Monday, November 28, 2011

Does the subject of marriage equality put folks at odds?

We had some difficult dialogue today when this article was posted on our website. Here are some of my thoughts around the issue of marriage equality. Would love to hear some of yours!

Equality vs. Accessibility by Sean Leão

Wow! I awoke to read the dialogue around this article and it looks like WE, as a collective community, have a lot to say about the issue of marriage equality. I think this is a difficult topic and can often divide folks in our community, especially as we all have different needs and are in different life spots. As a cancer and self identified romantic, I struggled at first with the idea that some may not champion or agree with the idea of striving for marriage equality. I grew up thinking that marriage was a sacred space to cultivate a commitment to another person, and later after I identified as a lesbian, an arena or political opportunity to gain equal protection under the law, while validating my relationship and shifting the cultural attitude that demonizes homosexuality. Over the last few years this conversation has come up often, and after hearing others dialogue about their individual choices and also reading articles (not so much like this one) around this issue, I have been motivated to opt out of the marriage idea. Not because I don’t think a wedding or some kind of ceremony can be an amazing and powerful experience, but because it’s a way for me to acknowledge the myriad of things difficult with the ideas that the institution of marriage perpetuates.

1) The idea that it’s something you just do as a part of the life cycle! Relationships are hard, and the vows or promises made that support marriage are a lot for anyone. I can’t think of any other type of agreement or contract that allows for such little flexibility, plays into our ideas of ownership/fears/insecurities with “you must love me or stay in this, no matter what happens,” and almost always functions on the idea of scarcity or permanence. The idea that one or both people won’t change or evolve in a way that is no longer a positive or healthy fit, that one or both won’t have attraction and develop emotional feelings toward another, and that a 1:1 relationship model is the best for everyone.

2) With marriage equality for the LGBTQ –and I think this is where it can be difficult–It’s the idea that we are just like YOU. I guess the question that I hear discussed a lot with this is, who is the YOU?  The cis-gender heterosexual?  White?  Middle class or above?  US citizen?  Monogamous?  Able bodied?  When we are talking about marriage equality the question I am forced to ask is, who am I trying to be equal with? What does that look like? Does that even include me? I have heard discussions around the idea that marriage equality would challenge the gender composition of the family structure, the way family relationship dynamics operate. If the lesbian and gay community was able to marry, would that really increase our collective community’s life chances? Would we be more employable? Have less violence directed toward us? Be welcomed in all social spaces, media, etc.? Have better or more access to healthcare, housing, legal status, etc.? Would the oppressive ideas of two person relationships, monogamy, and the assumed pairing of masculinity with femininity dissipate?

3) The idea that it’s OK that marriage continues to be a gateway for services and protections we all need and deserve. Should we be supporting an institution that requires membership to have access to things like healthcare, immigration status, parenting and family structure recognition, inheritance, hospital visitation? As a single adult with no children, healthy, not currently romantically involved with someone who does not have U.S. citizenship or legal residency status, and who more often than not has had access to healthcare benefits thru employers, I think it’s easier for me to willfully opt out of supporting the endeavors for marriage equality, and spend more of my time and resources focusing on campaigns dedicated to getting access to these things for everyone. This is where the life spot and individual needs of our community members come in. If I or my partner was parenting, could be deported or couldn’t find employment due to immigration status, needed access to healthcare regularly, or was ill in the hospital, I would be hard pressed to forgo getting these immediate needs met, especially if I could have access to these things based on a partners insurance benefits, legal residency, or legal recognition of my parental relationship. While marriage equality is not the solution in the long term in regards to how we address the social disparities experienced by so many folks trying to survive in this country, it could be a stepping stone by which to get us to the ideal. Where it becomes problematic is historically when folks are getting their needs addressed they rarely come back to the table to make sure we all get them. While some may get immediate access to these things through marriage, many will not as neither person has benefits/citizenship/inheritance to share with the other. Would we be closer to amending some of these glaring gaps in accessibility if the resources and organizing around marriage equality was backing other things like universal healthcare, changing immigration legislation, legislation surrounding how institutions view family units?

I also acknowledge that as someone who is transitioning and will have my marker changed to M in the future, I will soon enough be able to enter a legal marriage if choose. That being said I don’t think that we as a community have to be on such opposing sides around the issue of marriage equality, and that we can more often than not be on the same side of wanting benefits for all people around accessibility. We don’t have to single each other out, erase self identification, or devalue the importance of individual needs, to be in support of where people are in terms of needs, or where each of us comes from.

I am still learning about this debate and welcome feedback. This is what I was thinking about today and I hope the discussion continues.......

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