Tag Archives: marriage equality

Pokarekare ana

The news has been full of the most depressing horror this week. On Monday 42 people were killed in bomb attacks across Iraq and three people were killed in the bombings at the Boston marathon. The US Senate was unable to honour the first graders slaughtered in their elementary school and pass universal background checks for would-be gun owners, despite the fact that 90 per cent of US Americans are in favour of such checks. Here in the UK, we have been exposed to incessant accolades and tributes for a former prime minister who destroyed lives and communities across Britain, while making friends with some of the nastiest political leaders around, including Augusto Pinochet, while her disastrous legacy 23 years after her party booted her out of power is ubiquitously felt in the UK today. The idea that we could spend £10 million of taxpayer money on a state-funded funeral (for someone who didn’t like the state and wanted to roll it back) while the benefits of the most vulnerable in our society are cut in the name of austerity is nothing short of disgusting. The mainstream media coverage has been dire and while I have found alternative narratives circulating vigorously on social media, the whole thing was making me sick. Surely, if you adore Thatcher and Thatcherism, you must be either very rich or very stupid. I know it is much more complex than that (and we do need to articulate a different narrative that doesn’t pit the working poor against the unemployed and the immigrant) but that is what the mainstream media coverage (which I often vigorously defend in my teaching and research) was doing to me. But this week has also seen the parliament of Aotearoa New Zealand do something really really beautiful and that is pass the marriage equality bill, a move which legalizes same-sex marriage. On one level, it is incredible to think that this has taken so long, 120 years after New Zealand gave women the right to vote for example, and to know that New Zealand is only the thirteenth country in the world in the world to do so (Uruguay was the 12th).  Gay kids in New Zealand continue to experience heartbreaking forms of homophobia and bullying that schools and society in general urgently have to find ways to deal with and I wish I knew where to start with this. Denying some people in a given society the right to marry while others have that right unproblematically is as insane as giving people the right to keep assault weapons and high capacity magazines in their kitchen cupboards. That is the world we live in. But the announcement of the outcome of the vote in parliament this week (77 in favour, 44 against) resulted in the most wonderful display of love, inclusion, and hope for the future, when the packed public gallery and MPs began to sing. They sang a Māori song, Pokarekare Ana, originally sung by Māori soldiers leaving Aotearoa New Zealand to fight in the First World War in Europe.  The fact that it was a Māori song, sung in Māori by those present, makes it all the more special, as it is a reminder that as we make progress against entrenched forms of homophobia, we must also continue to struggle against ongoing forms of coloniality and racism, that we need positive change for all those who are discriminated against or denied full citizenship.  What is truly wonderful is not just the impact this has had on New Zealand but the way in which has made international news all around the world, appearing on the front pages of so many news sites alongside the depressing news outlined above. In the past few days, the clip has appeared over and over again in my Facebook newsfeed, circulated by friends in the UK, US, Nicaragua, Portugal and Canada as well as by many New Zealanders.  It has been watched hundreds of thousands of times on YouTube and other sites already. All of this global sharing of a special moment in New Zealand history raises hope that other countries will now fall like dominoes and also pass marriage equality. It is already evident how good this is for people, gay and straight, and for a nation and its sense of self. I am so proud of you, Aotearoa New Zealand, and look forward to attending a gay wedding there one day soon.   The clip, if you haven’t seen it already is here http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=DW4DXOAXF8U

This week in the Supreme Court

It is been a good kind of week, in which we can observe how basic feminist understandings about essentialism and the public/private binary have triumphed and become thoroughly mainstream.  On the one hand, it is scandalous that so much time and money is being spent on the attempt to prevent the legalization of gay marriage in the United States. DOMA and Prop 8 should never have been passed, as they create a blatant, obvious and cruel form of discrimination. I don’t know why a minority of US politicians continue to oppose marriage equality for all citizens, as in the past two days they have failed to articulate the reasons for their opposition. Those denied the rights given to straight couples are harmed politically, economically, culturally and socially, and we are all impoverished by living in a society which discriminates on the basis of sexual orientation, regardless of our own sexual orientation or desire or not to marry. By the way, Chief Justice Roberts, John Boehner and all you House Republicans trying to hang onto a discriminatory law, giving the rights to same-sex couples that are currently enjoyed by straight couples will not harm you personally in any way at all.  If you don’t like gay marriage, then don’t do it. Get married to someone of the opposite sex, or don’t get married at all. If marriage equality is upheld as a constitutional right, you won’t be forced into a gay relationship if that is not what you want.

