Archive for the ‘marriage’ Category


Complicating the Gay Marriage Debate

August 2, 2007

Forgive me, loyal readers of saltyfemme. I’ve written about this topic so much I have queer self-righteousness coming out of my ears. But the Feministe readers haven’t heard me rant yet, so now I’m giving them their turn. Reposting here. Feministe readers who have moseyed on over, find more of my gay-marriage rants here:

Recent Ruminations on Gay Marriage (June 2006)
Beyond Rhetoric (July 2006)
NYTimes on Those Rebel Gays (July 2006)
Wedding Bells Ring Again (October 2006)
Potlucks, Purim, and Gay Marriage (October 2006)
Blame it on the Gays. Seriously! (November 2006)
Maybe DOMAS Should Address This Instead? (November 2006)
Whose Agenda is GENDA? (July 2007)

And now, the post from Feministe:

There are supposed to be two sides to this marriage debate. Either you’re a member of the Religious Right and are opposed or you’re a good liberal and are in favor. Right? Not so much. I’ve seen a huge range of opinions on this issue from queers who don’t identify with either of these mainstream opinions. I wish that more of these voices were represented in legislative actions and in media representations.

Gay marriage advocates are fighting for the same rights that straight people already have. I’d like to question why straight marriage is the model from which to build gay marriage. Is it convenience? Strategy (i.e. what is winnable?). Why aren’t we fighting for more, why aren’t we representing nontraditional family structures instead of just traditional nuclear family structures? (and no, I’m not talking polyamory right now). What good is the right to share health insurance with your partner when millions of Americans don’t have health insurance to begin with? Furthermore, why should the government get to police who shares our benefits, who can inherit from us, and who can adopt our children? Considering that only 25% of families in this country follow the traditional nuclear model, wouldn’t we be better off instead seeing what might be best for everyone? How do (or will) co-parenting families, cohabiting adults in non-romantic relationships, single parents living with a sibling, and elderly parents living with their child and their child’s partner (among countless other permutations of family) benefit from a marriage that only provides rights to two romantically involved adults? Furthermore, it seems ironic that in a time when it seems like every straight person is avoiding marriage like the plague, gay people are fighting hard.

Academic John D’Emilio puts these changes into historical context brilliantly in his November/December 2006 article in the Gay and Lesbian Review, The Marriage Movement is Setting Us Back. D’Emilio actually argues that gay marriage goes against history. He explains:

Since the early 1960’s, the lives of many, many heterosexuals have become much more like the imagined lives of homosexuals . Being heterosexual no longer means settling as a young adult into a lifelong coupled relationship sanctioned by the state and characterized by the presence of children and sharply gendered spousal roles. Instead, there may be a number of intimate relationships over the course of a lifetime. A marriage certificate may or may not accompany these relationships. Males and females alike expect to earn their way. Children figure less importantly in the lifespan of adults, and some heterosexuals, for the first time in history, choose not to have children at all.

These new “lifestyles” (a word woefully inadequate for grasping the deep structural foundations that sustain these changes) have appeared wherever capitalism has long historical roots. The decline in reproductive rates and the de-centering of marriage follow the spread of capitalism as surely as night follows day. They surface even in the face of religious traditions and national histories that have emphasized marriage, high fertility, and strong kinship ties.

The gay marriage movement has also been accused of racism and classism and of taking up so much of the mainstream LGBT movement’s time and energy that it has little left for any other issues (trans rights in NY state, for example).

Is gay marriage the way to go? Can’t we embrace the fact that the nuclear family structure is no longer useful for so many people in this country and legislate to be able to support and be supported by who(m)ever we want and choose? To be clear – I support anyone who wants to celebrate their relationship privately or with their community. In the post, I am addressing gay marriage in a legal sense, the problems I have with the government policing our relationships and the rights that those relationships bring us.

