Civil Rights

You’re Married, Now What?

By Andrej Mrevlje |

For the last few years, the most common image of the gay community displayed in the American media was that of a population who danced, kissed and made love. They had fun, but seemed entirely separate from America’s working population. I’m being superficial of course, but not as much as it sounds, really. Just watch the footage of gay parades.

But actually, of course, gay communities, movements, lawyers, activists and even individual couples, had been working hard and made an enormous serious push to be seen as ordinary citizens, with the same rights as every other American. That included marriage. And last Friday the Supreme Court affirmed that gay marriage is the law of the land.

In the early ’90s, gay marriage was sort of a intimate desire, approved only by 12 percent of Americans. The first same sex marriage was permitted in Massachusetts only in 2004. In subsequent years there was an immediate backlash, as 30 states tried to stop the “epidemic” and banned such unions. Today, sixty-three percent of Americans now support gay marriage, and after last Friday’s Supreme Court ruling, America spent several days celebrating the court’s decision. The success and celebration both show that the LGBT movement organizes itself efficiently.

It is actually fascinating how fast it all happened: While it took almost 200 years to legalize interracial marriage in America, 20 years were enough to overturn Americans’ resistance of gay marriage. How was this possible?

“What changed wasn’t the Constitution—it was the country. And what changed the country was a movement,” Molly Ball explains in her piece, “How Gay Marriage Became a Constitutional Right,” which describes in detail the most important steps in the legal fight for the gay rights.

In his analysis of this rapid change of American society, Nate Silver of 538 offers some figures, such as the generational change of opinion among American voters, but then adds this important assessment: “You can argue for it (same sex marriage) from the point of view of enhancing equality, but also from the standpoint of enhancing liberty. Furthermore, you can make a conservative case for gay marriage, as Sullivan and others have, which champions the role of marriage as an institution that increases family community stability.”

Should we therefore hope that gays and their supporters are equally distributed between Republicans and Democrats? Now that the law protects this marriage right and they have demonstrated their power to affect American politics, will they turn their eye on society as the whole? I do not think that the LGBT movement should dissolve. Of course not! There are other rights to insure and laws to be expanded, such as protection against discrimination in the workplace and housing. In fact, not everyone among the LGBT community was celebrating last week – there are plenty of things left to worry about, as Katie Dupere describes in “After same-sex marriage, the future is complicated for LGBT rights.”

More importantly, the success of single issue movement like gay marriage and legalizing marijuana – however triumphant – have to some extent represent a distraction from other very fundamental issues this country has to deal with. If the news about white supremacists wanting to burn gay pride flags on July 4 is true, then the primitive intolerance towards the African American community and other minorities in this country will also turn back towards the gay community.

As the U.S. progressed towards marriage rights for gay Americans, questions of racism, gun control, climate change, rebuilding the infrastructure, minimum wage and so on were somehow left on the sideline by this movement. They are being governed in silence by the few, while the streets were full of gay pride. The expressions of joy last Friday had the feel of a collective primal scream, a sort of release of energy. Now it would be great if the same movement that was able transform a society’s view of gay marriage, would join forces with the other reformists in the country and use its skill to create progress on other issues.

This is exactly why this country needs the gay movement in the same way it needs women and other minorities to join forces. During the fight for their civil rights and recognition (though, as has been said, the process is not completed yet), the LGBT movement was focused on its identity and individual, personal freedoms. Perhaps this is the time to get more political, to start pressing both Parties or form alliances and build a new political party. Is this possible?

The first occasion to measure the impact of the legalization of gay marriage will be the political election next year. A 2014 pre-election survey by fivethirtyeight.com showed that the perception of gay marriage among Republicans is largely negative, which reduces the likelihood that members of the queer community and their allies will identify as Republican. “Gay marriage is more important than classic ‘wedge issues’ like guns or abortion in predicting whether someone identifies as a Republican,” Harry Enten says in his analysis of the survey. Are the Democrats any better? Yes, they are, but the gay issue is only the fifth highest predictor of a person’s Democrat leanings, which “may mean that a lot of people who reject the Republican Party because of its opposition to gay marriage aren’t lining up with the Democrats either and instead are choosing to be independents,” says Enten. But based on the Pew Research study quoted in the analysis, “It turns out that a person’s opinion on gay marriage was actually slightly more significant in explaining their 2014 vote choice than it was in explaining their party identification, after controlling for demographics.” This trend will most likely continue with the movement’s newly increased confidence. That might create more trouble for Republicans, especially considering that most of the Republicans presidential candidates continue to oppose gay marriage.

But this might not be the only impact of gay marriage on the 2016 elections. While the present list of candidates on both sides arouses very little excitement among voters, interesting issues are arising from the ever more diverse American society. One of the potentially quite explosive matters in the forthcoming campaign may prove to be the issue of how to build a common platform for the political coexistence of African American and gay minorities. As Brandon Ellington Patterson’s piece in Mother Jones shows, the differences between the two groups are big, but their objectives are similar. It was president Obama who set the example for the African American community a couple years ago, when he abandoned his support of traditional marriage.

But now that marriage is a right for all, the African-American and gay minorities may have a common interest in exploring the underside of the issue: is it sufficient to push for a conformist recognition of legal marriage when domestic partnership can offer the same legal benefits? In both communities, many couples have long lived without a formal marriage bond. “If the problem with marriage is the state’s hegemonic control over people and sets of relationships get recognized, then the challenge is, of course, to such operations of power, not to individuals rightfully seeking equal rights and liberties within such system. In both the case of state-recognized marriage and employer-affirmed domestic partnership, we’re talking about obtaining recognition from an institution that wields power over us,” Natasha Lennard writes in her piece, “No one should have to marry: How marriage equality could actually limit couple’s choices.”

Yonder is a weekly newsletter from Andrej Mrevlje that connects global events in the news, delivered every week. Learn more »

Questions? am@yondernews.com