I used to say I didn't care much about gay marriage. In a purely theoretical and extremely self-serving sense, this is at least somewhat true: I don't want to get married, I don't feel particularly enamored with marriage as a concept or an ideology, and I think that gay rights groups spend a lot of time and energy and money on gay marriage that could be put towards obtaining the rights that marriage guarantees for everybody instead of just those of us who decide to get hitched. But it's obvious that, regardless of how I feel, marriage is the battleground right now, the place where we are losing badly and repeatedly. I can accept that that's the place where conservatives and liberals and straight people and queer people are all overlapping enough to make it a more or less universal issue.
I read an article today in which (after noting that Californians voted pro-chicken and anti-gay) the author says that the blame rests on the shoulders of gay activists from not reaching out enough to other communities, specifically the black communities that voted overwhelmingly against Prop. 8 in California. True? Did we gays forget to cover our asses, electorally speaking? Maybe. I have no way of knowing, really. But it still made me bristle. Obviously mutual support is incredibly important, but it makes me angry that we and countless other groups throughout history have had to fight so damn hard for basic rights, and we can still be blamed for our own failure because nobody would ever vote for gay marriage unless we reached out to them. Of course, not being able to get married and access that privilege is nothing compared to not being able to vote, to have good education or pay or housing. So what's the big deal? Why do I, along with so many others, care so damn much? Is this in any way comparable to the struggles black people and other minorities have faced in the past, present, and future?
(As a side note, is the focus of the media attention given to the black vote for Prop. 8 bothering anyone else? Okay, so the reason it's such a big fucking deal that Obama won the election is that there are long-standing and deeply-rooted inequalities that are still in place for black people in racist America. And everybody learns in, what, high school government class, that a wide range of factors such as income, education, and geographic placement influences people's votes. Can we put these two thoughts together please? I agree it's somewhat ironic that gays voted for a black man and black people voted against gay rights, but let's talk about the reasons, please.)
So, to recap: marriage is, as a right, not that super important to me on its own, or at least it wouldn't if I wasn't upset for all those who actually do yearn for a big churchy wedding and accompanying dental care. So why am I so upset about all of this? Can't I be content to bitch about Arkansas some more? But consider this quote from The Commitment by Dan Savage, a book about gay marriage that considerably clarified and informed my personal thoughts on marriage as an institution. From an article by Jonathon Rauch for the Washington Post following an amendment in Virginia that banned gay people from entering into any contract that might bestow a marriage-like privilege (this includes signing durable powers of attorney and leaving each other property in wills, among other things):
"To abridge the right of contract for same-sex partners, then, is to deny not just gay coupledom, in the law's eyes, but gay personhood. It disenfranchises gay people as individuals. It makes us nonpersons, subcitizens. By stripping us of our bonds to each other, it strips us even of ownership of ourselves."
This is not about weddings. This is not even so much about acknowledgement of relationships, or health insurance, or wills, although those things are important too. This is about personhood, and the fact that a majority of Americans are willing to deny things that are widely considered basic human rights and privileges (in America, anyway) to gay people just because of who we like to sleep with. What right does somebody I've never met in California have to determine me less human because of my sexual desires? I have never felt so low or disgusted or bitter as I do right now. Just as everything seems to be moving forward, we appear to have determined that the validity of part of the population is less important than the rights of chickens. I'm happy for those chickens, but next time let's vote for all people to have room to spread their wings, too.