Why I Support Same Sex Marriage as a Civil Right, But Not as a Strategy to Achieve Structural Change

The pending Supreme Court decisions concerning the constitutionality of California Proposition 8 and the Defense of Marriage Act have pushed discussion of same-sex marriage into the mainstream of the news cycle, with many civil rights advocates convinced that regardless of the court’s decision, eventual victory is a done deal. I don’t disagree. I’ve also argued in support of same sex marriage rights. However, I have some serious worries about the broad implications of this victory.

Why? First, the obvious. Marriage is a conservative institution. It licenses certain kinds of relationships and not others based on a template that reproduces a status quo rooted in conservative Christian religious values. Those values reflect a bias that is both normative and cultural in a pretty blatantly chauvinistic way. And if you don’t think that bias is all that big a deal, consider for a moment the way conservative Christian norms have justified American Indian removal and forced assimilation, slavery, Jim Crow, excluding women from the vote, bans on abortion, sodomy laws, and systemic discrimination against Jews and other religious minorities. And then consider for a moment how those same values are currently being used to promote a permanent war against Muslims.

The fundamentally conservative nature of the marriage contract is why, I think, younger conservatives are growing more supportive of same sex marriage. Extending marriage rights to LGBT people does little or nothing to address the structure of oppressive family laws and values in society. It also does very little to change the  core of the conservative agenda which is, fundamentally, about power and control. This is evidenced by the fact that young conservatives are increasingly supportive of same-sex marriage at the same time that they continue to be champions of austerity who are deeply opposed to public funding of critical safety net programs. And many are terrible on issues of race, equating black and brown people with destructively out-of-control sexuality, crime, and government debt. So their attitudes about LGBT people may have changed, but their worldviews remain pretty much the same. They’ve just let monogamous same sex couples off the hook for certain societal problems, which is essentially what they’ve been doing all along for heterosexuals who marry.

What appears to be leading to this “success” with young conservatives points to another of my concerns. By presenting LGB (I’ll leave off the “t” here) people as basically conservative in our demands, the most mainstream faction within the LGB movement is subtly positioning us as a model minority. And it’s working. Where once attacks against LGB people relied heavily on messaging that mirrored prejudices historically used against people of color (morally debased sexual predators and criminals seeking anti-American special rights), LGB people are increasingly understood to be all-American and fundamentally non-threatening. The sales job basically seems to revolve around the idea that if you let us in, nothing really changes. And, based on the demands at the center of this agenda, this is, to a degree, true.

And, like all model minority strategies, this kind of argument plays subtly on an us vs them mentality that suggests that we ought not be vilified because we are like you, and not like the them popular prejudices associate us with.  This argument is not unlike that put forth by certain immigrant rights advocates who argue that undocumented immigrants aren’t criminals or lazy free-loaders getting benefits without paying taxes. They argue instead that immigrants are hard workers just wanting a break so they can participate in the American dream, even going so far as to claim that Latino immigrants are just the latest wave of sojourners landing in “a nation of immigrants.” That argument that has the indirect effect of marginalizing and even demonizing groups like African Americans and Native Americans who A) aren’t really immigrants and whose demands for justice hinge in part on their non-immigrant status, and B) are stereotyped as lazy moochers.

Also troubling is my sense that the current strategies ignore something about marriage rights that ought to be obvious to anyone excluded from them, especially when that group is arguing that being excluded has real, material consequences. That is, that we are arguing to be able to use marriage as a shield against wrongs that no one, regardless of sexual orientation or marital status, should suffer. No loved one should be excluded from survivors benefits and pensions, end of life decision-making, hospital visitation, and the many other family rights reserved for married couples. And when we argue that being able to wield this shield is a right we deserve because we conform with the values of good people, that shield can become a weapon against those who are still excluded.

So, while I’m supportive of same-sex marriage rights as a civil right, and I’m a powerful believer that civil rights ought not arbitrarily exclude people, I worry. Civil rights demands for LGBT people need to expand democratic rights for everyone, or our gains will fail to address the foundations of unjust power and remain vulnerable to roll back. Or, put another way, to a movement that likes to repeat Dr. King’s Letter From Birmingham Jail,

…injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere…

I remind you, that saw cuts both ways.

 

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106 Responses to Why I Support Same Sex Marriage as a Civil Right, But Not as a Strategy to Achieve Structural Change

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  1. NiaTrue March 25, 2013 at 7:20 pm #

    Brilliant.

  2. wah March 26, 2013 at 5:50 am #

    Anarchy then?

    But seriously, who broke your heart to the point where you feel that marriage needs to be altogether gotten rid of. Fix your own life before worrying about other’s.

    • Scot Nakagawa
      Scot Nakagawa March 26, 2013 at 12:43 pm #

      I believe that the both/and approach is best. I’m not opposed to people getting married. I just hope it’s a step toward liberalizing family more generally, and fear that the way it’s currently being framed gets in the way of that. But, this is about putting an idea out there to generate dialogue so, thanks for your comment.

  3. Tim March 26, 2013 at 9:44 am #

    I don’t buy your premise that marriage is rooted in conservative christian values. Marriage goes back in history much further than the origin of Christianity. If it is rooted in anything, it is ancient human customs, which cross all cultural, ethnic and religious barriers. Marriage is as common in Hindu and Buddhist cultures as it is in Christian cultures. Atheists and Humanists get married as well.

    Further, if younger conservatives are becoming more supportive of marriage equality, the likelier reason is that most of them know more out LGBT people than their parents did. Most young people don’t spend much time thinking about how a common relationship like marriage dovetails with their political views.

    And just by the way… if you support marriage equality as much as you say you do, you ought to stop using the discriminatory term “same-sex marriage,” which automatically relegates such marriages to the status of “other.”

    • navkat March 26, 2013 at 11:25 am #

      Well put, Tim.

    • Ashley March 26, 2013 at 11:49 am #

      This, exactly. I get frustrated with the constant discussion of marriage as a Christian institution, when early Christianity opposed marriage as an allegiance that took one away from the wholehearted dedication to God. Marriage has been a tool of the people, one of the most revolutionary of human institutions of which this new struggle is a part. Not that this complaint is limited to this article, of course; unfortunately this has become the dominant way of discussing the issue in the U.S. at least.

      • Scot Nakagawa
        Scot Nakagawa March 26, 2013 at 12:33 pm #

        BTW, I don’t actually think marriage in the U.S. is simply a Christian institution at it’s root. I think it’s a conservative institution justified by a narrow, and wholly unsatisfying definition of Christianity. For a number of years I worked with the World Council of Churches U.S. Urban-Rural Mission and there met and came to know Old Testament scholars and liberation theologists from the U.S. and Latin America. I quickly learned that my understanding of Christianity as one who has often felt victimized by the institutional Christian church was narrow and specific to certain institutions, often for very political reasons. Thanks for your comment. Sorry I only answered in a fragmented way before. The traffic is so high that the site crashed and I had only limited access to the comments section.

      • Stephanie March 28, 2013 at 5:58 am #

        Marriage as a revolutionary institution? Was that before or after women were considered subjects rather than objects of marriage? Have we forgotten that marriage has historically been essentially a transfer of property (woman) from one man (father) to the next (husband)?

        And lest we forget our patriarchal roots, let us recognize those current traditions of marriage which continue to objectify women. He asks her “hand” in marriage, many still seek the father’s permission, the father physically hands her off to her next keeper at the altar, she wears white to signify her purity, she is veiled, she takes his last name, he physically removes her garter, he carries her across the threshold on their honeymoon…

        • Scot Nakagawa
          Scot Nakagawa March 28, 2013 at 7:19 am #

          Here’s to not being coerced into marriage in order to protect our families. Appreciate your perspective.

        • Beth April 2, 2013 at 8:45 am #

          This is a great discussion.

          I will say that the customs you describe above are either:
          -not required for a legal marriage
          -part of a *wedding* not a legal marriage.

          There are folks getting married all the time who are aware of the sexist nature of the traditions you describe, and opt to skip them all.

