Saturday, September 5, 2009

Lesbians Leading the Marriage Fight …I don’t think so!

A rebel dyke’s thoughts on marriage

I was shocked to read in Don Kilhefner’s last column in Frontiers IN LA, that he believes lesbians are leading the same-sex marriage fight. Part of me wants to say, “And what’s wrong with that? White-gay-men have led almost every fight in our movement for the past 40 years. And the other part of me wants to ask, “Where did you get this crazy notion?”
In his article, “The Same-Sex Marriage Steamroller” Kilhefner says, “Let me respectfully suggest that the same-sex marriage issue is largely a lesbian-led one.” As evidence for this odd conclusion, he cites an article printed in the New York Times that “indicates that nearly 70% of same-sex marriages in Massachusetts are between women.”
I don’t doubt that lesbians are getting married far more than gay men. This is nothing new. Dykes have been more into commitment, home-building together, and nesting than gay men’s more freewheeling lifestyle -- decades before the ‘marriage’ issue wound up on the front burner of our political agenda.
But to cite the fact that lesbians are more inclined toward marriage than gay men as evidence that the marriage issue is “largely a lesbian-led one” is a sloppy and sexist conclusion. It is true that there are lesbians in the leadership of the marriage fight, but for every gay woman in leadership, I cite gay male names and organizations like Geoff Kors of Equality California, Rick Jacobs of the Courage Campaign, Cleve Jones, blah, blah….
And yes, for the first time in our history, some organizations also have lesbian leadership like Torie Osborn, Kate Kendall, and Jenny Pfizer, and our home-grown maverick, Robin Tyler. So, for the first time in the 40 year history of the LBGT struggle, perhaps the marriage fight is truly co-gender in its leadership. And I realize that to some men, equal leadership might feel like lesbian domination but this is not fact.
Kilhefner goes on to say that “if something was so far out of balance in favor of gay men’s issues, our sisters, right so, would and have in the past, fervently pointed it out to gay men.” To that adjudication I say – the LGBTQ movement has almost always been out of balance in its pursuit of issues that affect gay men. In the radical 70s the movement was led by gay men who sought to eradicate laws inhibiting gay men’s sexuality. In the 1980s and ‘90s, the male leadership’s single-issue was fighting AIDS. And in this century the energy-field has been all about the T, as in transition and transgender. So there has never been a decade in which an L word issue has dominated. Until, perhaps now. So please guys, don’t get all hen-pecked over the fact that dykes are co-leading the marriage fight. We lesbians have been with you and supporting your issues for a very long time.

And as to marriage itself, I do heartily agree with Kilhefner and Ivy Bottini’s recent essays that our LGBT movement is in danger, not from lesbians, but from our co-gender leaders who think that marriage is the only issue on the gay agenda. I am a lesbian who does not believe in state-sanctified relationships. And I know thousands of lesbian feminists, like myself, who are not getting married because we believe that the vow we make to each other in front of family and friends IS the most sacred and important.
I do believe that we LGBT folk might be over-narrowing our movement into a single-issued struggle that will not serve us in the future. I saw the Women’s Movement almost die because it focused all of women’s liberation on the ERA Amendment (which never did pass). The Suffragette Movement (for women to get the vote), did disappear from the map with the passage of the 20th Amendment. The Black Civil Rights movement became narrowly focused on the Civil Rights Act (1964) and after it passed, that movement lost much of its steam. So history does tell us, a single-issued movement can be quickly cut off at the knees. Social movements are strongest when they put forth a broad range of goals.
I worry, along with Bottini and Kilhefner, that the over-focus on marriage weakens the broad health of our struggle for full equal rights for every lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgendered, and queer person not just in California, but in the whole world. We should be sending money and troops (organizers) to small towns in America and countries in the world where gender-variant people like us are in jail. We should be in the streets protesting the discharge of women and men from the armed services. We should be right there, with legal defense and money, when people are murdered on the small streets of the Midwest. We shouldn’t allow ourselves to be caught up in the luxury of quibbling over which year to return to the California ballot. As long as we are divided, that’s a signal that the time is not now. But now is the time to build and strengthen our political, social service and cultural institutions. Yes, we will win the right to marry one day soon. The real question is -- will we endure as a community long after the last vote has been cast on marriage?


Zoe said...

Thank you for this truly intelligent and comprehensive discussion of the current LGBT movement v. the 1970's. You named so many things I have seen but not articulated. It is entirely different now than it was on NO ON 6 and the 80's. AND your understanding that single issue is not what we need to do - Equality is so much more -
This is from my OC Pride speech of 08/15/09
"Mr. Obama, this is not wholly about marriage and service, This is about equality under the law with all the rights and responsibilities that come with it. That is why we are marching on October 11th. Those of us who can travel, walk and ride will be there but, we will also be there for the thousands who are hiding, lost, homeless, for youth, for seniors, for the isolated and the lonely who only wish they were in love, being loved and planning to marry. October 11th; each of us will march for more than ourselves. We are the missionaries here in Orange County and in all of the U.S., we demonstrate that even in the most unfriendly, sometimes hostile neighborhoods, where we are marginalized, all we want is to be respected when we demonstrate the normal human response to loneliness – to love, to love one another."

Anonymous said...

And don't forget AIDS. Last I heard, AIDS didn't kill lesbians by the legion, but it is a main forcus of funraising at the Center.
$8,000,000 raised for AIDS Life Cycle, and this benefits lesbians how?

So lesbian marriage is just one item on a long list of things lesbians are interested in. Gay men who still attend catholic church and still support the cardinal brag about their domestic partner benefits and lower CA income tax. Yeah real allies these guys are!

bLaKtivist said...

I think this was a great blog. I had to send a friend the link because I think your point about single issue movements holds so true.

My roommate works for a housing rights organization and they just had an anniversary dinner celebrating ten years. Jesse Jackson made an appearance and said something to the feel of "I'm glad to see people with a purpose beyond the election."

For so many, the election was a point of connection collection and such a strong political effort. But as he also said, things are SO UGLY now. That was a single issue campaign for so many. The marriage issue to date has been a single issue campaign.

But we've got to perk up to the complexities of the political climate today. Oppression has a whole room full of masks. We've got to get better not to get thrown by them.