Gay Marriage? Not for this lesbian.

March 26, 2013

I started this blog years ago, but never really got rolling.  This gay marriage debate has gotten my blood pressure up for various reasons. There’s lots of things I have been wanting to write about.  So here goes…

Gay marriage seems to be catching on more and more among mainstream folks. Several Republicans,
Obama, Biden and even Hillary and Bill have signed DOMA on (after years of no support), and after Bill having signed the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA).  Now that both the Minnesota State House (HF 1054) and Senate (SF 925) are getting ready to vote on legalizing gay marriage, it’s important to know that not every queer person wants to get married, including me. It’s more than “I don’t believe in marriage;” it’s about racism, movement building and white queer organizing strategies, both locally and nationally.I voted against Minnesota’s anti-gay constitutional amendment  to narrow the definition of marriage last November; however I did not actively support it. It’s incredible that over $18 million dollars was spent between Minnesotans United for All Families ($12 million) and Minnesota for Marriage ($5 million). It’s hard for me to wrap my head around $18 million dollars being spent fighting for and against gay marriage when homeless shelters are overflowing, kids go to sleep hungry, people have had their homes foreclosed, and the racial disparities across multiple fronts are enormous here in Minnesota.  Recent polls suggest over 50% of Minnesotans do not want to legalize marriage. In these times of incredible economic disparity, how much more money will be spent by Minnesotans who support gay marriage so more queers can assimilate?Let me be clear – I am not discriminating against my own people. I don’t need the state to legalize my relationship of over 20 years.   Don’t 50% of hetero marriages fail? A lesbian friend of mine from the Bay area married her girlfriend when that small window was open in Cali.  They did the whole nine yards: invitations, ceremony, big party, gifts. When they divorced a year later, they were ostracized within their own community.  How dare you divorce, after everything we’ve done to get marriage? I’ve gone to at least a dozen “commitment ceremonies” over the last decade locally, and less than 50% of these couples are still together.  Not a great track record.The problem is that queer marriage activists have insisted on framing marriage through the lens of single issue identity politics. This is the 21st century and the most successful organizing campaigns for justice have been built around multi-issue organizing, cross-racial alliances, and doing huge and diverse base-building. The only way that progressives will win any form of liberation is if we work together (across race and class lines) and across multiple issues.  Minnesota United has framed the gay marriage campaign as a single issue. If I am wrong, where are the hundreds of thousands of people of color, poor and working class people, and new immigrants that support the marriage campaign? Minnesota United no longer has its sponsor page on-line from the constitutional amendment battle, but I can tell you that there were few organizations of color, immigrant rights organizations or anti-poverty groups listed. If I recall correctly, there were queer groups of color as sponsors, but not organizations like the NAACP, which has endorsed gay marriage at the national level.If these coalitions had been built, then Minnesota United would have chosen to stand with key organizations locally that work for immigrant rights, anti-poverty legislation, and all legislative efforts to end racial disparities.  Organizations that work in coalition watch each other’s backs, and stand in solidarity with each other.  Why else would queer organizations do this? Because queer people ARE immigrants, poor people and people of color, not just middle class white professionals.White queer marriage advocates insist that if we get married, we’ll have access to healthcare, right? Correct. But don’t ALL people deserve healthcare? Why should the privilege of marriage grant you healthcare in this country?  Not every queer person wants to be just like all those happy heterosexual married white middle class couples, in nice houses with picket fences and 2.5 kids. Queer/GLBT peoples are sexual outlaws – that’s what has defined us historically. We cherish many kinds of relationships beyond monogamy. The state has historically defined us as sick, broken, perverted and people who destroy “real” family. The institution of marriage is also about preserving inheritance rights for people who have accumulated stuff.If you’re a white middle class professional with property to pass on, this is perfect. But I wonder where poor and working class GLBT folks fit in this equation.  If we really care about having stuff to pass on, why aren’t we standing with the Welfare Rights Committee, and its 34+ organizational sponsors and over 1,000+ individuals) to raise welfare grants in Minnesota?  