Tuesday, June 28, 2011

How Now, Brown Cow?

Now that my ass (hip, actually) has celebrated marriage equality in New York on the front page of multiple newspapers, I thought it would be a good time to discuss logical next steps in the fight for justice. Here are three:

1. Keep up the fight for marriage equality
I'm sure there will be challenges to the new New York law that eliminates gender as a consideration for marriage. We need to be ready. Marriage equality is not a reality in most states. The federal Defense of Marriage Act still stands. So, there's plenty of work to be done. Odds are, you'll be hearing about all of this, so I'm going on to point two.

2. Destroy marriage
As more of us enter same-sex enter marriages, I'd like to argue that we've got an even greater responsibility to undermine the institution. I'm not talking about getting divorced or otherwise being in shitty relationships with people we're married to and/or our children. Heavens no. Straight people have been doing that shit for years. Marriage is still going strong.

Contrary to what conservative activists keep saying, the nuclear household of two adults and their children is nowhere near the dominant form of social organization in the world today, let alone historically. There's no reason we should be privileging it today. None. I say this as a happily married lady.

There are lots of good reasons why people get married. I'm afraid that some of them stem from the privileges our society affords married couples. We should give those privileges to all people, regardless of how they choose to organize their affairs.

Here are some proposals of alternate realities that could undermine marriage:

Universal health care- everybody should have access to free health care, regardless of who they're married to. This free health care should include all health care, including stuff like birth control, abortions, services for people undergoing gender transition, prostate exams for trans* women, etcetera.

Fixing visitation rights- everybody should be able to easily designate who can visit them and make decisions for them in an emergency situation.

Fix the US' immigration laws- they're fucked up, yo.

Make birth certificates less shitty- in Wisconsin, where my daughter was born, the only parents that are automatically listed on children's birth certificates are the person giving birth to the child and her (actually hir, but I bet Wisconsin didn't think about that) legally married spouse. That's bullshit. The law should reflect that there are all sorts of ways to raise a child.

Let people define their own households for tax purposes- I see no good reason why people who share income and live under the same roof(s) shouldn't be able to file their taxes in the same way that a married couple does.

These are just a few suggestions. I'm sure if we put our heads together, we can disrupt the marriage narrative in all sorts of ways.

3. Give trans* people equal rights already
Marriage equality does benefit trans* people. When gender isn't a factor in the legality of a marriage, we're less likely to have courts invalidate our marriages. Plus, the law doesn't have to tie itself in knots figuring out whether or not we're in heterosexual relationships.

However, GLBTQ groups have done a lot of pushing for marriage equality, draining resources away from other fights.

Some of us are bitter. I, for one, remember that the Empire State Pride Agenda yanked trans* people out of the non-discrimination legislation that New York State passed in 2002. Nearly a decade later, a gender expression non-discrimination act (GENDA) still hasn't become a reality in New York.

I've been fired from a job for being too queer while living in a municipality with a gender expression non-discrimination law. Trust me, GENDA isn't magic. However, passing GENDA sends a clear message about trans* people's equality under the law. More to the point, continuing to not pass GENDA also sends a clear message about trans* people's place in society. It is not a welcome message.

There's plenty of finger-pointing to go around on the failure of GENDAs to become law. Certainly, organizations dominated by affluent, white, cis, gay men and the occasional lesbian counterpart have not fought particularly hard for us, despite appropriating our suffering for fundraising purposes.

Trans* people have various organizations of our own, but aside from frequently having problems of their own, few people seem to listen to them.

Marriage equality passed in New York because of power politics, plain and simple. Marriage equality didn't just having the polling numbers (GENDA typically polls at least as well as marriage equality), its backers had clout. We had a governor who made marriage a major issue. The media focused on marriage equality as one of the major issues facing New York this year. Combined with the polls, it became clear that Governor Cuomo et al., were prepared to use a vote against marriage equality to destroy their opponents come election time.

Trans* people don't have that kind of clout. Partly, we need to keep educating the public and lawmakers, to keep telling our stories. However, we also need our allies to take our needs seriously. Part of this means that our allies, especially those who claim to fight for "LGBT" rights need to educate themselves. Otherwise, they need to stop pretending to be our partners.

Passing GENDA will, I'm afraid, continue to be a struggle. I don't have a simple strategy for how to do it. First and foremost, a large number of allies need to invest in the fight. After all GENDA is for everybody.

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These three items are hardly a comprehensive platform for advancing justice (see below). However, it's important to note that only one of them involves promoting marriage. Don't get me wrong, I'm still celebrating our latest victory. However, the fight for equality is far from over.