Common Critiques of the Movement for Marriage Equality
The vast majority of anarchists in the United States oppose marriage as an institution, regardless of the sex of participants. Not only do anarchists question the role of governments (“the state”) in regulating intimate relationships, many hold doubts that supporting the fight for marriage equality will help us bring about a more just, fair, or equal society. As outlined below, most anarchists believe that the institution of marriage, regardless of who has access to it, still perpetuates the inequities of private property, patriarchy, and systems of privilege.
These critical perspectives tend to be less common in mainstream discourse. Critiques of same-sex marriage are generally associated with religious and conservative opposition to LGBT lifestyles and critiques held by LGBT people themselves and their allies on the basis of opposition to the state are not widely known or understood.
For this reason, it bears explaining the anarchist critiques of marriage equality as they highlight how well-intentioned efforts for equal rights can, in fact, still perpetuate governmental control of our lives and hinder struggles for equality, if they fail to emphasize building more holistic, less State-centered movements.
That said, some anarchists are indeed involved in and support the movement for marriage equality. Generally, anarchist supporters of marriage equality believe that as long as marriage as an institution exists, everyone who cares to, should have access to it and that marriage equality will improve quality of life for many individuals and families. Many anarchists believe that fighting to end discrimination of any kind is beneficial to all social justice causes and all people, and some simply want to the benefits of same-sex marriage to be accessible for themselves or loved ones right now.
The following talking points represent some common critiques and perspectives held by anarchists about the issue of marriage and marriage equality.
Common Critiques by Anarchists of the Movement for Marriage Equality:
- The most basic anarchist position is that the state is unnecessary and shouldn’t have any role in regulating or dictating norms for interpersonal relationships or determining who can access basic rights and services.
- Anarchists affirm our right to determine our own relationships and family structures outside of legal marriage and question the notion that achieving state recognition of our relationships through marriage should be a primary moment in our personal lives and intimate relationships.
- The benefits that are assigned to marriage and used to champion the gay marriage cause should be available to everyone, not just those who are married. We should work to ensure access to health care and other rights for all people, without requiring anyone to adhere to a certain form of intimate relationship.
- Anarchists and feminists have long critiqued the institution of marriage, which originated as a property exchange between men and, even today, marriage at least as a state function largely governs property ownership and other economic relationships between couples. Anarchists believe in a world without private property in which our intimate relationships are not vehicles for preserving or obtaining rights, wealth, or privilege.
- State-sanctioned systems of privilege uphold gender and sexual oppression. Rather than seeking inclusion into these systems, such as legal marriage, we need collective struggles for self-determination and an end to the conditions that create oppression and entrench heterosexual supremacy.
- The fight for marriage equality promotes a rigid and limiting definition of family, and alienates families that don’t fit into that mold. The movement re-enforces the convention that gendered, patriarchal marriage is the only proper way to live and construct families.
- Queer movements often challenge restrictive mainstream norms of gender, sexuality, and love. Too often, marriage advocates disavow these goals and the people who pursue them in nontraditional relationships, in their campaign to present gay and lesbian couples as normal and unthreatening to the status quo.
- Gay and lesbian organizations have appropriated the rhetoric and imagery of the civil rights struggles of communities of color, erasing differences.
- The single issue focus on marriage diverts attention and resources away from other critical issues within LGBT communities, including criminalization and police violence, safety, HIV/AIDS, poverty, and housing—many of which disproportionately impact LGBT people of color.
At the center of anarchist responses to gay marriage is the question of how to best fight oppression and work towards freedom for everyone. All people should be free to determine their relationships and family structures, with or without state recognition, and should have access to health care and basic necessities. Freedom for LGBT people will not come through state-granted rights, but through collective struggles for liberation that challenge the root causes of social ills.
Anarchists Available for Interview
The following individuals identify as anarchists and have also been involved in various projects related to the issue of marriage equality.
