Get hitched or get ditched!

While dramas over gay marriage continue to play out in the States, some members of the queer community have different goals

Feature by Mattilda Bernstein Sycamore | 08 Feb 2010

My mother, a straight white woman in her early sixties, recently moved to a newly gentrified area of Washington, DC. The formerly black neighbourhood is filled with young white professionals, and my mother’s building is heavily populated by wealthy gay men. Not surprisingly, the busy pavement is a popular spot for canvassers. The other day, my mother encountered a smiling gay man enquiring, “Are you interested in gay rights?” When she stopped, he asked her to support gay marriage with a financial contribution. My mother told him she believed gay people should have the same rights as straight people – hospital visitation, tax breaks, inheritance rights, healthcare, and the rest – but she didn’t think this should only happen through marriage. The canvasser explained that marriage would help gay people to become part of the mainstream. My mother asked: what about gay people who aren’t mainstream?

When I came out to my mother 18 years ago, she urged me to see Charles Soccarides, the famous conversion therapist. Her path from liberal homophobe to potential advocate of non-mainstream queers is unfortunately not a common trajectory. As US gay organisations have become obsessed with access to straight privilege at any cost, the disastrous institution of marriage – crucible for straight conformity, wife-beating, child abuse, and other forms of domestic terrorism – has become the ultimate status symbol for successful gays. They’ve shifted funding away from essential services like AIDS healthcare, sex education, drug treatment, domestic violence prevention, youth and senior programmes, trans health, counselling, and homeless care. Crucial struggles like the fight against US militarism, mass incarceration, and anti-immigrant hysteria are pushed to the margins of the gay agenda, which valorises the right to serve in the military, the need to further empower a criminal legal system through hate crimes legislation, and marriage as the ultimate solution for citizenship woes.

In California in 2008, gay marriage advocates (and their straight allies) spent over $43 million fighting against Proposition 8, which sought to overturn a court decision legalising gay marriage; their ads featured an endless array of cookie-cutter straight-acting gays spouting patriotic “we’re just like you” rhetoric. Proposition 8 passed. You would think this would have inspired a shift in strategy, but what did these organisations decide they needed? More funding!

Now we’re treated to another media charade as the fate of Proposition 8 lands in Federal court, and gay marriage maniacs battle it out with crazed homophobes to decide who deserves the right to get hitched to the state. Meanwhile, everyone outside the mainstream gets ditched.

Mattilda Bernstein Sycamore is the author of So Many Ways to Sleep Badly and the editor of That’s Revolting! Queer Strategies for Resisting Assimilation and Nobody Passes: Rejecting the Rules of Gender and Conformity.