I don’t want to leave out last summer’s Beyond Same-Sex Marriage (BSSM) statement, the most widely-read document that I know of that questions the legitimacy of the gay marriage movement and its “you’re either with us or against us” mentality. The BSSM executive summary is certainly worth a read. Its signatories advocate for:

  • Legal recognition for a wide range of relationships, households and families – regardless of kinship or conjugal status.
  • Access for all, regardless of marital or citizenship status, to vital government support programs including but not limited to health care, housing, Social Security and pension plans, disaster recovery assistance, unemployment insurance and welfare assistance.
  • Separation of church and state in all matters, including regulation and recognition of relationships, households and families.
  • Freedom from state regulation of our sexual lives and gender choices, identities and expression.

Realistically, this will never pass as legislation, though I don’t think that was the intent of the writers. I believe they wanted to spark a conversation, to bring the gray areas of the marriage discussion to the fore. Since last summer, not much follow-up has been done, save for a few events here in New York (one of which I attended and kept some notes on). Queers, marriage skeptics, if you’re out there, does BSSM speak to you? Is there anything useful (media or legislatively speaking) we can do with it? For all of you — what are your thoughts on gay marriage beyond the “I believe in equality for all people” lines and in light of these issues? Is gay marriage really the path to equality?

cross-posted to Feministe


whose agenda is GENDA?

July 3, 2007

I went to the pride parade this year for the first time in awhile. Last year, the thought of the gay marriage fanfare mixed with the gross commercialism (shiny-chested altoid boys don’t make me feel so proud for some reason), coupled with humid, rainy weather were enough to make me stay away. This year, weather was beautiful and I was on a mission to be a little less judgmental.

OK, so the commercialism is still alive and well, no shock there. And apparently, so was the gay marriage nausea. A friend who marched behind Empire State Pride Agenda (ESPA) noticed that a lot of the marchers’ signs read “GENDA NOW!” As I read over at transadvocate, this was because one side of ESPA’s signs read “Marriage Equality” and the other read “GENDA now.” And surprise surprise, most of the marchers walked with the marriage stuff facing front, so the only people who saw the GENDA part were those marching directly behind ESPA. Curious.

GENDA, for the uninformed, is the Gender Expression Non-Discrimination Act, which is now being pushed in the NY state legislature in Albany. GENDA would offer the same protections to transpeople that the Sexual Orientation Non-Discrimination Act (SONDA) already offers to gays, lesbians, and bisexuals – GENDA would make it illegal in New York State to discriminate on the basis of gender expression in the areas of employment, housing, public accommodations, education and credit. Human rights laws in 13 states now cover transgender people, up from 2 states in 2002. So what gives, why has GENDA still not passed in NY state?

ESPA has been accused of putting significantly more energy and resources into pushing “marriage equality” legislation than trans rights legislation, resulting in years passing and still no legislative protections for transpeople. Donna Cartwright writes in a letter to the Gay City news:

Transgender rights appear to have dropped off the radar of the LGBT community – GENDA has received scant mention recently in the gay press, which is saturated with coverage of marriage equality. And ESPA just seems to be going through the motions. The home page of its Web site has told the story – for three straight weeks, as the legislative session in Albany neared a close, the ESPA site featured no less than seven items about marriage equality, and barely a mention of GENDA, nothing about its prospects this year, and no call on legislators to make it a priority.

Finally, on Tuesday, June 19, after repeated complaints by trans activists, a button was added asking visitors to contact their legislators in support of both GENDA and marriage equality.

ESPA, which has ostensibly included transgender rights in its mission for several years now, is the LGBT community’s leading voice in Albany; its staff, lobbying expertise, and financial power give it considerable clout. With that power comes responsibility – to represent the entire LGBT community.

ESPA ED Alan Van Capelle, in his rebuttal, rattles off some lip service about how hard it is to pass bills in Albany (sorry but duh), then adds in this gem:

To be honest, the issue of gender identity and expression has been a brand new issue for many of our straight allies. They, like much of the rest of New York, have to learn about it and be able to move beyond notions that are usually widely disconnected from the reality of what it means to be transgender.

I’m sorry, but if “straight allies” in California, Colorado, Connecticut, Iowa, Illinois, Maine, Minnesota, New Jersey, New Mexico, Oregon, Rhode Island, Vermont, and Washington can figure out how to write transphobia out of state legislation, can’t New York “straight allies” handle it? (source)

And while we’re on the subject of pandering to hets, I love these gemmy questions on the FAQ page on the GENDA legislation on the ESPA site:

Would the law require that all public bathrooms be unisex?
Would the law force owners of small and family-owned businesses to hire transgender people?
Would the law apply to people renting out a room in their home?