        • Tobias Grace April 3, 2013 at 6:04 am #

          In most cases – or many cases anyway – when one marries one undertakes more than a union with one other person. One also becomes a part of a new set of family and friends. How one will interact with this new set often determines how well the marriage will work. In this day and age the ritual of asking the parent’s permission in some form is often more a matter of recognizing this and saying “I want to join your family. Will you accept me?” I very much doubt there are today many occasions of the groom calling on the father in his study and formally asking permission like a character in a Jane Austin novel – but that “dinner to meet my parents” – that “let’s go to a club this evening so you can meet my friends” often has the same intent. These people after all, do have an oar in the pond. They will be involved in the couple’s life together in an infinity of ways. This is true in gay families as well as straight. One of my adopted gay sons, for example, has a policy of not introducing a boy friend to our gay family for 90 days – until he is sure it is serious – then comes the big dinner here at home. My “permission” is neither sought nor needed but my opinion is valued as is that of other family members. We do not pretend to have a veto but it is an acknowledgement that this new person will be a part of our lives and we are being asked to extend our love to him. That is right and proper and shows respect.

    • Casey March 26, 2013 at 11:56 am #

      I’ve never heard someone say that “same-sex marriage” was a discriminatory term….I’ve heard it be used as the preferred term in pro-marriage equality camps as it takes identity politics out of it (“gay marriage” as a divisive term used by conservatives to create panic). I’m curious what term you prefer?

      • Scot Nakagawa
        Scot Nakagawa March 26, 2013 at 12:29 pm #

        I don’t think of it as discriminatory, though I think most organized efforts to promote expanding marriage rights like “marriage equality.”

        • Ash April 6, 2013 at 6:44 am #

          I think it is, in fact, discriminatory, because this creates a grey area for trans* adults, who, otherwise fully consenting and ostensibly able to get married, now have the possibility of being excluded. Consider that even the HRC, a group that advocates for “Same-sex marriage”, recently had to apologize for asking a trans*-speaker to step down from a protest formed by the United for Marriage coalition.

          Those who do not fit within the easily recognizable boundaries of a sex are marginalized in favor of creating a united narrative that can be easily brought under already existing categories. That said, perhaps “marriage equality” would be a better term, had it not already been co-opted and somewhat tainted…

    • Scot Nakagawa
      Scot Nakagawa March 26, 2013 at 12:38 pm #

      I’m not a Christian. Most of my family is Buddhist. I get your point and it is well taken. I was referring to the specific understanding of marriage that is written into law in the U.S., not marriage broadly. Sorry that wasn’t clear. I’m also clear that the U.S. marriage law isn’t reflective of all Christian thought on the issue. That’s part of my problem with it. On the other issues, I’m in the both/and camp. If you follow the link at the top of the post, I’ve written in support of marriage equality. I also worked with the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force back in the 90s and was active on this issue, including in Hawaii when the case came up there.

      I appreciate the tip on “same sex marriage.” I try to be perfect, really I do. But, as your comments make clear, I’m a terrible failure on that front. I can only commit to always trying to learn more, so thanks for teaching.

      • Rachel March 29, 2013 at 10:03 am #

        I think if we read Nancy Cott’s “Public Vows,” it’s clear that the marriage institution in the US is based on conservative framing and that influence has increased historically. For example, interracial marriage was allowed at first – then outlawed. Requiring monogamy was a conservative reaction – and was enshrined into our laws. While I agree that there is no such thing as traditional marriage (well, at least beyond 200 years or so – see Stephanie Coontz’ “Marriage, A History), I also think that it is important to remember what values have shaped and continue to shape the institution of marriage – and those values are conservative. That does not mean, of course, that some marriages aren’t progressive, however, the institutional pressures are strong, normative, and conservative.

        • Scot Nakagawa
          Scot Nakagawa March 29, 2013 at 2:29 pm #

          Thanks, Rachel. I have these books on my library list now!

    • Jason March 26, 2013 at 4:18 pm #

      Hmmm…Tim here is a thought…. Hindus and Buddhism do acknowledge and embrace same sex marriage. So yes in the USA marriage is a conserve Christian thing….

      • Chris Garcia March 28, 2013 at 8:49 am #

        Hindus WHAT?

        • Scot Nakagawa
          Scot Nakagawa March 29, 2013 at 6:56 am #

          Funny. I do appreciate humor, always, including in the picture which is awesome, just sayin’

    • Jason March 26, 2013 at 4:20 pm #

      Hmmm…Tim here is a thought…. Hindus and Buddhism do acknowledge and embrace same sex marriage. So yes in the USA marriage is a conserve Christian thing….

      • Scot Nakagawa
        Scot Nakagawa March 26, 2013 at 4:23 pm #

        Let’s be friends:)

    • Rachel March 30, 2013 at 12:55 pm #

      Tim wrote: “if you support marriage equality as much as you say you do, you ought to stop using the discriminatory term “same-sex marriage,” which automatically relegates such marriages to the status of “other.””

      I struggle with this. I see how adding “same-sex” in front of marriage could relegate marriages of same-sex couples to “other.” At the same time, though, I find it troubling when a term like “marriage equality” that seems to be inclusionary is used to mean only one specific kind of equality: That between same-sex and different-sex married couples. “Marriage equality,” as it is used, does not include interracial couples, often not trans* couples, etc. Similarly with “human rights” campaign: HRC works toward specific human rights, not all human rights, which is especially troubling when the rights of trans* folks aren’t including. So, to me “same-sex marriage” simply specifies the context of marriage equality we’re talking about.

      Any thoughts or comments? I’d be happy to be enlightened!

      • Katy April 2, 2013 at 4:41 am #

        Rachel I completely understand your feelings that the term “Marriage Equality” has predominantly been used to describe an equality between same-sex and opposite-sex marriages. But I just wanted to express that I feel this term is a good one, that has the potential to represent the concept of equality for anyone who wishes to enter into a marriage (gay, straight, interracial, polygamist, whatever.) And I most definitely agree that an organization that works specifically for gay rights should not be appropriating a term (Human Rights) that is much more inclusive than the organization itself.

        • Rachel April 2, 2013 at 11:14 am #

          If that is the definition of “marriage equality,” I think it is as inclusive as can be for marriage… My concern is that, just with HRC, the meaning will be watered down to something less inclusive… But maybe that just means we gotta keep speaking up as I do with “equality for all,” demanding that “all” really means all, not just married folks…

  4. Cassandra Grindall March 26, 2013 at 9:53 am #

    This is a wonderful article. I have thought just about as much. The perceived right to discriminate against and marginalize people the majority does not value is only due to a base need for power and control. I am hopeful however that by shaving off the territory where discrimination is acceptable that eventually we will whittle down this ego monster into a tiny toothpick.

    • Scot Nakagawa
      Scot Nakagawa March 26, 2013 at 10:04 am #

      Here’s to hoping, Cassandra. Thanks for the comment:)

  5. Lisa March 26, 2013 at 10:42 am #

    While minority assimilation to majority standards is often a troubling phenomenon and always worthy of thoughtful discourse, the suspicions and reservations as outlined in this post seem more narrow-minded and anti-intellectual than its author realizes. Marriage has one meaning and one meaning only (wrong). Marriage has one history and one history only (wrong). Infiltrating marriage is an act only of assimilation and not of disruption (wrong). The minority adapts to become the majority; the majority is never changed by the minority (wrong).

    • Scot Nakagawa
      Scot Nakagawa March 26, 2013 at 10:57 am #

      All worthy points. I’m not arguing that there’s only one way to see the issues. I posted because I think that’s the way the issues are being presented. There are important legal implications of the decisions pending. Also, as a non-Christian, I’m aware that marriage has more than one meaning. I think as defined by our federal government, that meaning is awfully narrow. Infiltrating marriage isn’t just an act of assimilation. In fact, I plan on getting married if federal recognition is won, and in part as a statement to others in my life who could use that little kick in the pants. I also don’t believe that when the minority adapts to become the majority the majority is unchanged. For instance, while I don’t believe the racial demographic changes will necessarily mean an end to white hegemony, I don’t think that the U.S. will be changed, even if many people of color are enveloped by whiteness. Whiteness, it’s meaning and import, will change, perhaps for the better. But, I do also think it’s valid to point to the potential problems associated with marriage, and to invite people like you to push back with intelligent arguments as you have. It generates a fuller, livelier, more enriching debate. Anyway, thanks for the comment. I don’t normally respond to fully, but this was a challenge I really liked because I think you raise important points!

