Saturday, June 25, 2011

Now I can get married. No I do not thank Governor Cuomo

I'm writing this late Friday evening, an hour or so after the New York state legislature finally passed the marriage equality bill, legalizing same-sex marriage. This is a great victory--for which full credit goes to our community, to our 42-plus years of fighting, organizing, mass mobilizations, our struggling angry strong proud LGBTQ people. No credit is due to New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo. In fact, the way that this vile vicious union-busting anti-worker anti-poor program-cutting reactionary maneuvered his way into the position of appearing as the hero, the leader, the great man who handed us this law is in my view the most brazen display of demagoguery mounted by any politician in a long time. Here he is--one day after forcing the state employees' unions to sign off on a raft of terrible givebacks, in the throes of attacking the working-class students of  SUNY and CUNY by cutting budgets and raising tuition, here he is gutting social programs left and right, pushing the kind of assault against the working class of New York state that not even the last Republican governor could get away with--and lo and behold he gets to portray himself as the great liberator. What an act--hey everybody, says the guv, don't look at what I'm doing to wreck and ruin you, no, look over here, look at my beautiful rhetoric. I'm the guy who gave you gay marriage!

Well no he didn't. We won this with our many years of fighting. And we should none of us offer up any thanks to this demagogue, nor let this achievement distract us from all the evil he is doing. Let's celebrate tonight! Tomorrow let's get back to organizing to fight back against him!

That said, I want also to clarify why I do see this as a victory. It might seem surprising, coming from a revolutionary socialist. It's certainly true that as a communist I am no fan of the patriarchal institution of marriage, rooted as it is in class society, based as it is on the subjugation of women. I've never understood why any revolutionary would get married, except discreetly if they felt they had to for practical reasons like getting onto a spouse's health plan. However, this here is a different matter. This here is a matter of an oppressed group having been barred from access to a legal right. It is, simply, a matter of equality. Marriage may be an estate rooted in sexist society--but that's marriage as it traditionally was, heterosexual marriage whose essential purpose was to codify paternity, ensure patrilineal inheritance, and enforce male ownership of women. But marriage today is also a conferral of legal recognition--a conferral of over 1000 rights and privileges under the law. To be banned from access to that recognition and to those over 1000 rights and privileges is sheer discrimination. Which is why the fight to win same-sex marriage is a basic civil-rights struggle.

And why the passage of this law is something to celebrate. In fact, when I got home tonight after a meeting and turned on NY1 and watched live as the state senate acted on the bill, and I saw on the split screen that they were also covering the crowd that had gathered in Sheridan Square outside the Stonewall Inn, waiting to hear the news, I really regretted not realizing folks would be down there, not having gone down to the Village, not being there with my people cheering and dancing and singing and crying a little. No one should underestimate the very real joy so many people feel tonight. Finally, a measure of justice. Finally, some recognition of our relationships. Of our love.

On the other hand. Yeah, you're right if you say it's all symbolic. For it is--getting married in New York state carries with it precious few if any practical actual benefits. Not as long as the Defense of Marriage Act, signed by President Bill Clinton in 1996, remains federal law. DOMA means that even if same-sex couples get married in any one of the several states that now let them, the federal government will not recognize the marriage, and in fact the horribly onerous anti-gay tax penalty that now accrues to employees whose same-sex spouse is covered on their health plan will go on.

Thus, there is much more to this fight. Ultimately, this state-by-state nonsense must be transcended. No oppressed minority can win its rights this way. This is, and should be, a national fight. And marriage is, and should be, a federal right. As is the overall right to freedom from discrimination in housing, employment public accomodations, and so on -- that is, the basic right that we have been fighting for all these years and that we still lack in most of this country. There is still no federal law banning anti-LGBT discrimination.

So yeah, the fight goes on. It's fitting that we are now in the weekend of the annual LGBT Pride events here in New York, when we come out in our hundreds of thousands and mark the anniversary of the great 1969 Stonewall Rebellion. Sunday we'll march down Fifth Avenue as we always do, and we'll show our pride and joy and strength while we raise all our demands. Anger and celebration in equal measure: it will be a good day. We have a right to savor this small step forward.

As for me, I'll be heading down to City Hall with Teresa, my lover of 23 years, soon after the new law takes effect, some time this summer. We'd actually decided a while back to get married, and had been trying to plan a few days to take a quiet trip to Connecticut, the nearest state that allowed same-sex marriage. Now we don't have to go to all that trouble. Now we can just take the subway downtown. We're not going to make a big to-do out of it. We're both still too queasy about all that marriage has meant in its long history as an oppressive sexist institution. We both know we won't get any practical benefit from taking this step. But we decided that, as fighters for liberation, when the movement we've been a part of succeeds in breaking down even a small part of the social barriers, even if mostly, for now, symbolically, it is correct that we should step forward and claim this newly won right. We should take our place among our sisters and brothers saying this is ours, we've won it, we're taking it. It's a statement we've got to make.