June 2, 2012

Resistance is not Futile! How the seeking of same sex marriage goes against Unitarian Universalist principles.

Editors Note: The following is the content of a service I plan on delivering to the Unitarian Universalist Society of Oneonta as part of a PFLAG Oneonta/Otsego sunday service.

First, a disclaimer. I would like to make it clear, that the opinions I am about to voice are my own and are not intended to represent the opinions or views of anyone else including Pflag Oneonta/Otsego. For the purposes of this sermon, it would be best to think of me as a generic queer activist and not as the president of Pflag Oneonta/Otsego.

In past 10 to 20 years, the topic of marriage equality and the push to repeal don't ask don't tell have come to be the two defining issues of the LGBT liberation movement. In particular, marriage equality has come increasingly to dominate the national discourse. However, same sex marriage was not always a primary goal of queer liberation. In fact, one detail that has become somewhat lost to the anals of history, is that early queer liberation was in fact focused on the elimination altogether of state sanctioned marriage, not for the inclusion of same sex couples within the institution. Early queer liberation was also radically anti-war and anti-imperialism.

As we have seen from the readings, same sex marriage has long been a traditional form of marriage. In addition to the Biblical King David and Johnathon, committed same sex couplings have been documented throughout history and throughout world cultures.

As for don't ask, don't tell, consider this.

Frederich Wilhelm von Steuben, who organized and provided much needed disciplen the continental army under George Washington, did so after he was exhiled from his native Prussia for engaging in "improper" relationships.

Alexander the Great conquered, what was from the greek perspective, the known world, while remaining a devoted lover to Hephestion.

Ernst Rohm was the founder and head of the NAZI stormtroopers. However, Adolf Hitler did not have Rohm assissignated in 1934 for being openly gay but because of the grave threat Hitler felt Rohm posed to Hitler's rule.

Oda Nubunaga, not only conquered most of Japan, but also lead the building the fortress Azuchi, which was the first able to repeal attacks from Western enchroachment. When Nubunaga was killed, it was at the side of his male lover, Mori Ranmari.

And there are many more examples I could cite here.

Thus the repeal of don't ask, don't tell, and the legalization of same sex marriage cannot be described as the implementation of radical new ideas, but the restorations of what have almost always been the case.

Thus, marriage equality and the repeal of don't ask, don't tell, are by definition, conservative movements.

As the conservative movements for marriage equality and don't ask, don't tell have come to dominate the national scene, many other voices and perspectives have become increasingly marginalized. In response, certain queer activists, calling themselves anti-assimilationists, have become progressively vocal in their efforts to oppose the push by mainstream LGBT organizations to legalize same sex marriage. One of the larger groups that I am aware of is Against Equality.

I personally was first exposed to the anti-assimilation movement by my boss when I was working at the Gender and Sexuality Resource Center at SUNY Oneonta, Robin Nussbaum, who lent me her copy of That's Revolting: Queer Strategies for Resisting Assimilation edited by Mathilda Bernstein.
Within the pages of that book, I was exposed to perspectives that I never had before considered. That's Revolting had a profound impact on how I came to comprehend and understand modern queer theory. I can't say that I agreed with everything that was written, but the articles within were memorable and persuasively argued.

Following reading "That's Revolting" I came to question as well, the wisdom of seeking the legalization of same sex marriage. In fact, I would now strongly argue that the seeking of state sanctioned same sex marriage goes against our Unitarian Universalist Principles.

As Unitarian Universalists, we uphold the notion that all people have inherent dignity and worth. However, state sanctioned marriage upholds that those people in certain specific (that is heternormative, monogamous) relationships are more valid and more worthy, than those individuals who are not. As marriage, an economic, social, and political institution, does in fact grant specific benefits to those who are married, while withholding those benefits from the unmarried, it ultimately degrades the dignity and worth of the unmarried.

What then of those who are in open or polyamorous relationships? As Unitarian Universalists, do we believe that certain relationships, based upon religious or societal conventions, are superiour to others? My understanding is that as Unitarian Universalists we should hold all healthy relationships to be sacred, not those that fall within the confines of heternormative monagomy. But by seeking same sex marriage, we are subtly, but undeniably, excluding the sacredness of relationships that do not fall within that narrow model.

Even if state sanctioned marriage was expanded to include all committed relationships, such as open or polyamorous relationships, what then of those who choose, for whatever reason, to remain single or unmarried? As Unitarian Universalists, would we claim that there is something wrong with those who chose of their own free will to remain single or that such individuals are of inherently less worth and less deserving of dignity than those in committed relationships?

Why should any single or unmarried person be denied the benefits of marriage, such as the easier access to healthcare and housing, that can come from being married? Would it not be better for queers, the anti-assimilationists argue, to seek universal healthcare, rather than same sex marriage? Should not the benefits of marriage be offered to all?

Furthermore, the movement for state sanctioned marriage ignores the deeper problems facing the queer community and pushes further discrimination upon those who are the most marginalized.

The transgendeer and transsexual population in particular face greater rates of discrimination when it comes to employment and access to housing. But in NY State, while we have anti-discrimination legislation that protects individuals against discrimination based upon sexual orientation, as well as marriage equality for the LGB community, we do not have any legislation that protects individuals from being fired from their jobs or being denied housing based upon their gender identity. GENDA, the legislation which would do this, is currently locked up in committe, and has little of hope of passing.

Homelessness is rampent amongst queer youth. New York City Mayor Bloomberg has endorsed marriage equality, earning him praise from pro-LGBT advocacy groups, who seem more than happy to ignore the fact that he cut 7 million dollars in funding for the Ali Fourney Shelter that serves homeless queer youth in New York City.

In Illinois, Lambda Legal announced a new campaign to fight for marriage equality. At the same time, the latest Illinois state budget cuts 3.3 million (or 42%) to the states fund for HIV programs related to community prevention, care and housing for those infected with HIV.

These examples are but the tip of an iceberg. There is no denying that ultimately, the push for state sanctioned marriage equality benefits the more fortunate and wealthy of the LGB community, while further marginalizing those queers who already face the greatest amounts of violence, discrimination, and poverty.

In our own community, the city of Oneonta, we have an ordinance that bans more than 3 unrelated individuals from living in a rental unit. This may not appear to be a queer issue but it is. For here we are faced with the issue of government sanctioned benefits, which make access to housing easier for the married and more difficult for those individuals living in circumstances the government has deemed as less worthy. If a rental unit can safely house 4 related people, why cannot it not safely house 4 unrelated people? How is overcrowding occuring in the latter circumstance but not the former?

Housing and healthcare, are both necessities, not friviolous wants. By making access to healthcare and housing more difficult to for those who are unmarried and by continueing to claim that the 1000 plus rights that come with marriage are only for those who are willing and able to committ to marriage, we deny the inherent dignity and worth of those human beings who are single or unmarried.

This is why, as Unitarian Universalists, I believe we should be devoting our social justice advocacy efforts to fight against the concept of state sanctioned marriage. We should not be content to merely expand the boundries of discrimination that come with state sanctioned marraige. Unitarian Universalists have long been the leaders of progressive movements, but by advocating for the conservative position of marriage equality, we are in fact falling dangerously behind the curve.

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