  6. Robyn Webb, CTS March 26, 2013 at 11:09 am #

    Not at all surprised to see a gay male drop the “T.” Stereotype much? From the trans perspective, the biggest mistake of the entire marriage equality movement was insistence on use of the “M” word itself, almost as a challenge to the very conservative establishment to which the writer refers. It is my view that this was no accident, as use of the word “marriage” prolonged the effort unnecessarily, yet provided job security for numerous lobbyists. The real constitutional argument in all this has always been whether two consenting American citizens can be prevented for any reason from entering into any mutually agreed contract of any kind. Semantically, any number of expressions could have been used to describe such a contract that would not unnecessarily arouse the ire of the religious right, and the objective might have been achieved long ago.

    • Scot Nakagawa
      Scot Nakagawa March 26, 2013 at 12:10 pm #

      I dropped the “t” because I don’t think that challenging the gender binary is by any means conservative, at least not as folks I know are challenging it. On the other hand, I do think a civil rights approach basically is, that is, if you define conservative as bringing laws into compliance with the status quo understandings of the law. I don’t think civil rights is a bad thing. Just not, by itself, transformative. On the other hand, every time I have to remember to remember to my friend Sunny as Sunny, and not as either him or her, I’m reminded of something pretty fundamental about how the organization of gender forces us into a limited and limiting way of understanding humanity.

      • anonymous March 28, 2013 at 5:59 pm #

        honestly, i thought it was wise to drop the t. if you are discussing glb issues, being transparent about it is a decent thing to do. marriage equality is a trans issue, and that does need to be discussed, but when a cis glb (etc.) person discusses the problems in their community centered on a campaign for acceptance of certain identities (which usually excludes transgender people), acknowledging that their analysis may not be applicable to trans rights and trans people, i think that is acceptable and preferable to a cis person treating g, l, b, and t as interchangable. i was pleasantly surprised to see someone step away from an issue he didn’t feel comfortable discussing, or didn’t feel he could do justice in the post, out of a place of recognizing privilege and ignorance.
        to me, that’s great. it underscores the need for trans voices (of all genders, male and female, nonbinary and binary), but it’s great.

    • Forth March 26, 2013 at 4:48 pm #

      Marriage equality isn’t especially a trans issue. As a transgendered lesbian, I’ve lost the right to marry, but then I know plenty of hetero trans people who have actually gained the right to marry by transitioning. Gender transition informs sexuality but is a long way from being the same thing so in the same way that a great many trans issues are not LGB issues (and get largely lost and forgotten as a result) marriage equality isn’t a trans issue except as one of intersectionality which would be equally true, say, of gay and lesbian people of colour. The “I” in LGBTI, on the other hand still stands to gain – in Australia where I live, marriage is defined as being “between a man and a woman” meaning that if you’re neither a man *nor* a woman then you legally can’t marry *anyone*. This is apparently considered too marginal a thing to worry about. I don’t know what the deal is for intersex people in the US.

      • Scot Nakagawa
        Scot Nakagawa March 26, 2013 at 5:55 pm #

        Provocative. Thanks for commenting. Interesting questions raised here.

  7. Will Indermaur March 26, 2013 at 11:29 am #

    Great article! While I don’t think marriage is per say “rooted” in Christianity, it is certainly reinforced by it. And I agree, marriage is used by political, medical, religious, and economic institutions to oppress and neglect others.

    • Scot Nakagawa
      Scot Nakagawa March 26, 2013 at 12:12 pm #

      I don’t think marriage generally is rooted in Christianity. I’m not a Christian. Neither are my family. But, folks in my family get married, and have been getting married before those among them who were immigrants came to the U.S. (and that would be in the 19th century). I do, however, think that the definition of marriage reflected in our marriage law is rooted in Christianity. T

    • Scot Nakagawa
      Scot Nakagawa March 26, 2013 at 12:34 pm #

      Love this comment. Thanks!

  8. Sean Santiago March 26, 2013 at 3:28 pm #

    Hi there! I actually wrote a similar article for the Huffington Post: http://t.co/vPqmwY2B73

    I know it’s a bit tacky to leave a link in the comments, but I feel like that’s the easiest way to share my perspective on the things you touch on! Happy to see we’re on the same wavelength :)

    • Scot Nakagawa
      Scot Nakagawa March 26, 2013 at 5:55 pm #

      Not tacky at all. Thanks!

  9. Melanin Manson March 26, 2013 at 4:34 pm #

    Is it wrong to suggest that there are factions in every marginalized American community who center their activism around a struggle to be accepted by the country’s most conservative members? I don’t pretend to know who to blame for this, but I’ve felt for a long time that the model minority positioning the author reflects upon in this article has been the focus of many pro-marriage equality supporters. At some point mainstream gay rights activism hollered less about HIV research funding and more about same-sex marriage, and it’s obvious that different constituencies benefit from that change.
    But the more interesting question here is what happens to gay activism after marriage equality becomes a protected right throughout the land. Whether from judicial fiat or continued struggle, the trend lines are obvious. Will vast numbers of this politically active community reflect the conservative conformity the author abhors? I really hope not. But it seems that the unease presented by this article had a lot more to do with that possibility – that Adam & Steve will forget the rest of us, get hitched and move to Utah Oregon Trail style – than anything else.

    • Scot Nakagawa
      Scot Nakagawa March 29, 2013 at 7:00 am #

      I think you got to the heart of the matter. I posted it as a strategy discussion, not in order to morally condemn people. So I appreciate your really clear way of articulating that. Oh, and I just noticed the name. Love the name. Wish I’d thought of it:)

  10. Süs March 26, 2013 at 5:41 pm #

    Well said, Scot! There is so much more work to be done.

    Our society still gives Special Privileges to married people – as though the institution itself somehow makes a person more valuable. Marriage should have nothing to do with the government — or with laws OR with extra privileges; it is simply a religious-personal agreement.
    Current US marriage laws/privileges blatantly contradict the Constitutional amendment guaranteeing separation of church and state. It would be courageous for any constituency to take this issue on — and I do understand why it was not the strategy of the marriage equality struggle.

    Challenging the inequality of marriage laws was in itself is a huge undertaking for the LGBT (and friends) community. Now that the Win is inevitable, I can only hope — after the confetti falls — for deeper perspectives and a renewed commitment to equal rights for ALL.

    • Joe March 26, 2013 at 8:12 pm #

      Marriage is the formal creation of a dyad, which I would argue does provide more value to a society. At the most basic level, I’d say the dyad represents stability, and accepting the socially-constructed pairing represents an acceptance of societal norms. Is it religious? Possibly in its origins, but the current marriages process is far from religious ritual. Unless you accept Elvis as your lord and savior.

      • Scot Nakagawa
        Scot Nakagawa March 29, 2013 at 7:02 am #

        I wasn’t really trying to refer to the ritual so much as to the institution – the set of laws and the normative ideals that those laws reflect. But, I do appreciate the idea of Elvis as our lord and savior:) Humor is always appreciated. Just had to comment in order to thank you for the joke.

  11. Jackson Bollock March 26, 2013 at 7:34 pm #

    That article makes some excellent points, and is right about structural change. However, linking marriage solely to ‘Christian’ values is not correct. All sorts of religions and cultures have marriage. And why should Christianity be linked to conservative values? That is not the correct view of Christ. Jesus was a revolutionary breaking down conservative modes of control, and speaking up for the oppressed. For me, the linking of marriage to sex or sexuality seems perverse. If the law would only give up the need to control and distribute property and other rights on the basis of reproduction, then so-called ‘gay’ marriage would cease to be an issue at all, and we would be a step closer to liberty.

    • Scot Nakagawa
      Scot Nakagawa March 26, 2013 at 8:47 pm #

      I think I’m saying that U.S. marriage laws are based on a narrowly chauvinistic, Puritanical view of Christianity. Not Christianity writ large, but the brand of Christianity that also provided the justification for slavery and genocide. I get that there is non-Christian and even ecumenical Christian marriage. Thanks.

  12. Dawn March 26, 2013 at 7:39 pm #

    Scot, I think this is a great article. My one suggestion – I don’t think marriage is a Christian institution, as people have flagged in comments. I think, more broadly, that this is a class-based institution. The institution of marriage and monogamy/dualistic couplings is historically linked to the creation of private property and the shift from feudalism to capitalism; it’s a structure that allows for the perpetuation of capitalism and patriarchy by reproducing workers and keeping women relegated to the home sphere.
    Again, great article – I think this is an important framing for people to keep in mind. Concrete policy changes do have material consequences on people’s lives, but don’t create broad scale, systemic change.