To which all the answers are, of course, no. Let’s make the worried hets feel better: don’t worry, you can still police the ladies’ room! There are still channels through which you can discriminate against transpeople!

Back at transadvocate, I can’t help but nod when I read these words:

So why do we refer to these organizations as GLBT anyway? True, we worked hard over the years in the 90’s to be recognized as a part of the community, but that didn’t mean our entire fight boiled down to being nothing more than a T at the end of an acronym. It’s like saying our entire goal was to be the butt on a pig, with all the significance. Dandy! So why don’t they just advertise just GL or GLB? Sure, it’s not PC. But what the hell good is being PC if all it requires is just saying “I’m GLBT” and never giving it another thought (at least not until those screaming trannies throw their asses in the fire when they’re forgotten again)?

ESPA doesn’t have a single trans person on staff or on their board. A token trans person on a board, however, would not make a difference. I’d like to see ESPA make some kind of a visible, concrete effort to push trans legislation through Albany – and admit that perhaps transpeople deserve the same legislative protections that ESPA fought for (and won) for gays and lesbians in 2002. One might even say that such protections should take precedence over, dare I say it, “marriage equality,” especially when you consider that transgender people have extremely high rates of unemployment and poverty (some figures say 70% of transpeople in NY state, though none of the figures I found cited sources for their numbers). This discussion involves race issues that no one wants to mention – like perhaps the fact that gay marriage is primarily a white issue and the discourse surrounding it is directed at white people – and the fact that ESPA doesn’t speak to or represent the vast majority of queers in New York. If only Queers for Economic Justice had the resources and lobby power of ESPA.


Maybe DOMAs should address this instead?

November 8, 2006

Amazing op-ed yesterday in the NYTimes. History professor Stephanie Coontz discusses the history of the role of spouse as sole provider of support, companionship, and emotional connectedness.

It has only been in the last century that Americans have put all their emotional eggs in the basket of coupled love. Because of this change, many of us have found joys in marriage our great-great-grandparents never did. But we have also neglected our other relationships, placing too many burdens on a fragile institution and making social life poorer in the process.

American culture’s current proposed solution to this problem is merely making the problem worse, she contends:

The solution to this isolation is not to ramp up our emotional dependence on marriage. Until 100 years ago, most societies agreed that it was dangerously antisocial, even pathologically self-absorbed, to elevate marital affection and nuclear-family ties above commitments to neighbors, extended kin, civic duty and religion.

Coontz argues that we must reconsider how much we value our non-romantic relationships in our lives, a powerful call in a world of “Defense of Marriage” Acts (DOMA):

Instead, we should raise our expectations for, and commitment to, other relationships, especially since so many people now live so much of their lives outside marriage. Paradoxically, we can strengthen our marriages the most by not expecting them to be our sole refuge from the pressures of the modern work force. Instead we need to restructure both work and social life so we can reach out and build ties with others, including people who are single or divorced. That indeed would be a return to marital tradition — not the 1950s model, but the pre-20th-century model that has a much more enduring pedi- gree.

Full text.


Blame it on the gays. Seriously.

November 2, 2006

Apparently, there are many people in NYC who actually like the idea of accessing benefits without having to get married. Imagine that!

AM New York reported on Monday that ¾ of the registered domestic partnerships in New York City are straight couples.

The city’s eight-year-old domestic partnership law was intended to give some of the benefits of marriage to gay couples.

But over the past few years, heterosexual couples have found the law to be a convenient way to take advantage of city or corporate benefits. Meanwhile same- sex couples may be eschewing domestic partnerships and waiting for full marriage rights.

I must say that even I was shocked at the high percentage – I would have assumed that straight couples who take advantage of the DP option were in the minority among those who have DPs. Apparently not. Why would these couples not just get married? The author considered some possibilities, the first of which was regarding the mental space that marriage entails:

“It gives you flexibility because marriage is a very intricate set of connections that sometimes you need a cutting torch to get rid of,” said Bill Dobbs, a gay activist for the past 20 years. “You have options now, among them are domestic partnership, civil unions. People want other ways to get benefits and be connected.”

