For days now I’ve considered posting to Facebook: “Since the Obergefell decision came down, my Facebook feed has been filled with more critiques of gay marriage from the radical left than from the right. And I have to say: critiques from the left are just as personally hurtful and shaming as those from the right.”
But I’m hesitant to post this because I know I’ll get more critiques of gay marriage, only this time they’ll be on my wall instead of in my feed.
But I can’t keep this in any longer, so, here’s my rant against the radical leftist critiques of gay marriage.
There is a profound privilege that comes with the left saying “marriage is the wrong objective.” First, let’s be clear: marriage has never been the ONLY objective, as a lot of radicals seem to think. There’s a concern that the LGBT movement will stop now that we’ve won marriage rights, and we’ll forget about workplace and housing discrimination, about violence against members (especially transgender members) of our community. I seriously doubt that HRC and NCLR and others are going to close up shop and go home now. Certainly grassroots movements won't stop fighting these battles. We all know there’s more work to be done. That doesn’t mean we can’t celebrate this victory.
Indeed, forgetting to celebrate our victories along the way is a big problem. Among other things, it makes us feel like we never win, if we can’t stop and smell the roses when we do. It feeds cynicism, which feeds inaction. So, I actually think not celebrating gay marriage has the potential to stop political movements more than celebrating it.
But here’s another reason leftists critiques are privileged: they forget that for a lot of people, the benefits of marriage are essential for hospital visitation, for adoption rights, for their financial situation. There are countless stories of people who saw spouses through terminal illnesses, giving up their job to do so, and had no money at the end of expensive medical treatments, no job prospects, and, without gay marriage, no survivor’s benefits. Edie Windsor was vaguely in this situation, only she had plenty of money so she didn’t NEED survivor’s benefits. That’s partly why she was a plaintiff—she was rich and eloquent. But she spoke on behalf of plenty of people who aren’t those things, and for whom marriage rights come with necessary financial relief. Failure to recognize this material reality of marriage rights is ironic, considering how many radical leftists are hyper-aware of class issues.
Leftist critiques often land on this: marriage is a problematic institution and we shouldn’t join it. Well, if you want to undo marriage, start a political movement to do that. I haven’t really heard of any organizations doing this—although I suspect now there might be right-leaning organizations trying to do exactly this. But, problematic as civil marriage might be, as long as it exists, we should want it to be available to everyone.
A lot of straight left radicals say that marriage was the wrong objective for gays—and god does this one gall me. Who are you to tell us what we should want? The right does that enough, thank you. The vast majority of gays want the option to marry—even if they themselves don’t want to marry. Get off your high horse and support what our movement has overwhelmingly said we want.
And finally, the personal . . . I wrote about this a bit in my novel Barring Complications, but marriage is profoundly personal. It inflicts tiny wounds to a person’s sense of self to have their relationship disparaged, whether from the right or the left. It’s incredibly frustrating that on a day when I wanted to celebrate, when I cried a lot more than I ever expected to because I suddenly felt more like a full citizen in my own country, I had to read from so many of my friends that this was nothing to celebrate, that there was better work to be done elsewhere, that gay marriage was not an appropriate achievement to be happy for. Well, gay marriage isn’t just an abstract political agenda; it’s my life. I live a gay marriage every day. And I am proud of it. I fought for it, and so did a lot of other people. We fought against the right shaming us—we don’t need to the left shaming us, too.