It’s been 27 years since any increase for families living in poverty. Families (mostly women and children of color) on MFIP live at 70% below the federal poverty line. These families would like to have some middle class privilege, too. And yes, some of them are queer.Gay marriage advocates think about kids too, because many are parents. If you’ve got kids, you want them to be safe and have the institution of marriage to back them up, right? Queer-friendly organizations like Gay, Lesbian and Straight Education Network (GLSEN) are working to do this. Queer parents, just like straight parents, want their kids to do well academically in school. Will gay marriage help? I’m not sure, but if GLBT parents care about their kids’ education, why aren’t they standing up to end racial disparities in public education? Locally, why aren’t GLBT marriage advocates standing with Minnesota Minority Education Partnership (MMEP)?  Check out their 2012 State of Students of Color and American Indian Students Report  to see what the racial disparities look like at every level of public education in Minnesota. Within the next two years, 20% of Minnesota high school grads will be students of color.  And yes, some will be children of queer parents and/or queer themselves.What if your queer partner is an undocumented immigrant?  Marriage will help him/her get that green card, right? Perhaps, but I wonder if white GLBT people imagining “saving” brown colonized peoples by marrying them? Why aren’t queer marriage advocates challenging ICE (U.S. Immigrant and Customs Enforcement), the federal agency that has detained more than 400,000 people under the Obama administration  In thinking locally about immigrant rights, we had another right-wing constitutional amendment on the ballot last year. Thankfully, the voter I.D. amendment was defeated.Where were gay marriage advocates and Minnesota United? No where to be found.Let me go back one more time to why I’m not interested in Minnesota’s gay marriage legislation. As I said earlier, I’m not a fan of marriage. Period. But what’s more important to me is liberation for all of us. Dr. King said it best, “None of us is free until all of us are free.”  The political strategy of Minnesota white queer marriage advocates is not about freedom for all of us.  How else could queer marriage been framed? We all agree that queer families have been pathologized by the state.  Why aren’t we thinking about what other families have been pathologized by the state?  Single parent households (especially women of color-led) have been defined by the state as broken since the social welfare system originated.  Same for poor families that have been told that it’s their fault for being poor. If gay marriage advocates had chosen this strategy, we might have been able to form a transformational coalition that might have been able to work for more dramatic social justice initiatives.There’s also one last thing.  As long as DOMA – the Defense of Marriage Act – exists federally, all these questions about queer marriage are moot. GLBT Minnesotans will not get any of the 1,000+ federally legislated perks until DOMA is repealed, even if queers get the right to marry here.  Once we cross state borders, we are not protected. DOMA defines marriage as the legal union between a man and woman. The Supreme Court is taking up the legality of DOMA right now. It certainly would be interesting if DOMA were overturned…though I’m still not interested in getting married. Nor do I think that throwing out DOMA will help all of us be free.


August 20, 2010

Lake Superior, crashing waves, grey fog. This is one of my favorites places on the earth. I’d love to live on the shores of a powerful body of water. This is my first post, and my first attempt to blog.

Praxis is reflection and action in some kind of balance. Paulo Freire articulated this notion in Pedagogy of the Oppressed.  I try to live my life practicing praxis. I teach social justice to undergrads at the U. of Minnesota. Balancing theory and practice is difficult. Students think theory is inaccessible and not connected to their lives. And for good reason.  Most academics teach the most inaccessible theories – the more esoteric, the better. It often makes students feel stupid.  It often makes me feel stupid too. bell hooks, in Teaching to Transgress, taught me that theory has to be about our lives because good theory shapes all the choices we make. Many social justice organizers think theory isn’t important. However, without theory to guide our lives, we’d make thoughtless decisions, and take actions randomly. The most successful organizers use theory wisely.  What’s worked in the past? For whom? Can we apply it to today’s struggles for social justice?  Do we have to be more visionary to create the changes we need to make this world more just?

I think this blog will address many of these questions.  We shall see.