- Ryan Conrad is an anarchist activist, artist, scholar, and co-founder of Against Equality from central Maine. For more information: http://www.againstequality.org
- Kate Raphael is a journalist and social justice activist with over 30 years experience in radical feminist and queer liberation movements. More information: http://democracy-sometime.blogspot.com/
- Mattilda Bernstein Sycamore is a writer, editor, activist, and troublemaker based in Seattle, WA. For more information: http://www.mattildabernsteinsycamore.com
Please contact Agency at email@example.com to arrange an interview.
“Why Gay Rights Are Not The New Civil Rights: An Argument for Difference”
Stephen H. Webb, First Things, July 22, 2014
“That is not the case with the gay marriage debate. Gay couples who want to marry, according to their advocates—especially their straight advocates—are just the same as straight couples. Their pursuit of monogamy, their desire for children, their rites of courtship and reverence for tradition are no different from what goes on in the heterosexual world. The result of this rhetorical strategy is the unofficial (and in many cases, official) banning of any discussion of the differences between gay and straight relationships. Everyone knows there are differences, but they are treated as insignificant and irrelevant for public debate. Worse, those who point out these differences are tagged with a label—homophobia—that puts them in the ranks of racists.”
“Marriage Will Never Set Us Free”
Dean Spade and Craig Willse, Organizing Upgrade, September 2013
“Civil marriage is a tool of social control used by governments to regulate sexuality and family formation by establishing a favored form and rewarding it (in the U.S., for example, withover one thousand benefits). While marriage is being rewarded, other ways of organizing family, relationships and sexual behavior do not receive these benefits and are stigmatized and criminalized. In short, people are punished or rewarded based on whether or not they marry.”
“Room for Debate: Are ‘Trans Rights’ and ‘Gay Rights’ Still Allies?”
Mattilda Bernstein Sycamore, The New York Times, October 15, 2013
“For me, the possibility of a trans or queer politic lies in using identity as a starting point for challenging the violence of the world around us, and building something else, creating more possibilities for everyone. I’m interested in a movement that fights for universal access to basic needs, as a starting point — housing, health care, food, the right to stay in this country or leave if you want to, a sex life that matters. I’m interested in gender, sexual, social and political self-determination. The possibility of a trans or queer identity lies in annihilating all hierarchies and creating something else in the ruins, something bolder and more caring, communal and daring.”
“Gay Marriage, or Why I hate the Equals Sign,”
Kate Raphael, Democracy Sometimes, April 7, 2013
“Whatever else it is or isn’t, the marriage rights movement is not the ‘new civil rights movement.’ Civil rights are for everyone. Marriage is about broadening the class of people eligible for certain privileges, most having to do with who gets your stuff when you die, and how much they get taxed for it. Every possible benefit of marriage – health care? Immigration? Could be more effectively established by demanding genuine equality for everyone.”
“Beyond Marriage: Democracy, Equality, and Kinship for a New Century,”
Lisa Duggan, The Scholar & Feminist Online, Fall 2011/Spring 2012
“On the one hand, the pursuit of marriage equality makes some sense. It has been fueled by a wide range of overlapping priorities: a demand for equal rights under law, a need for access to the private health care system, a desire for inclusion in the elementary structures of kinship recognition. But, on the other hand, if we consider such priorities with a broad vision of economic and social justice in mind, the right to marry is a very narrow and utterly inadequate solution for the problems that most queer people face. Access to the state-regulated institution of marriage does not provide full equality, universal health care, or expansively reimagined forms of kinship that reflect our actual lives.”
“Is Gay Marriage Anti Black?”
Kenyon Farrow, ChicknBones: A Journal, 2011
“The white gay civil rights groups are also anti-black, however they want black people to see this struggle for same-sex unions as tantamount to separate but equal Jim Crow laws. Yet any close examination reveals that histories of terror imposed upon generations of all black people in this country do not in any way compare to what appears to be the very last barrier between white gays and lesbians’ access to what bell hooks describes as “christian capitalist patriarchy.”
“That system is inherently anti-black, and no amount of civil rights will ever get black people any real liberation from it. For, in what is now a good 40 years of “civil rights,” nothing has intrinsically changed or altered in the American power structure, and a few black faces in inherently racist institutions is hardly progress.”