  13. Scot Nakagawa
    Scot Nakagawa March 26, 2013 at 7:43 pm #

    Yes, as someone from a Buddhist background, I get that marriage isn’t a solely Christian institution. However, in the U.S., the institution of marriage is rooted in a narrowly Puritanical, Protestant, conservative Christian set of prejudices. And, yes, Christianity isn’t always conservative. For instance, liberation theology isn’t conservative. But in the U.S. context, and esp. in regard to marriage, I do think it’s a pretty conservative brand of Christianity that rules. And, I agree on your last point. I love that you made it. Thanks!

  14. Joe March 26, 2013 at 8:15 pm #

    ” Extending marriage rights to LGBT people does little or nothing to address the structure of oppressive family laws and values in society.”

    Extending legal recognition does little to address oppressive family laws? I read this thinking you meant laws that prohibit, or allow a release from, recognition of same sex unions. I’d be interested in knowing what oppressive laws can’t be changed through expanding civil rights.

    • Scot Nakagawa
      Scot Nakagawa March 26, 2013 at 8:38 pm #

      I meant that whatever the legal consequences of the decision, the structural inequities will remain. I’m not arguing against marriage. I was a marriage advocate through most of the 90s. I’m arguing that we need to expand the frame through which we view marriage rights, and adopt a both/and position on the issue. My concern is that we now have defaulted to an either/or way of understanding marriage rights.

  15. Marcus Vessey March 26, 2013 at 8:32 pm #

    I wrote this to an FB friend. While I think your post is interesting their are somethings that I would like to point out.

    Every agenda is about power and control. That is the nature of democratic system (and humanity). What you are suggesting is that your form of power and control is a ‘better’ form of power and control. I can listen to the argument if you care to make it, but fundamentally in a democratic republic which (in our case) constitutes voting blocs in a two party system it is ALWAYS about power and control.

    Also, injustice is a relative term and requires context, the same as justice. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. who was the author of the quote in the piece based his moral positions based upon and objective view of morality as derived from the bible. So how do you reconcile that?

    There is no such thing as justice or injustice outside of a framework for distinguishing the former from the latter and vice versa. This requires a set of moral presuppositions, which you base on what?

    In direct regard to the article, you make a series of arguments that are psuedo-intellectual in nature. For example, the statement about marriage being a conservative institution and the the undefined assertion about increasing the democrat rights of everyone…what in the world does that mean? Anything and everything can be a ‘right’ if we determine in a democratic society that it is a ‘right’.

    Back to conservatism. Well…if gay marriage is passed and it becomes the norm…then guess what, gay marriage will be a conservative institution as well. Conservatism is simply entrenched values that are normative in society. Ergo, gay marriage 20 years from now will be a conservative institution. What will be ‘liberal’ and follow it.

    So my points are this:

    1. Justice is contextual and based upon moral presuppositions that create the context. The premise of a democratic republic is that the context for justice is determined by the will of the people through the vote and the execution of the laws of the land.

    2. Conservatism is also contextual and it is based upon status quo normative social values and is only tangentially related to the concept of political conservatism. One shouldn’t juxtapose the two.

    3. To argue against a moral hegemony actively or passively implies that you support and alternative moral system as the basis for creating a context for justice and injustice to be evaluated. You can’t have ‘society’ without the social and you can’t have the social without structure. You can’t have structure without a hegemonic position that serves as the basis for law. What makes yours set of moral presuppositions any ‘more’ valid that anyone else’s.

    4. Power and influence is inherent in the democratic system. To assume that the desire to achieve it is something that is unique to conservatives is also silly. The basis of this piece is that you want certain laws and systemic change enacted. WELLLL is that not the desire to acquire power to execute your particular moral values through the system? Exactly how is that different from the so-called conservative power drive?

    5. Finally, the objectivist slippery slope. The premise of the bill of rights is that there is an objective set of rights that that should be guaranteed to all people. The modern movement asserts that x,y,z is a ‘right’. Now, either you make the argument that a ‘right’ is a ‘right’ because it is based upon an objective transcendent and knowable moral code or it is relative. If you argue that it is relative, then you simultaneously argue that it is a matter of preference. It weakens the gay marriage argument. If you argue that it is objective, then you essentially create the basis for a new normal conservatism, which by nature would be similarly oppressive as the old one based upon your argument.

    Finally, I say if you are pro-gay marriage, go get it and God bless you. That is the whole point of democracy. But I am simply not cool with folks who argue that a whole set of peoples value systems is wrong and oppressive and then they seek to acquire power so they can execute their own brand of future oppressive values. In principle, every system will have oppression because all structure is oppressive.

    • Grace H. March 27, 2013 at 6:24 pm #

      Thank you, Marcus, so very much, for writing this. It’s unfortunate that people are disinclined to appreciate your proper framing of the issues, and that they would rather rag on you for writing so much (i don’t see how it could be said with more brevity ). The issues are complicated, context matters, and yet people just want to get to the punchline, as though that’s all that really counts (it counts the least). I respect your viewpoint and am grateful that someone as eloquent as yourself was able to make a genuine rebuttal and said exactly what hasn’t been said anywhere in mainstream media or anywhere, period. Much respect.

      On a personal note, is there a way I can contact you about your points?

    • Scot Nakagawa
      Scot Nakagawa March 28, 2013 at 7:16 am #

      Sorry, I haven’t gotten back to you, Marc. I didn’t mean to make it appear I was making fun of how long it is. It was just the end of a long day of dealing with site crashes. Will get back, once I get into your comment more. So much there. Thanks a lot for posting it.

    • Lauren March 28, 2013 at 11:43 pm #

      I agree with your discussion of power and politics, but feel like it misses an important element in this discussion.

      Power is about control – it’s about the ability to project onto others and determine behaviors. The legalization of same-sex marriage isn’t about increasing control or power by a given party. It simply allows individuals access to the same resources currently available to a select group. These resources are not finite; the government does not ration hospital visiting rights among heterosexual couples, nor would they ever need to do so. The participation by two consenting adults in a committed relationship does not change the relationships of others. It does not compel them to behave in a certain manner. It doesn’t create a new sense of conservatism; it merely expands the current institution. Moreover, it’s an institution without power to influence the total population. Marriage does not give you the ability to determine the behavior of other couples.

      In sum, the move does not establish new lines of direct power. I don’t see the application here. That being said – when parties politicize the human experience as a means of gaining support in order to PURSUE power… yes, I can see the manifestation you reference.

      And in terms of conversations about morality, there are definite high-level discussions to be had about what, exactly, constitutes morality, or what SHOULD constitute morality. However, in a world where we’ll allow heterosexual individuals to make those determinations of their own free will (divorce rates anyone?), failure to allow equal access to what amounts to a legal partnership violates the very premise that so many arguments against same-sex marriage hold dear: that their beliefs are their own, and should not be infringed upon when they don’t impact others.

      I appreciate the academic framing, but I have to respectfully disagree with the full application in this context.

      • Scot Nakagawa
        Scot Nakagawa March 29, 2013 at 7:14 am #

        Thanks, Lauren. I find these comments so useful and interesting, in part because I sometimes feel like they are responding to something I didn’t say, but obviously must have said…or at least wrote in a way in causes people to perceive that I said it. It’s a great exercise for a writer, which is why, in part, I’ve taken the time to go through all of the comments.

        When I talk about power, I’m talking about the power of the state, not of the people getting married. I don’t object to people getting married. My critique is of the marriage institution specifically as articulated by the federal government, which exercises control through that institution.

        When more people participate, the institution expands, but the control mechanisms remain in place. Those who choose not to marry and comply with the standards for what constitutes a marriageable couple are penalized for that choice to the extent that they aren’t given the rights and privileges bestowed on those who do comply.

        For non-conjugal couples, that means that you might be able to be married, but you are doing so in order to enter into a legal contract with your partner and the government that implies a bunch of things about you that aren’t true. You’re basically in the closet about not being a conjugal couple. Similarly, people in caretaking relationships aren’t provided protection.

        In this way, the law, not people getting married, coerces us into marriage in order to gain government protection of shared assets and certain rights critical to the security of our relationships.

