A ‘New Conversation’ on Gay Marriage?
The New York Times has an interesting article about the Institute for American Values’ “Call for a New Conversation on Marriage,” which it released today. A letter signed by 74 academics, activists and writers, the “call” ostensibly renounces the culture war in favor of a new, pro-marriage coalition that will involve gay and straight proponents alike.
Blankenhorn, the Times notes, “has long been a foe of same-sex marriage” but “never invoked a religious justification and did not oppose civil unions for gay men and lesbians. Instead, he argued that heterosexual marriage was society’s most important institution, central to child rearing.”
What’s notable is that Blankenhorn’s redirect commences with a critique that many queer activists have also made of the push for gay marriage. The letter chides:
The current conversation on middle-class marriage is largely therapeutic and psychological, focusing on gender roles and on “soul mate” issues … In short, the current conversation on middle-class marriage presupposes affluence.
But this “new conversation” ends up in a very different place than do those who argue that universal healthcare, an end to police brutality or stronger workplace protections—rather than marriage—should be the aim of the LGBT movement:
In the wake of the Great Recession and in the midst of severe and possibly long-lasting economic challenges to our society, we propose a new conversation that re-establishes the link between marriage and money, the nest and the nest-egg. … What marriage policies create wealth? In the new conversation, marriage and thrift, the two great engines of the American middle class since the nation’s founding, stand best when they stand together.
This conversation about marriage and “thrift,” in fact, is an old one. In the 90s, the debate over welfare reform centered not on how to reduce poverty, but how to reverse the decline of the two-parent family—including the question of whether Congress could compel states to spend part of their welfare budgets on “pro-marriage activities.”
In a roundtable discussion of gay marriage with In These Times last July, writer and activist Kenyon Farrow suggested that the marriage equality movement has sometimes played into this rhetoric and implicated itself in the push for austerity:
KENYON: There’s a … long history of the state compelling people to marry. The argument in the 90s, that what poor women really needed was to get married, provided cover for the state to abandon large parts of its welfare and food stamp programs. We’re also seeing that in states with same-sex marriage, companies are now dumping their domestic partnership benefits, which sometimes were not just for gay couples, but also for unmarried straight couples or family members. So there’s actually a way in which marriage becomes not a civil right, but a civil demand from the state in order to get benefits.
Following marriage equality's historic victories at the polls this fall, we may be seeing the beginning of the end of the anti-gay marriage movement. But a key part of its agenda—the push to restrict recognition to the married, in order to block the expansion of benefits to all—is still very much alive.