“Given the current white hetero-normative constructions of family and how the institutions of marriage and nuclear families have been used against black people, I do think that to support same-sex marriage is in fact, anti-black (I also believe the institution of marriage to be historically anti-woman, and don’t support it for those reasons as well).”
“Neoliberalism’s Handiest Little Tool: Against Equality on Marriage,” interview with Ryan Conrad and Yasmin Nair
Joshua Pavan, NoMorePotlucks 16, Jul/Aug 2011
“The entire framework that we use to understand our “resources,” like health care or housing or knowledge, etc. is of the economic model of capitalism and scarcity. Here in the States, through marriage we see the privatization of what we believe are collective benefits, like access to health care, to specifically classed family units. Instead of fighting for everyone’s right to live, like queer folks did so loudly and proudly here and elsewhere in the 80s, we see LGBTs now demanding that only married people have the right to these things.”
“A Queer Argument Against Marriage: Interview with Mattilda Bernstein Sycamore”
NPR, June 10, 2010
“If we take a look at the focus, you know, this narrow focus on marriage, right, what we’re told is that this is going to give us housing and health care and the right to stay in this country and tax breaks and the right to visit our, you know, the people we love in the hospital. But, really, it’s only giving that right to people who are willing to conform to this narrow notion of a long-term monogamous partnership sanctioned by the state, which really doesn’t relate to the majority of people’s lives -straight, gay, queer or otherwise.”
“Against Equailty, in Maine and Everywhere,”
R. Conrad, The Bilerico Project, November 30, 2009
“Gays and lesbians of all ages are obsessing over gay marriage as if it’s going to cure AIDS, stop anti-queer/anti-trans violence, provide all uninsured queers with health care, and reform racist immigration policies. Unfortunately, marriage does little more than consolidate even more power in the hands of already privileged gay couples engaged in middle class hetero-mimicry.”
“Let’s be clear: The national gay marriage campaign is NOT a social justice movement. Gay marriage reinforces the for-profit medical industrial complex by tying access to health care to employment and relational status. Gay marriage does not challenge patent laws that keep poor/working class poz folks from accessing life-extending medications. Gay marriage reinforces the nuclear family as the primary support structure for youth even though nuclear families are largely responsible for queer teen homelessness, depression and suicide. Gay marriage does not challenge economic systems set up to champion people over property and profit. Gay marriage reinforces racist immigration laws by only allowing productive, “good”, soon-to-be-wed, non-citizens in while ignoring the rights of migrant workers. Gay marriage simply has nothing to do with social justice.”
“We must fight the rhetoric of equality and inclusion in systems of domination like marriage and the military, and stop believing that our participation in those institutions is more important than questioning those institutions legitimacy all together”
“Down with Legitimacy: Why Marriage Mania Is a Threat to Queer Struggle,”
Mattilda Bernstein Sycamore, Maximum Rock N Roll, September 2008
“Gay marriage does nothing to address fundamental problems of inequality. What is needed is universal access to basic necessities like housing, healthcare, 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 healthcare 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?”
- Nancy Cott: Public Vows: A History of Marriage and the Nation.
- Ryan Conrad, ed: Against Equality: Queer Revolution, Not Mere Inclusion
- Lisa Duggan: The Twilight of Equality?
- Judith Butler: Undoing Gender
- Mattilda Bernstein Sycamore: That’s Revolting! Queer Strategies for Resisting Assimilation
Organizations and Websites:
- Against Equality
- Beyond Marriage
Articles and books cited are provided for background information of particular discussion points – authors and commentators may not specifically identify as anarchist.
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Agency promotes contemporary anarchist perspectives and practices through commentary on current events, media relations, and educational campaigns. Agency’s website is https://www.anarchistagency.com
Agency’s Press Briefs provide an issue oriented guide to journalists and non-anarchists on the often varied and sometimes contradictory opinions contemporary anarchists have on specific current events while providing common talking points and critiques, background information, as well as suggestions of individuals or groups available for interview on the subject at hand.
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