Despite the dramatic failure of heterosexual marriage as an institution (the high rates of divorce and domestic violence, the uneven division of unpaid labour in most heterosexual households), it is something that many people still want to participate in. Ideally marriage is about love, sharing, loyalty and commitment (as well as about gaining societal status and recognition and access to equal rights such as social security and veteran benefits), so promoting through legislation a bit more love in the world, and the ability to express that love publicly can only be a good thing amidst all the things that are wrong in this world. In fact, if you care about kids and family values, this is urgent. The thousands of kids being raised by same-sex couples (some 40,000 in California alone) would cease to be subject to moral disapproval. Why should seven year old Lucy with two moms be treated differently from Sarah with a mom and a dad, or Hilary with just a mom, or Brian with a mom and a stepdad, or Sam who is being raised by his grandmother? Why should one family of one soldier killed in Afghanistan receive benefits in recognition of their sacrifice, while another family subject to the same tragedy be denied them?

Our families take many forms and gay and lesbian people who want to get married, often see themselves as a family and want to be seen as a family by the state and society in general. It is bizarre that a political party that often extols family values seems so indifferent to the suffering of actual families. Republicans don’t care about families. They remove the safety nets that allow families to get through tough times. They don’t want to ban assault weapons even though they are used to murder small children at school and US families are repeatedly torn apart by their all too frequent use. Many Republicans would prefer a desperate woman, who is somebody’s daughter or sister or mother,  with an unwanted pregnancy to risk her life in a backstreet abortion than have a safe legal abortion. They attack the Affordable Care Act even though it makes it easier for ordinary people to get health care. Accessible health care is good for families, and Michelle Bachman, it doesn’t kill women and children (see http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2013/03/23/michele-bachmann-obamacare_n_2940301.html), but a gun in the hands of an unstable person frequently does.

I am however really enjoying the way in which so many wonderful articulate women are putting these reactionary sexist white men in their place during the Supreme Court hearings this week, dismantling their essentializing arguments, leaving them incapable of mounting any kind of credible argument in response. Charles Cooper, the lawyer defending Prop 8, attempted to assert that marriage could only be between a man and a women in order to defend “responsible procreation”. He could not say tell Justice Sotomayor, why it would be wrong to deny someone a job on the basis of sexual orientation but not wrong to deny them the right to marry. On the question of “responsible procreation”, Justice Kagan asked Cooper if we should therefore deny marriage to people over 55, who are not able to conceive, or whether it would be inconstitutional. He was left unable to respond, and in his hilarious confusion about how babies are made, resorted to saying how men outlive their fertility. There has been a lot of laughter in the Supreme Court this week.

While some US states have legalized marriage equality, DOMA effectively annuls those state-given rights. DOMA ends up treating married same-sex couples as unmarried and thus denies them access to a whole range of federal benefits available to straight married couples, a situation which in the words of Justice Ginsberg gives us two kinds of marriage “the full marriage, and then this sort of skim milk marriage”.

Listening to Justice Scalia, it was apparent how inappropriate it is to homogenize or generalize about whole groups of people, as if families with straight parents have one set of attributes (loving, caring, good for children) while families with same-sex parents have an opposing set of attributes (dangerous, dysfunctional, bad for children). Nobody can take this seriously, as we all know that children are sometimes harmed in abusive households run by straight couples.  If children are harmed in same-sex households in any kind of general way, it is because their parents are treated like second-class citizens. Married couples, of any sexual orientation, do not of course have fixed essential attributes.

The entangling and mutual constitution of the public and private are amply revealed. It is abundantly clear that the question of marriage equality is simultaneously a public and private issue and at no point can it be reduced to one or the other. It is about our most intimate relationships, the people that we love in all kinds of ways, but it is about the presence of the state, and what it facilitates and constrains in our homes, our schools, our workplaces, our military bases and our communities. The fact that a symbol of the Human Rights Campaign has gone viral on social media attests to how this political change is now inevitable. These are moments of feminist and queer triumphs, the things that you would learn in Gender Studies 101, have become part of everyday discourse, part of the common sense.