Benefits! Aha.

There are several key benefits a couple can receive through domestic partnership, most importantly access to a partner’s health benefits.

Domestic partnerships also allow a person to establish residency in an apartment. Elderly couples find domestic partnerships useful to share benefits while not affecting their pensions from, say, a deceased spouse.

Also, homeless couples that register as domestic partners may qualify for subsidized apartments instead of being sent to dormitories.

My conclusion: the system sucks if people have to demonstrate partnerships (of any kind) just to establish residency or get subsidized apartments or any other of the countless benefits that you can access if you get married or have a DP. My fear is that once gay marriage is established (and it’s only a matter of time), the option of DPs will disappear, leaving people no choice but to marry if they want to access any benefits. Michael Bronski writes (and I quoted this when I wrote about gay marriage in June):

Because [domestic partnerships] were instituted out of a sense of fairness to gay men and lesbians, and not to promote viable economic and ethical alternatives to traditional marriage, it makes perfect sense (to some) that they will disappear as legal civil marriage becomes available across the country. The result is that marriage will not be simply a choice for some gay people, but compulsory if the couple needs any of these benefits, even if they are not inclined to marriage.

I must confess that I don’t know a lot about the specifics of benefits through marriage vs. benefits through DPs apart from what I’ve read in this article, but if anyone knows more, I’d be really interested to learn. I wonder what are the specifics of domestic partnerships that make Bronski call them “viable and ethical alternatives to traditional marriage.”

And to finish, some cold facts, also from the article:

New York City Domestic Partnerships
Opposite sex: 2,147
Same sex: 901
Total: 3,048

Total: 3,066
Opposite sex: 2,251
Same sex: 814

2006: as of 10/25/06
Total: 2,863
Opposite sex: 2,096
Same sex: 767

Full text.


Potlucks, purim, and gay marriage

October 31, 2006

One of the speakers at last week’s “Beyond Marriage” event, Terry Boggis (who directs Center Kids at New York’s LGBT community center) spoke about all the different types of families that she has interacted with since founding the program in 1988. One of the important points she brought up was regarding the families that many LGBT people form for themselves as adults or even as teenagers. It may be because of a family that wholly rejects a family member because they are gay; it might also be because there are many LGBT people who, through breaking boundaries of sexual orientation, also learn to break boundaries of blood relations/friends/family friends/lovers, etc. This is not restricted to LGBT folks, of course, but it seems to happen more frequently among us. (there’s also the whole thing about most LGBT people being unable to have babies naturally but that’s another story I don’t really want to touch at the moment).

All of these experiences are clearly affected, if not determined, by many factors (race, economics, gender, etc.) and so I want to write from my own personal experience. I’d like to say, daringly, that my lessons in queer family began when I was growing up – long before I was exposed to any radicals (!). My parents were members of a Havurah before I was born. This Havurah was part of a larger movement to bring Shabbat t’filot (prayers) back to the community, and made a point to have non-hierarchical leadership and completely egalitarian services. The group had no rabbi and no president. Shabbat and holiday services were held several times a month, each time at a different family’s house. A potluck lunch always followed services. And there were tons of children around. Being in someone’s home, their intimate space, rather than the neutral space of a synagogue, had a profound affect on me. That community of families shared emotional and physical space with each another in a remarkably different way than most American Jewish communities. To this day, I have an aversion to Jewish communities organized around a synagogue structure and prefer the more organic Havurah model. While my parents’ Havurah has since disbanded, their closest friends today are all former members of the now-defunct Havurah. The Havurah families remain interconnected and continue to be a part of each other’s ever-changing lives. They are still growing together, as they age and lose parents and celebrate as their children have their own children.

My family became close with another family in particular from this Havurah, with whom we moved together to Montreal and shared a moving van in the mid-1980’s. We went on vacation with them every winter for over 15 years. Our families continue to depend on each other for many things and do them not simply to “be a good friend” but because it is expected, because we have created a sense of mutual obligation that can only come from a connection that I would call “family.” Some years, one family is more in need. And that, too, happens in biological families, as much as those power imbalances can be very frustrating. Caretaking without conditions is a beautiful and rare thing. And we should treasure that in whatever form it happens to appear.

