Yesterday’s California Supreme Court ruling upholding the voter-initiated ban on same-sex marriage was no surprise. But as I’ve written before, this is more of a political than a legal fight, so I was heartened to see tens of thousands of gay right supporters—of all races, by the way—flood the streets in protest. Out in Cali, more than 100 were arrested during a San Francisco civil disobedience action. San Diego organizers called for more of the same. And here in New York City, thousands marched through lower Manhattan to push our own marriage rights bill.
Meanwhile, Los Angeles organizers plan to rally outside President Obama’s Beverly Hills fundraiser tonight. They’ve politely billed the event as a chance to “show our president our support for his daring promise to our community and to highlight the growing movement towards full federal equality.” But hopefully someone at the event will be more direct. Like many a Democrat before him, Obama wants to have it both ways on gay rights. Candidate Obama raised hefty sums and drew ample volunteer labor from the gay community with promises to fight for us. But he’s since consistently balked. He was deafeningly silent during the Prop 8 campaign—even as supporters of the ban falsely claimed his backing. And he has remained gagged on yesterday’s ruling. Here’s the best Press Secretary Robert Gibbs could muster:
All of this said, I’ll note that I’ve never been comfortable with the marriage rights movement. I absolutely believe that as long as government is in the business of sanctioning relationships, queer couples ought to have access to the delineated rights and responsibilities as well. And certainly when rightwing leaders are trashing gay relationships for political gain, we’ve got to stand up for ourselves. But I’d much prefer a movement that re-imagines the whole enterprise, rather than demanding we be allowed in, too. Why should government hand out “family” rights to two people who claim romantic commitment—whatever their sexuality—but not to two roommates, for instance, who have built no less of a family? I’d like government to stop policing family structures and start supporting them, whatever they look like.
My colleague Richard Kim over at THE NATION had valuable insight on point. Cali’s marriage rights advocates have already geared up for the next round of the fight—the price tag for which, Richard notes, came in second only to the presidential election last November. He asks whether the resources would be better spent on a host of other rights-based campaigns—such as fighting for partnership rights in the dozens of states where, unlike California, same-sex couples get nothing at all; or finally creating a federal law that says an employer can’t fire me because I’m gay any more than it can because I’m black.
Richard also muses over Justice Kathryn Werdegar’s concurring opinion in yesterday’s ruling. Werdegar wrote that, though she agrees Prop 8 was a constitutionally valid ballot initiative, state government still has “the duty…to eliminate the remaining important differences between marriage and domestic partnership, both in substance and perception.” The question remains how can that be done. Maybe, Richard suggests, the California movement should drop the effort to get queer relationships declared “marriages” and instead focus on making all relationships domestic partnerships. That’s an uphill climb, too, but at least we’d be scaling the right mountain.