Same-sex marriage is the one issue all gay people can agree on, right? One group of LGBT advocates, Against Equality, is proving otherwise.
Earlier this month, information about a group of queer people who oppose marriage equality made the rounds on the gay blogs, including Slog, Joe. My. God., and AMERICAblog Gay. All of the posts on the organization, called Against Equality, were at least mildly condescending, dismissive of the idea altogether. They didn’t really give Against Equality a fair shot.
But Against Equality’s been around for a year and a half, and they’ve been working the speaker circuit this month in the San Francisco area, building up a base and earning support for their radical message that speaks out about the problems with mainstream gay and lesbian politics. Using their book, Against Equality: Queer Critiques of Gay Marriage, a collection of essays from various queer voices, the arts collective has been tracking and promulgating the reasons that queer people should oppose the push for gay marriage.
Perhaps the gay blogs were less than thoughtful about Against Equality because they were thrown off by the name, which is actually quite a misnomer. The group isn’t against equality at all. They’re a movement for social justice and economic change headed up by queer and transgender people. At this point, they’re focused primarily on rallying against gay marriage, although the organization also has unique thoughts on military inclusion and queers and law enforcement.
The founder of the organization is Ryan Conrad, who describes himself as an “outlaw artist” and “terrorist academic” with “radical queer cultural and activist work.” Conrad explained some of the key points of the movement opposing marriage equality:
For us, a lot of it is about making sure that these things that marriage supposedly promises—this access to certain benefits or privileges—are things that all people have, regardless of their relationship status. … If everyone has access to health care, marriage becomes irrelevant in terms of rights and privileges, and it becomes more of an affective institution where it’s about emotion and love. … But in reality, marriage isn’t about love right now because it has all of these state benefits and privileges attached to it.
He acknowledges that federal marriage rights would allow same-sex couples 1,138 additional rights, but he asserts that you shouldn’t need a special relationship status to have access to those rights. He said:
Almost all [of the 1,138 rights] are exclusively about the transfer of private property and money and children. Marriage is about access to collective benefits that everyone should have, regardless of their marital status. For us, that’s the way we frame it. It’s not “We shouldn’t be doing this,” it’s more that we should be doing this for everyone, not just monogamous, heteronormative gay couples.
It’s fair to take issue with their name, which seems to be purely an example of misguided marketing in that it elicits significant negative press without really encouraging greater reader exploration. Conrad even admitted that it’s maneuvered to be a “sucker-punch of a name to actually get you into the door.” But if you look beyond the name and the organization’s symbol—a “greater than” sign that cleverly culture-jams the Human Rights Campaign’s logo—Conrad and his fellow writers are making some compelling arguments for why we should be thinking beyond marriage.
They don’t view marriage as something that gays should be fighting for—they view it as an economic institution based in class dynamics that are inherently unequal. Their views on gay marriage, therefore, don’t really attack same-sex marriage specifically, but rather, they challenge the institution of marriage as a whole. Conrad explained:
Marriage privileges monogamous couples over all other people—that’s inequality. Marriage is based on inequality. It’s a champion that gives special benefits to people who adhere to a specific articulation of a partnership.
Trying to gain entry into such a broken institution, therefore, is doing little more than absorbing activists’ dollars that could be going into other causes. Conrad explained about other issues that have lost traction in recent years, which he blames somewhat on the excessive amount of attention afforded to the marriage fight. He said:
The campaigns that are built around this concept of equality are actually doing a lot of damage in the present. For example, the amount of time, money and energy going into the gay marriage campaign across the country are sucking up resources that are desperately needed for queer and trans organizations that are providing essential services for LGBTQ youth, LGBTQ elders, working-class queers, Poz queers, queers of color, anti-violence projects for queer people. All the funding is disappearing for all of those things, but there is millions and millions of dollars being spent on gay marriage, and it’s all being fueled by this concept of equality. So, for me, it’s like, we actually need to oppose the wholesale defunding of all of these important things that are in our communities.
Despite the dismissals from the gay blogs, Against Equality is right about at least one thing: The marriage equality issue receives a completely disproportionate amount of media and activist attention with regard to other LGBT issues of real significance in the country. At the same time, some advocates argue, “winning” federal same-sex marriage rights results in more pervasive rights for LGBT people overall—throwing an entire community’s weight, and wallet, behind the single cause very likely ensures a cohesive movement to work toward more inclusive anti-discrimination protections, anti-bullying initiatives in schools and greater overall acceptance of sexual minorities. Moreover, success on the marriage issue on a federal level could free up funds for those more specific problems plaguing members of the LGBT community that Against Equality advocates.
It’s awesome that Conrad and Against Equality are touring to try to prompt these important discussions about the meaning of marriage and its role in the push for LGBT equality. It’s exciting to see an organization challenge the assumption that couples need to buy into the marriage game to validate their relationship.
Ultimately, however, in our current system, it feels futile to argue against gay marriage. It may suck that our country’s marriage institution functions the way it currently does, offering certain financial benefits solely for couples in traditionally recognized relationships, but as long as that’s the way our system works, it shouldn’t discriminate based on sexual orientation.
Conrad and many of the Against Equality members would disagree with this concept. The real question, he said, seems to be “whether we fight for a seat at a table we don’t really want to sit at, or [whether] we say fuck the table—let’s go eat somewhere else.”
But what do you think? Is there a benefit to prioritizing the gay marriage campaign over all other queer issues? And is there a way to combat the inequalities inherent in the current American institution of marriage?
—Photo Andreanna Moya Photography