        So, when we argue to be included in marriage, we are arguing to be able to shield ourselves through marriage from the potential penalties non-married couples face. Like, if Edie Windsor had just decided not to marry her partner, she’d have nowhere to go to seek redress for having to pay a tax on assets she helped to accumulate.

        And when we pick up the shield, and do so in the way you described, we may inadvertently be strengthening the state’s argument as to why those who are excluded from marriage ought to be – that is, that they ought not be rewarded for opting not to have the government regulate certain aspects of their relationships.

    • Vashti November 10, 2013 at 4:57 pm #

      A (family) value system is wrong, only when it is oppressive and punitive to other members of society when their family structures are different.

  16. Scot Nakagawa
    Scot Nakagawa March 26, 2013 at 8:44 pm #

    I post this without comment because…well…you know

    • Shana Turner March 27, 2013 at 5:43 am #

      For real! Cause, this “comment” was really his own blog. smh

    • Aaron March 27, 2013 at 8:37 am #

      Hi Scot,

      I’m wondering why you didn’t address Marcus Vessey’s comments above. I read them and thought that they were fairly cogent and seriously undermined some of your own arguments (though the tone I believe was a bit abrasive at times). I also see this as a question of how you make a “better” alternative work in a democratic system like the one we’re currently living in. If broadening rights to more individuals in a constitutional democracy oppresses others (the ones left out, as your argument goes), then how does one formulate those rights to include those others? It sounds to me like you don’t have a sound understanding of rights in a constitutional democratic system. Are we talking something more akin to what are generally referred to as “human rights” that should be afforded to everyone simply by virtue of being a human being? But even these have to be defined, and as many people know the current human rights regime is a product of post-WWII international legal reform (with all of the issues of the enforceability of rights across sovereign jurisdictions like nation states). Also, I’m not entirely convinced that a current change in marriage law would not be an important structural change if the very definitions of marriage and family are being revised in a more inclusive way. I guess my issue with critical analyses of social change like this is that many critical theorists use large yet rather blunt analytical tools, like the concepts of oppression, hegemony, and even structure, yet are hesitant to get into the dirty details of how social systems work, change, and should be improved.

      • Scot Nakagawa
        Scot Nakagawa March 27, 2013 at 6:51 pm #

        Honestly, I haven’t had time to read it carefully yet. I’m glad it was posted, but my life is sadly way busier that I’d sometimes like it to be. When things slow down, I’ll read it carefully. I might respond, but, honestly, I don’t generally because of time management considerations. I’m not primarily a blogger. My main job involves altogether different things, like research, administrative matters, convening gatherings, travel…etc. You know, the things that go into managing a think tank, even a small one.

        I know these are blunt instruments. I’m not trying to define truth here. I’m offering a different, provocative (hopefully) point of view to inspire a richer, fuller debate of the issues. I might be wrong – often am.

  17. Shana Turner March 27, 2013 at 5:41 am #

    Hey Scot,
    Thank you for this nuanced reflection about this political moment in our lives. Several years ago, a dear friend suddenly found herself without access to a greencard, sending us scrambling to keep her status in this country good. None of the progressive, revolutionary-minded (US citizen) brothers who had been her friend for years were willing to marry her, to gain her access to a privilege handed to them at birth. Almost ALL the sisters were. We talked about ways that federal gay marriage could help marginalized people benefit from “other side” of this inequitable system of privilege granting. By no means does this law put a dent in the matrix, and at the same time I look forward to gaining the 1k+ benefits offered to legally married people! Oh the woes of existing in this white-supremist, capitalist patriarchy!!

  18. Scot Nakagawa
    Scot Nakagawa March 27, 2013 at 5:58 am #

    I with you, Shana. I’m getting my benefits!

  19. Marcus Vessey March 27, 2013 at 7:01 am #

    Let me some it up for you folks who only like pop culture arguments you can cheer lead on.

    In general I am in favor of same sex marriage. But I reject moral superiority arguments that seek to push propaganda under the guise of logic. The author’s whole article is set up on this premise. Unless you have anarchy (which leads to a different form of oppression) the author is arguing for the acquisition of control and power as well. The same thing he criticizes the conservative on.

    Finally, and most important to the authors argument, is you can’t argue for rights without arguing for a moral position. If you argue for a moral position, you have either argue that it is objective or relative. If it is relative, then you have to agree that it is ultimately simply your opinion or the opinion of your collective group. If it is objective you are arguing from the same premise that the conservative is, that rights don’t change over time.

    Finally, am I the only one that notes the irony of using a Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. quote to conclude the piece when much of the piece railed against the same objective based religious value system that the author despises?

    You all can go back to your cheer leading now.

    • Grace H. March 27, 2013 at 6:28 pm #

      Does no one else see the genius in this? Seriously, Marcus, way to be on point!

    • Scot Nakagawa
      Scot Nakagawa March 29, 2013 at 7:47 am #

      Hi Marcus,

      I really appreciate your point of view and your taking the time to offer such detailed and carefully considered critiques. I’m learning from and appreciate them.

      I guess what I can offer this discussion is this: I understand that one must make a moral argument to build support for a change in laws. Our system of laws is not amoral, so in order to create a justification for change we need to address the moral bases of them. Good point.

      In fact, I think it is related to my central point, which, I hope, was that marriage normalizes and legitimizes a particular moral position that is rooted in a set of prejudices about family that should be interrogated, as all of our assumptions, including all of mine, should be – they are all rooted in some sort of prejudgement reflecting perspectives that are rooted in experience and therefore limited, especially in a world as segregated and fragmented by hierarchies of power as the one we live in.

      So, what I’m asking is that we look at these questions. Challenge ourselves to ask, why are some relationships afforded government sanction and protection while others aren’t? What is the moral basis for this, and does that basis end up causing our government to draw bottom lines through our communities and relationships that run behind some of our heels, and in front of other people’s toes. If, so, how do we raise consciousness concerning this in order to move that line?

      I think the current marriage equality struggle does much to move the line on marriage, but not enough. So I’m asking, how do we deal with all the rest of it and will those who are protected by marriage continue to be our movement partners in that fight?

      In opening up that dialogue (within a pretty strict word limit that is imposed by consensus among the blog administrators of which I’m one) means wielding a pretty blunt instrument. More surgical approaches require many more words. So, I write, and people, hopefully, respond intelligently and with insight as you have, and the dialogue deepens. But would it happen if some of us just shut up because we’re concerned about making moral arguments or offending people’s sense of what they think it right and just?

      In the case of marriage law, I think the problem is that the government licenses and protects (as well as regulates) certain kinds of relationships and not others. I’m not arguing for anarchy here. I’m simply saying we need to look at that and understand the implications because the majority of families in the U.S. don’t fit the traditional nuclear family definition.

      Within a broader framework of serving the common good, I think those other family’s needs must be addressed. For those who choose not to be married because they simply disagree with marriage, should they be penalized for that choice by being excluded from protections and rights that are provided and mediated through institutions we all support through our taxes and other contributions? And for those in non-conjugal relationships. What of them? And those in care-taking relationships that aren’t simply couples, how do we ensure that assets within these circles are protected if they are accumulated together through shared investment?

      If Edie Windsor had simply not married. Her case would have no legal remedy. Yet, would her relationship have been less valid and real, meaningful and sustaining to her and those around her? I don’t think so.

      As to the question of Dr. King’s statement, I’m a strong supporter of the kind of liberatory theology it is rooted in. For years, I worked as a board member of the World Council of Churches U.S. Urban-Rural Mission inspired by their central premise that the mission of God on earth is a mission of justice. Through that work I became committed as a non-Christian to a couple of ideas that are popular among liberation theologists. First, that the struggle for justice is never-ending. Each step we take is part of a process of humanization that will never be complete, or ought not be, because our perspectives will always be limited by certain prejudices.

      Second, I became inspired by the idea of discernment. You may know it. It is taken from three Latin roots meaning 1) to take something apart, 2) to study it, and 3) to bring the pieces back together with a fuller understanding. This process of learning was described to me in terms of baking bread. We first thresh the wheat and then examine it, removing those parts that aren’t good for us, and then we pull together what is nutritious to make the dough for our bread.

      That sort of inquiry is really important to me though I’m not, obviously, always so good at it. When I fail and people offer criticism, I appreciate that. In that spirit, I appreciate your comments. Really great food for thought. Thanks.

