garner support and publicity for a movement, yet to be created, which might complicate (in the good way) the framework of the current marriage debate. I’m not holding my breath, but if nothing else, it’s an interesting and inspiring read.

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