Which brings me back to another fascinating part of last Monday evening’s discussion. During the Q & A, a man asked why the statement seems to exclude single people. Lisa Duggan responded by pointing out that most of the people who had this criticism of the statement were gay men. Interestingly, the statement is built on a feminist model of “caretaking and dependency,” in which our emotional lives are organized according to who we depend on and who depends on us. Single people, therefore, are obviously included in this framework; even single people have a structure of people around them on whom they depend for support (and who depend on them). I would even argue that the statement is saying precisely the opposite: why should anyone determine that our romantic relationships should be primary over others? Shouldn’t we be able to determine that for ourselves?

In a very literal sense, then, I went to San Francisco this past August not out of the need to “be a good friend” but out of what I feel strongly as a familial obligation. My best friend in the world, the youngest daughter of that family with whom mine moved to Montreal, became very sick. As she is my sister, and as she has taken care of many times in my life, it was my obligation to go. My point here, if I’m making it well, is that there is no reason for us to think of these types of things as ‘being a good friend’ if we do it for someone who is not related to us by blood. Why is the obligation any less of an obligation? Once you get through the tough parts, your bond as family is even stronger. And if the process of ‘getting through’ is long, your family is with you. Biological families, when they are around, are too small for most of our emotional needs. The only non-biological bond that the state (and our culture) values in the same way it does a biological bond is that of marriage. And when each of us thinks of the people in our lives to whom we feel an emotional obligation, the valuing of romantic connections over those other connections feels cheap.

The beauty of the Havurah, for my parents, was creating an organic community based on what they envisioned for their own Jewish community: lay-run, family-oriented, full of spirit, laughter (Purim was the BEST!), Torah, learning, a love for Israel, and home-cooked lunches. And all made up of people who lived nearby. And they pulled it off. They could never be without the bonds they have with their own siblings, parents, and cousins, but the Havurah satisfied a need that biological family could not. Everyone has needs like that, and the lucky ones figure out how to fulfill those needs. Beyond Marriage responds to the myriad ways in which we fulfill those needs: the current push for gay marriage, in my opinion, does not.


wedding bells ring again

October 26, 2006

On Monday night I attended a fantastic event at NYU-Wagner (Graduate School of Public Service) called “Beyond Marriage: Towards a New Policy Agenda for the LGBT Movement.” The panel discussion was the first in-person event following the release of the Beyond Same-Sex Marriage statement that I wrote about back in July, when the statement was released. You can also read my own long post about my issues with the same-sex marriage discussion that I wrote in June. The panelists were 5 of 20 of the co-authors of the statement. They all came from remarkably different ideological places and talked about their own issues with the gay marriage debate as it currently stands. They also shared some of the highlights of the painstaking process of writing the statement. They were:

– Terry Boggis, Director, Center Kids, the family program of The Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender Community Center
– Joseph N. DeFilippis, Executive Director, Queers for Economic Justice
– Lisa Duggan, Professor and Director of American Studies, New York University
– Kenyon Farrow, Co-Editor, “Letters from Young Activists: Today’s Rebels Speak Out,” and Author, “Is Gay Marriage Anti-Black?”
– Amber Hollibaugh, Senior Strategist, National Gay and Lesbian Task Force

I don’t want to reiterate the main points of the statement – I did that in July and if you’d like to know them you should read the statement itself. I would, however, like to share some of my favorite points that were made that helped me better frame this discussion.

· Only 25% of American families fit the traditional nuclear model (one mother, one father, child/ren). The ideas contained in the statement are not for the protection of polyamorous queer folks alone – in fact, they suit more American families than current idealized notions of family do. (Terry Boggis)

· The statement was necessary because so many people were frustrated by having to make a choice between two mutually exclusive sides of a complex discussion – you are either in favor of gay marriage or you are opposed to it, end of story. Many people, given a third option, would choose one that benefits not only the middle- and upper-class monogamous heteronormative gays and lesbians, but benefits all types of families. Liberals/lefties/PC folks/etc. (straight or gay) support gay marriage because their only other option is to be a homophobic bigot!

