Forty-five years after the historic Stonewall Rebellion, same-sex marriage has eclipsed all other LGBTQ campaigns as the single-issue that will bring us to “equality.” As a queer person who is not only invested in augmenting my life opportunities but also those of my communities, I have come to reconsider my support for same-sex marriage. Like many of you reading this article, I really believed the hype around marriage “equality” as a mechanism for change that would parallel our experiences with our heterosexual counterparts. But after doing a lot of thinking and research, I realized that the hundreds of millions of dollars that have been spent on the campaign for same-sex marriage over the past two and half decades would have been better utilized saving lives. Same-sex marriage will not solve teen homelessness, economic disparities, HIV/AIDS, the prison industrial complex, healthcare access, pinkwashing, violence against queer and trans* people (mostly of color), and racist immigration laws. Rather, the advocacy for this institution stands to benefit mostly gay, mostly white, and mostly wealthy folks who are often at the helm of the metaphorical ship that is the gay agenda. Don’t get me wrong; I believe that long-term monogamous relationships are a fabulous way of structuring a family, but that doesn’t make them inherently more authentic or valuable than other family structures. By assimilating into this civil, conservative institution as queers, we are not only reaffirming its existence but also perpetuating the inequalities that it reproduces.
Civil marriage is a coercive institution that, under the paradigm of “free choice,” distributes rewards and punishments based upon whether one participates. Under this system, the State deems particular family structures, relationships, and sexual behaviors as “acceptable,” which allows them access to 1,138 benefits, while other family forms are deemed contemptible and are often criminalized. Historically and presently, marriage has been and is used to consolidate and preserve power, property, and wealth amongst those who already have access to it. Same-sex marriage is no different. We forget that our current iteration of marriage hurts many heterosexual relationships: single parents trying to get on welfare, extended family members trying to get custody of loved ones, and friends denied visitation rights at hospitals. These are all examples of a systemic failure to recognize the validity of relationships outside of the institution of marriage.
One of the many faulty components of the marriage argument centers on healthcare access. Many have heard the common narrative of a person diagnosed with a very serious illness and then finding that their partner’s healthcare provider denies a life saving treatment because their relationship is not officially recognized by the state. Same-sex marriage in this instance is touted as not only a way to legitimize a queer relationship, but also as a way to address the very real need of health equity in the lives of queer people. Yet this narrative rests on a presumption that should and must be addressed. What happens if neither partner had access to healthcare? And why is healthcare access tied to marital status? Because most people tend to date within their own class status, most uninsured and unemployed people do not have partners with healthcare benefits. Looking to marriage as a solution for being uninsured or having limited access to healthcare goes against and renders invisible some of the amazing radical queer history of the past 40 years. Just as queer activists advocated at the height of the AIDS crisis, we should be fighting for universal healthcare that allows queer individuals admittance to life saving treatments. Central to the progress that must be made is the inclusion of unique healthcare needs of trans* persons, including hormone treatment and surgery.
At this point in the piece, I can imagine that you might be thinking, “Well isn’t this at least a step in the right direction?” This may be one of the most heartbreaking questions I hear. When one uses the “at least” debate, it justifies the violence that certain people face based on their relationship status and abandons those who do not partake in the marriage system. As it stands, the gay movement’s push for marriage “equality” prioritizes the lives of the most privileged while continuing to ignore the vast majority of the community—many of whom are struggling to simply survive.
Marriage equality is not a social justice movement, which is what queer people need now more than ever. A law changed in the legal books or a marriage certificate will not prevent me, a partner, or a loved one from being ridiculed, bashed, or even murdered in the streets. It will not dismantle the medical industrial complex that ties healthcare to relational status. It will not provide solace for queer teens whose intimate family structures are often a source of teen homelessness, depression, and suicide, and can produce the most violence. It will not address the police’s targeting of queer and trans* people by the police who are then sent to prisons at higher rates. Fitting in the legacy of the Stonewall Rebellion, our QUEER social justice movement, in the most revolutionary sense, must prioritize the lives of the most marginalized in solidarity with anti-racist, feminist, anti-colonial, and economic justice movements.