Inequality in the Marriage Equality Movement

December 17, 2013 - 12:43am -- Amy Sueyoshi

This invited blog was originally published with the National Sexuality Resource Center on June 29, 2009.


In newspapers, churches, and online blogs, passionate discussions are taking place on marriage equality. National queer organizations are redoubling their efforts for same-sex couples. Marriage would be one more step toward normalcy and inclusion for gays and lesbians. Ironically, though, the marriage movement has hardly been about inclusion or equality in its sabotage of valuable opportunities to build coalitions across communities and its marginalization of more vulnerable queers. As activists, protesters, and volunteers take to the street in their fight for gay marriage, claiming legalization furthers equality and social justice, larger issues of hate, poverty, and who deserves assistance go deliberately untackled.


The most obvious moment of coalition breakdown occurred in the wake of the passage of Proposition 8, the ban against same-sex marriage in the California. The media blamed people of color—African Americans, Latinos, and Asians—only to find out later that voters of color did not inordinately support proposition 8 as initially believed. The phenomena reflected white America’s readiness to blame people of color for failures in equality and also illuminated how white queers had long alienated not just communities of color but more pointedly queers of color who may have more successfully brought their communities along.


Critics also note that same-sex marriage privileges the priorities of white, middle- to upper-class lesbians and gays. Notably, one study revealed how LGBT Asians in America found concerns over immigration, healthcare, racism, and hate crimes as more critical than obtaining the right to marry. Indeed in this moment of marriage equality, services around life-death issues for more marginalized queers such as sex workers, the homeless, and those who are HIV positive are left simmering if not boiling over on the back burner.


Still, well resourced national organizations are canon balling into the marriage pool fully clothed without so much as a glance behind them. Even though political scientists and legal analysts are saying that it’s just a matter of time before gay marriage will be legalized at the federal level, queer rights organizations are engaging in the marriage movement as if it’s a matter of life and death. This kind of single issue zeal has a negative effect on other queer concerns. Last year Asian Pacific Islander Queer Women and Transgender Community (APIQWTC), an all-volunteer run organization in the San Francisco Bay Area, approached one national queer rights organization for sponsorship for their annual fundraiser. The organization declined. They refused to support any groups not actively working toward marriage equality. Not just to the exclusion of APIQWTC, the campaign for gay marriage is taking unilateral precedence over anything else in the queer community.


Even before the economy plummeted, agencies and organizations providing social services for the most marginalized queers had begun to falter while fundraisers for marriage equality flowed with sparkling wine and chatter about the shame in not being able to bequeath retirement plans to their long-time lovers. Now in the midst of economic catastrophe, commentators have predicted that one-third of agencies providing HIV services in San Francisco will be closing its doors by September. Perhaps it’s not surprising that for years now—as HIV incidence rate among people of color have increased (and incidence rates among whites have decreased)—funding at all levels for HIV research and prevention has decreased. AIDS is supposedly no longer a crisis, even as people of color are literally dying. How many organizations fighting for same-sex marriage will be shutting it doors by September?


The marriage movement’s single-minded determination for “equality for all” has forgotten that many more queers suffer at the hands of more urgent inequalities. These inequalities may seem “special interest” or not relevant for a “larger” community. This could be nothing further from the truth. The most distant concern inextricably impacts our lives. For example, churches usually investing their resources into feeding the hungry or other social services may now be putting all of their energy into saving marriage. Their shift would affect the funding of social welfare at the local level. On a grander scale spending billions of dollars on a war that may not have been entirely justified, diverts funds away from pressing domestic issues. Without a doubt problems around pro-war, anti-immigrant, anti-feminist, racist, and homo/transphobic movements have always been collective issues. The smallest ripple far out at sea will form a crashing wave on our shore. Our greatest challenge for the future of social justice activism might be in reminding ourselves that all of our struggles are intimately connected and desperately need attention. Marriage may not be the answer to our most pressing social ills.