· This statement is not anti-gay marriage: rather, it envisions gay marriage as being one of many ways “family” is counted.

· The writers of this document disagreed in so many ways. They all agreed that the current discourse was problematic, but for a lot of reasons. The two main things that they wholly agreed on:

1. The definition of “family” in this country needs to be expanded

2. Benefits should not be determined by marriage

· Marriage used to be about the acquisition of property and a means to reproduction. And now it has come to mean something else. But what does it mean? Historian Lisa Duggan: “Marriage is an instrument of neoliberal privatization.” The non-academic version: marriage, as it exists now in this country, serves the purpose of replacing (and therefore privatizing) the welfare state. Marriage is the new anti-poverty program.

· Citizens’ backlash to social services being cut: voting for Defense of Marriage Acts (DOMAs) because clearly the gays should be blamed for the erosion of the American family. (Oh man – this totally made sense when I heard it and now when I write it out, it’s hard to explain. I hope people get this.)

· Amber Hollibaugh: “If you think equality is what you’re aiming for, you’re starting in the wrong place.” We should be seeking liberation, not equality.

I’ve had some thoughts brewing since Monday night about my own notions of queer family and why I feel so strongly about this. I’m hoping I can write some of them down before the weekend. I really wish more people could see this document and use it to spark discussions with their families and friends (however that’s defined!). This stuff is important, and it’s all happening as we speak.


NYTimes on those rebel gays

July 30, 2006

There’s an article today’s New York Times about the gays who question the gay marriage movement: “For Some Gays, a Right They can Forsake.” While the article may be a bit unbalanced (in my opinion), giving a lot of voice to the sexual freedom-loving gays, it does talk a bit about the queer voice calling for a wider definition of “family,” and also mentions the “Beyond Marriage” statement about which I posted on Friday.

some excerpts:

But as the fight for same-sex marriage rages across the country — this month being defeated in the highest court in New York State as well as Washington — the anti-marriage gay men and lesbians say they are feeling emboldened to speak out against what they view as the hijacking of gay civil rights by a distressingly conservative, politically correct part of the gay establishment. They say the gay marriage movement, backed by major well-funded organizations like Lambda Legal, the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force and the Gay and Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation, has drained resources and psychic energy from other causes like AIDS research, universal health insurance and poverty among gay people.


To these activists, the fight for gay marriage is the mirror image of the right-wing conservative Christian lobby for family values and feeds into the same drive for a homogeneous, orthodox American culture.

A sentiment to which Evan Wolfson, executive director of Freedom to Marry, responds:

“My organization is called ‘Freedom to Marry’ not ‘Mandatory Marriage,’ ” Mr. Wolfson said. “Gay people in America can’t really say they’ve rejected marriage in favor of something else, because for most of us it hasn’t been offered.”

And here come the queers at the end, trying to widen the context of this debate:

Other groups, while supporting gay marriage, are using the issue to push for legal recognition of other nontraditional relationships, like unmarried couples of all kinds.

Check out the full article here and read the “Beyond Marriage” statement here. I have tons to say about this issue, particularly about the way it was portrayed in this article, but I don’t want to get into it too much. Briefly, I think it’s interesting that the two main arguments that they showed, the “we don’t want pressure to get married” kind, and the “this is not a broad enough definition of family and/or relationships” kind, represent two very different kinds of homos, maybe polar opposites. Even though I criticize the goals of the gay marriage movement as being too narrow, I recongize that there are hundreds of rights being denied to gay people that straight people have, and I agree that it is completely unfair and yes, unconstitutional. At the same time, I really believe that the this issue is a symptom of a much larger problem in this country, and the gay marriage movement seeks to deal only with that symptom, in a way separating this issue out from and therefore ignoring the larger problem of which it is a part. I agree with folks that argue that this is playing into the Christian Right’s mantra of marriage and monogamy. However, I think the people who really lose out in this battle are those alternative families mentioned in the “Beyond Marriage” statement, and not gay men who are wistfully dreaming of the sexual freedom of the 1970’s and don’t want to be pressured to get married. Annoying as that might be, it doesn’t affect your financial status or your ability to access health care or countless number of other benefits that marriage gives you.