Saturday, June 25, 2011
NY State Victory: Divorce Equality!
In a brilliant display of political maneuvering, and a stunning defeat for anti-gay bigots, New York's governor Cuomo succeeded last night in getting a marriage equality passed in the state's Republican-controlled State Senate. The previous governor had been unable to get a similar bill through two years ago when the State Senate was controlled by Democrats; this year's effort involved a massive behind the scenes push from marriage equality advocates, and the addition of somewhat redundant language that absolutely positively guaranteed religious institutions could hang on to bigoted practices if they so desired. Cuomo signed the bill into law almost immediately upon its passage.
Despite the massive lobbying efforts of hateful organizations like the National Organization for [sic] Marriage and New York's wretched Conservative Party, and despite rallies organized by bigoted religious fundamentalists (including one led by the lone Democratic Senate opponent Ruben Diaz, who is also a Pentacostal preacher), the bill passed with a several-vote majority: four brave Republicans bucked their party line and crossed over to support it. The NOMbies and their ilk tried again to inflict their backward beliefs and questionably selective interpretation of religion on our secular society and failed. Thank God decent people with a greater respect for the law and a more loving spiritual/religious philosophy prevailed.
And all of this on the Friday of Gay Pride Week, two days before one of the world's largest lesbian and gay pride parades takes to the streets of Manhattan. It's certainly something to celebrate, even if it's a local victory. This makes only six states where marriage of same-sex partners is recognized, and federal laws like DOMA and numerous state constitutional bans on marriage equality make anti-gay statutes still the law of the land as a whole.
According to friends, the streets of the Village were full of celebration last night, even though the uber-gentrified neighborhood is the shadow of the gayborhood it once was: only investment bankers and celebrities can afford to live there these days. I'm looking forward to more street partying tonight, and to a triumphant pride parade tomorrow. But as real and joyful as this victory is, I feel called to qualify the celebratory tone.
While as long as the marriages of straight people are recognized and legally advantageous, it's only just that the marriages of gay people be treated equally under the law. But what about that institution of marriage? Those of us of a certain age can remember a time when marriage was rightfully derided as a outdated relic of the past. Its origins as a tradition are not actually in the glorification of love or the holy sanctification of family relationships, but in a bourgeois property relationship where women were turned into the property of men.
And for many of us, a fairytale picture of marriage as the pinnacle of human fulfillment does not jibe with reality. My parents divorced after fifteen or so years of marriage before I was ten. My mother's second marriage lasted a little over a year; and my father once described his second marriage as an "on-again off-again" thing. My father's father divorced my father's wife when he (inaccurately) questioned my father's paternity. My mother and my grandmother were both forced to retool their lives completely upon finding themselves single. While my mom worked when she was married, she had to find a new career that would support the two of us independently. My grandmother was forced to find work in the mid-1930s, no easy feat. And yet despite hardship and disappointment, I don't think either my mother or grandmother would have described their lives as lesser for having spent the greater parts of their lives unmarried.
Closer to home and modern times, I love my boyfriend very much and feel very lucky to be with him for the six or so years we've been together, but our relationship is what we make of it: I'm not sure how recognition by the state would change its trajectory or legitimize our intimacy.
It's not that I'm heartless: I've read those stories of many-decades-long gay partners finally being able to marry with a tear in my eye. During the brief period when marriage equality was the law in California, lesbian activist pioneers Del Martin and Phyllis Lyon were able to marry in 2008 after being a couple for fifty-six years, a few months before Del Martin passed on at the age of 87. And yet I wonder what are the ramifications of the gay movement, which once described itself as the "gay liberation movement," now aiming at the much more earthbound target of equality through marriage rights.
As I recently wrote, I grew up knowing I was gay. I never fantasized about getting married. Since I was never interested in meeting "the right girl," that ritual held no power for me. While the times I have been single I usually longed for a steady relationship; but what I longed for was companionship and intimacy and deep friendship, not a ceremony of bells and lace, and not a piece of paper from the government. How will little gay boys in the future grow up? Will they feel unfulfilled if they're not married in white by their early twenties? And what about our new gay divorcees? Will gay people get married too often? Everybody thinks straight people who get married and divorced too often are losers. How will that change gay male culture, where promiscuity and serial monogamy seem more accepted as alternatives to life-long commitment?
There's a collective of queer activists called "Against Equality." While I don't endorse their views as a whole, I think they ask provocative, important questions. Here's an excerpt from their statement on marriage:
"When it comes to gay marriage, the times, they are a-confusing. For instance, we recently overhead some people extolling the virtues of marriage, and how it allowed them to finally join in family gatherings as respectable married people, instead of skulking in as shamefully unmarried partners. They reminisced about the joys of being able to walk up to coworkers and introduce their husbands, the sparkle of their wedding rings legitimizing their socially sanctioned and forever-to-be unions....
Gay marriage apes hetero privilege and allows everyone to forget that marriage ought not to be the guarantor of rights like health care. In their constant invoking of the “right” to gay marriage, mainstream gays and lesbians express a confused tangle of wishes and desires. They claim to contest the Right’s conservative ideology yet insist that they are more moral and hence more deserving than sluts like us. They claim that they simply want the famous 1000+ benefits but all of these, like the right to claim protection in cases of domestic violence, can be made available to non-marital relationships.
We wish that the GM crowd would simply cop to it: Their vision of marriage is the same as that of the Right, and far from creating FULL EQUALITY NOW! as so many insist (in all caps and exclamation marks, no less) gay marriage increases economic inequality by perpetuating a system which deems married beings more worthy of the basics like health care and economic rights."
It's food for thought. Marriage equality is an important social victory, but when it turns to divorce equality, perhaps we should remember that civil rights and the liberation and fulfillment of human spirit are not equivalent. What is that prize we're keeping our eyes on, anyway?
(That art above is a quick ten-minute Photoshop cut and paste job by me, courtesy of Google images and modern technology. That's Barbie's Change-of-Heart Ken and Marx's Sam Cobra tying the rainbow ribbon!)