  20. Garald March 27, 2013 at 7:10 am #

    >They argue instead that immigrants are hard workers just wanting a break so they can >participate in the American dream, even going so far as to claim that Latino immigrants are just >the latest wave of sojourners landing in “a nation of immigrants.” That argument that has the >indirect effect of marginalizing and even demonizing groups like African Americans and Native >Americans who A) aren’t really immigrants and whose demands for justice hinge in part on their >non-immigrant status, and B) are stereotyped as lazy moochers.

    African Americans do descend from people who landed in America to work pretty bloody hard – just not out of their free choice!

    Actually, for that matter, Native Americans also descend from people who went over (freely) to America to make a living by hard toil against extreme circumstances – it is just the word “landed” that is inappropriate, since it is generally accepted that the route was by what was then land.

  21. Hannah March 27, 2013 at 7:11 am #

    Change comes from within right? Beat the system from the inside.

    Marriage is here to stay, but that doesn’t have to be a bad thing. It already carries very different guidelines (or lack thereof) for married couples or multiples, i.e. Mormons, Muslims, etc., all over the world. This includes cultures like our own with inherently chauvinist constructs. I may not like the idea of of the way many other cultures conduct marriage (or even my own at times), but I’m not here to tell them what to do, and I’m certainly not trying to buy into their version. (“Mind your own business” has always been one of my favorite pieces of advice.) The grand institution and culture of marriage is not to blame; it’s the power of democracy being a vehicle for the countries shared values. But this aspect is forever evolving…

    What the conservatives may actually be learning in this very small step is that it is possible to tolerate, even respect, another group/culture/race/individual in spite of their divergent morals/ethics/values. This is a good thing. This is where change takes place. The two sides push and push so hard that eventually they find a way to bend and blend the structure in order to promote peace.

    Humans have a long, long way to go.

    • Scot Nakagawa
      Scot Nakagawa March 28, 2013 at 7:17 am #

      Thanks for posting this comment. Happy to host a bunch of different points of view since the point of the post was dialogue. Thanks for the dialogue!

  22. Mason Gill March 27, 2013 at 11:23 am #

    When people are drowning just outside a ship you rescue them first before you worry about re-structuring the ideology of the ruling class aboard your vessel.

    • Barbara Saunders March 27, 2013 at 12:59 pm #

      And the other people drowning outside of the same ship?

      • Scot Nakagawa
        Scot Nakagawa March 27, 2013 at 1:04 pm #

        Word. Love this Barbara:)

  23. Usurper March 27, 2013 at 3:01 pm #

    “Oppressive” family values? Since when is a strong family structure a bad thing? It’s certainly better than trying to throw tax dollars at the problems of teen pregnancy, drug addiction, illiteracy, etc.

    “The conservative agenda is to seek power and control.” Don’t tell me this isn’t the agenda of interest group. To put yourself out of that category sounds so naive it makes me physically ill.

    I’m not against gay marriage. I don’t really care either way. You’re right to say that gay marriage won’t really lead to substantive change. It’s really just an expansion of tax breaks.

  24. hECTOR March 27, 2013 at 3:43 pm #

    So Scot, tell me. How do you feel about using the Master’s Language in order to deconstruct the Master’s House? Did your post-structuralist way of analysing gay marriage originate amongst white academics? Are you assimilating whiteness? Your article reads of the very predominantly white radical queer. Also, being one who is born in a Latin American country, are you also assuming all Christians of being white? Please be careful how you answer this. Because if you start invoking colonialism, then I can think of other faiths that have been colonialist too. Not only that, but please, enlighten me and define for me what is the authentic ‘non’ white racial experience. Since, YOU seem to be an expert on what racial/ethnic authenticity is. Or, better put: Is a middle-class raced/ethnic person in reality white? Will you accuse me of being a coconut? Brown on the outside and white on the inside because I support gay marriage?

    • Scot Nakagawa
      Scot Nakagawa March 27, 2013 at 4:14 pm #

      Hi Hector,

      No, I don’t think all Christians are white. I also don’t think someone is brown on the outside and white on the inside if they support marriage rights. In fact, I support marriage rights. In my past work with the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force, back in the early days of this issue, I endorsed marriage equality and supported efforts to win marriage rights in a number of places where the issue came up around the country.

      My analysis didn’t originate among white academics, though I’m sure it’s influenced by some white thinkers. I’m not an academic, don’t have a college degree, and grew up outside of the U.S. proper in Hawaii. In fact, I don’t think I raised the issue of race here at all, though I’m terribly sorry if that’s how it came across to you because I certainly do not believe in going around referring to people as “coconuts.” We all struggle through lives in a white dominated society. I don’t think it’s fair to accuse people of not being brown enough or true enough to some ideal that I don’t think anyone, certainly not me, truly represent.

      I find myself responding to comments when normally I don’t, just as a matter of time management. But I’m responding because I know how powerfully people feel about this issue and want to respect that. If I offended you, I’m truly sorry. It certainly wasn’t my intention, though I understand that even the best intentions can go awry.

  25. Jessica March 28, 2013 at 8:42 am #

    Thanks for articulating some of these things so well in your article. Our society/government forces us into the marriage box if we want to take advantage of the benefits marriage offers (and we are eligible). For multiple reasons, some of which you included in your post, I had made a conscious decision to not get married. However, my husband (yes, I did get married) is Canadian, and we were left with the choice to either not be together or get married so he could become a legal resident of the US. That didn’t feel like much of a choice, and I actually avoided telling people we were married, not because I was embarrassed to be committed to another person, but because I was embarrassed that I had taken advantage of benefits that are available to only an exclusive set of heterosexual couples.

    I personally wish that the legal battle was not about expanding marriage, but about removing the concept of marriage completely from the purview of the government. I would prefer we move toward some sort of legal civil union for any couple (or ?group?) that wishes to make that commitment. If you want the economic and social benefits, you make a legal commitment, and then, if you want, get married in your place of worship (or community, or whatever). If your place of worship wants to exclude you, then maybe you’re in the wrong place.

  26. Anthony March 28, 2013 at 10:02 am #

    An excellent article, and I think it’s crucial that Nakagawa’s critique be disseminated (there was a good exchange this morning on Democracy Now). That said, It’s curious to me that Gay Marriage is considered a threat to ‘family values’ when you look at how the nature of work has changed over the last twenty years. The workplace has become more “convivial”, more “flexible”, demanding more from us while de-territorializing the categories of work and leisure (“family time”). Curiously, as we work more hours and more jobs, spending more time away from our families — sometimes thousands of miles away, living in other cities, etc. — we seldom hear a peep from “family values” advocates about anything approaching a critique of this scenario. In fact I think WORK is the biggest threat to the mythical nuclear family. (It’s also a threat to gay families, to human relationships in general.) Then again, the nuclear family always was the last unmarked bastion of socialism in our society, wasn’t it? Or is it the military? Here’s for shifting the conversation on the concept of “family” in a post-Fordist expanded field.

    • Scot Nakagawa
      Scot Nakagawa March 28, 2013 at 10:19 am #

      Word! Work is the biggest threat – work and lack thereof, I’d like to add.

  27. jimstoic March 28, 2013 at 10:40 am #

    Marriage is not a Christian institution. It existed in ancient Egypt, Greece, and Rome. The Jews practiced it long before Jesus. India and China had marriage hundreds of years BCE. Peoples of pre-Colombian Americas practiced it. Marriage in the U.S. has Christian characteristics because the majority of immigrants settling the U.S. came from European nations with Christian traditions, but that doesn’t make the institution Christian.

    • Scot Nakagawa
      Scot Nakagawa March 28, 2013 at 11:10 am #

      You’re right, but I’m referring to the marriage institution as recognized under law in the U.S. being reflective of a very specific brand of Christian values. The institution of marriage is different from culture to culture.

      But, in the U.S., as you point out, it has Christian traditions. I know that my own family’s marriage tradition is not Christian. And, I’m not entirely happy that that form of marriage is not recognized in the U.S. under our current marriage laws. I’m also not too keen on the idea that if I don’t want to get married, I’m excluded from basic family rights. But here’s to hoping for change. After all, as the cases are before SCOTUS, the horse has left the barn. The time to argue for fighting for marriage in the cultural arena and for a more robust reform of current marriage laws in the legal arena might be past.

