Sex & Relationships

Why One Queer Person Is Not Celebrating California's Historic Gay Marriage Decision

The gay marriage movement should not be fighting for a 1950s model of white-picket fence "we're just like you" normalcy.
Editor's Note: To read a different take on the California Supreme Court decision, read Greta Christina's story, Why I Fought for the Right to Say 'I Do'.

Though I am a queer person living in San Francisco, I will not be celebrating the California Supreme Court decision overturning the ban on same-sex marriage. Nor will I join those who say, "I would never choose to get married, but I think everyone should have the right." Sorry, honey -- marriage is depressing, period. That means gay marriage, too. And here's why.

Gay marriage does nothing to address fundamental problems of inequality. What is needed is universal access to basic necessities like housing, health care, food, and the benefits now obtained through citizenship (like the right to stay in this country). Legalized gay marriage means only that certain people in a specific type of long-term, monogamous relationship sanctioned by a state contract might be able to access benefits. While marriage could confer inclusion under a spouse's health-care policy, it does nothing to provide such a policy. Marriage might ensure hospital visitation rights, but not for anyone without a spouse. Marriage may allow for inheritance rights between spouses, but what if there is nothing to inherit?

For a long time, queers have married straight friends for citizenship or health care, but this has never been enshrined as "progress." The majority of queers -- single or coupled (but not desiring marriage), monogamous or polyamorous, jobless or marginally employed -- would remain excluded from the much-touted benefits of legalized gay marriage.

And let's not forget the history of marriage as a legal method for keeping property within specific dynasties (property that originally included women and slaves). In fact, marriage still exists as a central venue for spousal and child abuse -- there's a reason divorce is so popular, and suicide attempts among queer teens so prevalent. If social change is on the agenda, then the privileges associated with marriage need to be challenged, not embraced.

In fact, the push for gay marriage has shifted advocacy away from essential services like HIV education, AIDS health care, drug treatment, domestic violence prevention, and homeless care -- all crucial needs for far more queers than marriage could ever be. And this pattern will undoubtedly continue, as millions of dollars will be spent fighting an anti-gay marriage constitutional amendment proposed for the November ballot, at a time when social services are being scrapped across the country, and especially in California.

The spectacle around gay marriage draws attention away from critical issues -- like ending U.S. wars on Iraq and Afghanistan, stopping massive Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) raids across the country, and challenging the never-ending assault on anyone living outside of conventional norms.

While many straight people are reaping the benefits of gay liberation and discovering new ways of loving, lusting for and caring for one another, the gay marriage movement is busy fighting for a 1950s model of white-picket fence "we're just like you" normalcy. And that's no reason to celebrate.

Editor's Note: For an opposing viewpoint, check out Greta Christina's article "Why I Fought for the Right to Say 'I Do'".
Mattilda Bernstein Sycamore is most recently the editor of an expanded second edition of That's Revolting! Queer Strategies for Resisting Assimilation (Soft Skull Press)