This past week, Ireland passed the bill to legally mandate the institutional allowance of same-sex marriage throughout the country. This bill was supported by a sixty-two percent voter turnout rate, challenging the country’s long held presence of conservative Catholicism. The Vatican’s Secretary of State, Cardinal Pietro Parolin, called this new law “a defeat for humanity.”
Advocates of marriage equality state that the allowance of same-sex marriage is very meaningful for couples that are gay, because it grants them institutional respect, support, and benefits. After the AIDS epidemic in the 1980s, LGBT activists directed their activism towards marriage equality, as it granted same-sex couples the opportunity to an assortment of benefits, such as equal accessibility to economic benefits, job security, healthcare and housing, immigration rights, and more.
This, however, was not the initiator of the gay rights movement. The gay rights movement, and the larger LGBTQ rights movement, began as a movement of resistance. During the 1960s, homosexual sex and gender non-conformity were criminalized throughout the United States. Gay and trans people were subjected to job and housing discrimination, lack of access to healthcare, homelessness, street harassment, and police brutality. The riots at Stonewall Inn that began the larger modern-day LGBT rights movement started as an attempt to decriminalize gay and trans people’s bodies and sexualities, and on the front lines of this movement were drag queens, trans women of color, and homeless LGBT youth.
Sylvia Rivera, a Latina trans woman who was a social justice activist and a participant in the Stonewall Riots, spoke about how the marriage equality movement was directly excluding trans people’s efforts in one example during the fight for the legislation of the New York City gay civil rights bill.
“They have a little backroom deal [with these politicians]without inviting Miss Sylvia and some of the other trans activists… The deal was, ‘You take them out, we’ll pass the bill.’ So, what did nice conservative gay white men do? They sell a community that liberated them down the river… I didn’t feel it was justified for them to have it on my sweat and tears.”
Another prominent trans activist, and companion to Rivera, Marsha P. Johnson, was found dead on the Hudson River soon after the riots began. As the gay rights movement grew in its presence, issues of violence and injustice affecting trans people, homeless LGBT youth, and LGBT people of color were excluded by larger LGBT corporations. Trans people were increasingly silenced and erased from the movement.
Aside from visibility, nothing much has changed to grant reparations for trans women of color. Currently, trans women of color face unemployment four times the national rate, face high rates of discrimination in the workplace, as well as high rates of violence and homicide — already 8 trans women have been murdered this year, with a staggering rate of 226 in the past year.
So, after understanding all of the violence and systemic injustice affecting queer and trans people, especially of color, as a whole, I have to ask myself why marriage?
Why is marriage equality prioritized in LGBT activism and not these staggering rates of violence and injustice impacting lower class trans people of color?
There was a clear shift that changed gay liberation to Pride. The gay rights movement started as a movement of justice, but became a movement of assimilation. It started as a movement of sexual liberation, but became a movement of sexual control.
I understand that marriage is a pathway to accessibility and privilege, but is marriage an applicable pathway for every individual person? Furthermore, why is marriage the pathway to seemingly basic human needs that should simply be granted to individuals?
Marriage is a heteronormative concept. Even if same-sex couples can get married, it still sets two boundaries: you still have to identify with a gender binary and you still have to identify with a socially constructed norm of monogamy.
Although Ireland’s law allows marriage without any distinction of sex, in the United States marriage, as well as same-sex marriage, have been imposed through gendered control. Even with same-sex marriage, you still have to identify as either man or woman. This excludes folks who are trans and gender non conforming. Trans people should be respected under institutions as how they identify with themselves.
Also, marriage lends respectability and legitimacy to relationships. Marriage as a concept creates a binary ideal of relationships purely being monogamous — those who able to mentally be in monogamous partnerships and have polyamorous lifestyles, or even those who choose to be single — are not accounted for under this idea of marriage. Single people and polyamorous people deserve the rights and privileges to institutional validity and respect as well.
Same-sex marriage activism is purely a tool of heteronormative assimilation as a means of liberation. It has been historically perpetuated as a norm through colonialism, anti-black racism, and gendered social control. It is a Eurocentric ideal of relationships, of gender, and of sexuality that has been forced throughout the world. Different ethnic regions and cultural practices have historically practiced different relationship styles, and these livelihoods have thrived and are important.
DarkMatter, a queer South Asian spoken word artist duo, states in one piece about the state of LGBT advocacy as a whole,
“This is not a movement, it’s a marketing scheme.
This is not equality, it’s erasure…
It gets bourgie,
When there are 200 beds for homeless queer youth in New York City
and your friends are signing leases for new mansions…
It gets bourgie,
When marriage and not murder is the number one queer issue.”
-It Gets Bourgie Project
Marriage will not stop the violence. Love will not give more jobs and healthcare to trans youth of color. Assimilation won’t get us any respect from the system. It will only let the system commodify us for profit. If we want to change heteronormativity and white supremacy in our society, we have to challenge the institution of marriage itself.
Marriage shouldn’t be a public determinant of institutional respect. Rather, it should be a personal matter for simply those who choose to take that route. It should not be a norm or standard for how relationships are supposed to be and it shouldn’t be granted social power over others.
So, we can get married all we want but it isn’t going to help all of us.