  28. Anon March 28, 2013 at 12:13 pm #

    “When Audre Lorde made that much quoted yet often misunderstood cautionary statement warning us that “the master’s tools will never dismantle the master’s house,” she was urging us to remember that we must engage in a process of visionary thinking that transcends the ways of knowing privileged by the oppressive powerful if we are to truly make revolutionary change. She was, in the deep structure of this statement, reminding us that it is easy for women and any exploited or oppressed group to become complicit in structures of domination, using power in ways that reinforce rather than challenge or change.”
    — bell hooks in essay “feminist theory: a radical agenda”

    • Scot Nakagawa
      Scot Nakagawa March 29, 2013 at 5:53 am #

      I love that Bell Hooks!

  29. Tobias Grace March 28, 2013 at 5:23 pm #

    This article and the comment thread together is the most intelligent, well written example of civil discourse I have seen on the internet in a long time. As a life-long activist for gay liberation (I use “gay” in the old, all-inclusive sense, often today replaced by “queer” – so much easier than the endless acronym) and as editor of an LGBT regional magazine, I have been heavily involved in the struggle for marriage equality and could argue in favor of marriage as an institution. However, I’d rather comment on two other issues: re-defining the family and what comes next – after marrige equality? AS to the first issue – the family – we queers have already been doing that. My own gay family consists of my husband of 17 years and a crew of wonderful 20-somethings who each came into our orbit for various reasons in their teens and are now our “sons”. This is all informal and personally satisfying but what happens when we hit the wall of legality in such matters as insurance, inheritance, hospital visitation etc etc. A structure is necessary and to work, it must have definition- not infinite flexibility. Can we created a valid model of what constitutes family for such practical purposes – a model that can include the variations we are now creating but which won’t – say – bankrupt the insurance companies (not that I have any brief for insurance companies or any real worry about their ability to make money! LOL) As to the second issue – what comes next – we have a long way to go before we perfect society here in the US but we might give thought to using the resources and power base our movement has created to expand our help and outreach to our way less fortunate queer brothers and sisters in other parts of the world – places where one can still be executed for loving someone of the same sex, for example.

    • Scot Nakagawa
      Scot Nakagawa March 29, 2013 at 5:58 am #

      Thanks, Tobias. I’m glad you referenced what is happening abroad. The LGBT community is global. In some parts of the world, as you wrote, people can be executed because of their gender identities and sexual orientations. We need to address this, not just as a matter of concern for them, but as a matter of self-interest at a time when conservative evangelicals, seeing the sun set on their ability to use homophobia to build political power in the U.S., are going abroad to Africa and Latin America where they are waging cultural wars against queers. As they succeed abroad, they will bring the fight back home and continue to threaten reproductive freedoms, LGBT security, and the ideal of feminism here.

  30. Rachel March 29, 2013 at 10:13 am #

    Thank you so much, Scot, for articulating what I’ve sense and wasn’t able to put into words: Why it is so troubling that conservative forces are behind “same-sex marriage” support! I guess this goes back to the original Ettelbrick – Sullivan discussion, which to me showed this push to the conservative side pretty staunchly.

    To pick up the discussion of alternatives from Tobias, one approach for a more inclusive expansion of rights was suggested by the now defunct Canadian Law Commission in the Beyond Conjugality report (link below). They suggest that rather than expanding existing institutions, which can be rather problematic because of the enshrined baggage they carry, we can step back and ask what a particular law is actually supposed to achieve. Social security benefits for widows? Well, we don’t want old women to starve – so how about a basic income guarantee for everyone instead? Hospital visitation rights? Maybe it makes more sense to have a “do not visit” registry. There are only a handful of people I’d rather not see when I am in a hospital, the rest I’d welcome. In some ways, this makes things more complicated. And, yet, it also brings out all the hidden institutional supports of certain ways of living that we might not want to continue (or even expand).

    Link: http://www.samesexmarriage.ca/legal/law_commission.htm

  31. K Sleeth March 31, 2013 at 1:21 am #

    Gay marriage represents the emotional misdirection to the sinister “legalization of poison” that we now call food.

  32. Hugo April 1, 2013 at 2:42 pm #

    This is a superb post, and I completely agree with your view as marriage as a fundamentally conservative institution.

    One section, however, confused me and seemed to be wandering into the realms of impracticality- ‘No loved one should be excluded from survivors benefits and pensions, end of life decision-making, hospital visitation, and the many other family rights reserved for married couples.’

    I think you misunderstand these issues. Take ‘end of life decision making’. You imply that this right should be extended to long term unmarried partners? How exactly would this work, how would one prove that they are in a position to make the decision? Equally hospital visitation. To extend these rights to long term unmarried partners would PRACTICALLY require some sort of official registration of a partner- ‘THIS is the person who can choose to turn off my machine’ etc. And here, we start branching into a relationship which is federally recognised and thus given special privileges and rights- essentially no different from the criticisms you made of marriage.

    I know it’s only a minor point but I’ve read this view expressed in other places, and I think failing to recognise that these sort of rights must, for practical reasons, only be given to married couples undermines your otherwise very compelling argument.

    • Scot Nakagawa
      Scot Nakagawa April 4, 2013 at 3:21 pm #

      I think we should be able to register our domestic partners, caretaking partners, nonconjugal friends, etc., and give them the authority of legal spouses. Otherwise, those of us who aren’t marriage have that authority default to next of kin, which might not be what we want or need.

  33. Adam April 2, 2013 at 12:49 pm #

    “Marriage is a conservative institution. It licenses certain kinds of relationships and not others based on a template that reproduces a status quo rooted in conservative Christian religious values. Those values reflect a bias that is both normative and cultural in a pretty blatantly chauvinistic way. And if you don’t think that bias is all that big a deal, consider for a moment the way conservative Christian norms have justified American Indian removal and forced assimilation, slavery, Jim Crow, excluding women from the vote, bans on abortion, sodomy laws, and systemic discrimination against Jews and other religious minorities. And then consider for a moment how those same values are currently being used to promote a permanent war against Muslims.”

    Because Jews, Muslims, and American Indians don’t have marriage? Or wouldn’t if it weren’t for Christianity? I’m really not sure how rattling off a list of bad things associated with Christianity makes all the things associated with it bad. “Christians believe in giving charity to the poor; but they want bans on abortion, charity is therefore a conservative institution rooted in the status quo!”

    The same is true of your next (and last) argument against marriage, which is “conservatives love marriage, and look at all the terrible things they do!”

    I fail to see how any of that is an argument against marriage.

    • jacki April 3, 2013 at 8:18 am #

      I agree with Adam, as well as some of the other comments addressing the loose use of the term “conservative Christian,” which is certainly much more of a placeholder than a legitimately descriptive term for the people group you are naming. They are simply those whose “agenda…is, fundamentally, about power and control,” to use your own words. Christianity, and even conservatism, for that matter, have only been co-opted and opportunistically exploited and conditioned by the those in power since our country first began.

  34. Tom Oliver April 3, 2013 at 3:22 am #

    Sorry to self-publicise on your article. But I’ve written an article encouraging people to think about sex and sexuality as a broader issue rather than narrowing it down to debates about gay marriage etc. Give it a read? If you like it would be great if you could share it! Thanks.

    http://graphitepublications.com/science-a-tool-of-the-heteronormative-society/

  35. Brent April 3, 2013 at 1:37 pm #

    I agree with most of this article. However, specifying the traditional marriage model (man/woman) as “Christian” is hardly accurate. That same model is stressed over many religions and cultures, who in return also oppose LGBT unions which conflict with their traditionalist views. In projecting this as a strictly Christian model, you don’t take in the entirety of the societal issues that are at the forefront. In effect, you narrow down your framework in the same way you condemn the slow shift of right religious conservative view of LGB marriage not changing the shift of our societal issues as a whole. Then again, maybe one battle at a time is the way to proceed. Getting a foot in the door with gay marriage is better than nothing. Even if it hurts as they try to close the door on your foot, it is still better than getting it slammed in your face.

  36. Scot Nakagawa
    Scot Nakagawa April 3, 2013 at 2:21 pm #

    Brent, Tom, Jacki, Adam and others are obviously pointing to a writing fail in my post. I didn’t mean to suggest that marriage across the world or even as it is undertaken by all Americans is “Christian.” I meant that the marriage institution under law in the U.S. is rooted in a particularly conservative view of Christian marriage. As the law was created by conservative Christians with a peculiarly Puritanical view of marriage, I feel pretty comfortable making that assertion, though I obviously made the point poorly.

    But, no, I don’t have anything against Christianity generally. I don’t think all Christians are conservative and have worked in partnership with Christians and Christian inspired institutions, including serving for years on the board of the World Council of Churches U.S. Urban-Rural Mission. And, as someone from a family full of Buddhist and atheist marriages, I don’t believe marriage is always a Christian undertaking.

    Thanks for the comments.

  37. Ann April 4, 2013 at 10:04 am #

    Important thoughts… but unfortunate you seem to equate (or very closely connect) “Christian thought” with conservative or “us vs. them”. Yes, I’m Christian and I believe in monogamy and having certain privileges tied to that. That has *nothing* to do with my views on race, social status, etc. I support LGBTQ rights, and obviously this includes rights of those who are either singles or not married. BTW, it’s not all about power–a lot is, but not all.

    Whether privileges for monogamy should also fall, is a different arena for me. I wouldn’t rule out in the slightest that I’ll change my view on it some day, but at least today I do *not* mind privileging some forms of couples / families over others (e.g., by providing legal forms with 2 slots for “parents” instead of an unlimited number etc.; not providing residence permits for an unlimited number of intimate partners, etc.).

    I think a lot of problems would disappear anyways if we reduced privileging adult unions (e.g., tax cuts for marriage/couples/…) for those of children, irrespective of the relationship(s) of their parents, but that’s another topic…

    Either way, I think you come close to having just another “us vs. them” issue when you talk about Christian conservative values. Which would be said as it would undermine your own argument…

    • Scot Nakagawa
      Scot Nakagawa April 4, 2013 at 3:15 pm #

      Sorry, as I’ve said before in this comment thread, that was an obvious writing fail. I meant that the U.S. laws concerning marriage are rooted in a very specific type of Christianity that is conservative, Puritanical, actually. Not that Christianity is always conservative. Had I meant that, I would not have said “conservative” just “Christian.” I added conservative as a qualifier, but that obviously wasn’t clear. I’m properly and sincerely ashamed of myself for not having anticipated how progressive Christians would read my commentary. Perhaps as a non-Christian raised among people who’ve been pretty badly damaged by certain kinds of Christian missions, I have some unexamined biases I need to deal with. Thanks for the comment.

  38. Ann April 4, 2013 at 10:05 am #

    oops: * sad… :o )

  39. JoyM April 4, 2013 at 12:22 pm #

    Terrific article. I am a strong supporter of marriage equality, but I have become increasingly uncomfortable with many of our new “friends.” If Dick Cheney is on our side, then our side’s in trouble.

    • Scot Nakagawa
      Scot Nakagawa April 4, 2013 at 3:18 pm #

      Hah! This made me laugh. Thanks!

  40. Amy April 4, 2013 at 1:42 pm #

    Very thoughtful. However, I have a question about this:

    “No loved one should be excluded from survivors benefits and pensions, end of life decision-making, hospital visitation, and the many other family rights reserved for married couples. And when we argue that being able to wield this shield is a right we deserve because we conform with the values of good people, that shield can become a weapon against those who are still excluded.”

    But I don’t want all of my loved ones to have equal say in end of life decision-making. I’ve seen what happens when every family member weighs in–it can tear families apart. I want the person who makes these decisions to be my wife. That’s one of the things civil marriage does: gives certain status by default to one person we have chosen. What are you proposing instead?

    • Scot Nakagawa
      Scot Nakagawa April 4, 2013 at 3:18 pm #

      One should, I think, be able to register a domestic partnership, a caretaking partnership, or a nonconjugal friend or friends as people who have the authority of “wife.” Otherwise, as you rightly point out, a lot of problems can result. Thanks for being so thoughtful in your comments!

  41. Cliff April 7, 2013 at 12:46 pm #

    One of the things that fascinates me about this and other discussions about gay marriage is that Michael Warner’s work is never cited (“The Trouble with Normal”). Almost 15 years ago, he was making many of the same points.

    None of what’s examined here is new. I keep wondering if it’s another example of the way gay history is not passed on. For me, it’s very embarrassing to read this material without mention of Warner.

  42. Scot Nakagawa
    Scot Nakagawa April 7, 2013 at 2:32 pm #

    Hmm…unless it’s an indication that 1) Warner’s ideas are not his exclusive reserve and that the LGBT movement is diverse, broad, and includes people who are thinking about these issues from a variety of communities that might have no contact with Michael Warner because they aren’t out of the college tradition, and/or 2) that Warner’s ideas have had their intended impact, becoming so deeply ingrained in the way that many think that they understand these things without even knowing where the ideas come from. To me, that’s the goal, isn’t it? To arrive at a point where radical ideas become common sense. If “2″ is what is at the base of the variety of people who are critical of the marriage strategy then, well, yay! for Warner.

  43. Peter April 8, 2013 at 2:29 pm #

    How do we get from undocumented Latinos are industrious to African/Native Americans are lazy?

  44. David April 20, 2013 at 8:26 pm #

    Curious what you mean about “the way conservative Christian norms have justified American Indian removal and forced assimilation, slavery, Jim Crow, excluding women from the vote, bans on abortion, sodomy laws, and systemic discrimination against Jews and other religious minorities. And then consider for a moment how those same values are currently being used to promote a permanent war against Muslims.”
    Which norms did any of that? Capitalism, racism, sexism, and war are not Christian norms as far as I know…

  45. Justin April 30, 2013 at 9:32 am #

    A very insightful article Mr. Nagakawa. I’ve had some issue with were the LGBT movement is going. I believe there is too much attention being pay to issues like marriage and the military buy the gay elite at the exclusion of other issues like class, racsim,sexisim etc. They think that making us Mainstream will end homophobia. Yeah, like electing Obama made America a post racial society. The only thing I’ll say is becareful what you wish for. GAY MARRIAGE=GAY DIVORCE=ALIMONY.

  46. Daniel Thompson June 14, 2013 at 9:21 am #

    My fundamental problem with this article is that it engages in a type of reductionism that equates the “Christian” perpetrators of historic injustice with conservatism in general. The author makes the immediate implication that conservatism is by definition an ideology that is undesirable, exclusive, and discriminatory. The tone of the text insinuates that American queers are (by nature of being queer) anti-conformist, liberal, and uninterested in/opposed to mainstream social assimilation.

    This attitude is one I encounter primarily in urban areas, particularly on the West Coast and other areas with so-called “gay communities.” As a non-monosexual man from a rural, predominantly right-wing Christianist area, this attitude of urban gay elitism seems as improbably conformist and discriminatory as the ideologies it purports to disdain.

    It seems quite strange to me to base an entire argument against a strategy on the presumption that the majority of American queers are liberal non-conformists. What about the “young conservatives” whose motives are questioned above that are, in fact, queer? Many of my friends outside of privileged urban enclaves can think of no higher endorsement of their “normality” within the societies they inhabit than to be accepted into an institution that is inherently conservative. The greatest dream for many is to see their parents who rejected their “lifestyle” attend and sanction the lifelong vows they make to the person they choose.

    One can be progressive and conservative without seeking to demean the existing social contract based on the past actions of those who perpetuate it. I recognize the author and others are uncomfortable with assimilating into a society that has marginalized and excluded many, but to me and several others, there hardly a greater indication of structural change in progress. Let us not miss the forest for the trees.

  47. olapv September 21, 2013 at 5:29 am #

    –Your work and effort is appreciated. There’s so much to be done, so much to learn about.
    The only common denominator that can be observed is “humankind”. No matter what religion, nationality, geographic location, government, culture, gender, social/civil status, generation gap, age, height, weight, etc.
    We aren’t so ‘homo sapiens sapiens’ (Latin: homo, man and sapiens, wise, rational) after all. These three Latin words include all modern races, which refer to the human race.
    I would like to share something with you: Our attention should be directed to understand what our responsibility towards ourselves and to others is, in an objective manner. Between being responsible or negligent, I choose to be responsible. I’m not perfect either but I’ve certainly made my choice.
    There is a quote whose author is unknown and it goes like this:
    “The responsibility of the individual who commits to it, is not greater than the responsibility of the individual who does not commit to it.”
    Responsibility is objective, not subjective. Subjective, you know, as in taking place in a person’s mind rather than the external world. We can try to rationalize this idea of subjective responsibility, although it would not be responsibility but negligence.

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