On June 26, 2015, the Socialist Party USA (SPUSA) celebrated the U.S. Supreme Court decision to legalize same-sex marriage. About 15 years ago I proposed that the SPUSA add a plank to our platform calling for the legal recognition of same-sex marriage. It is not often that we have the opportunity to see one of our platform planks become obsolete! The SPUSA is a radical socialist-feminist organization, though, so we have a far way to go and much more work to do.
In 2007 same-sex marriage was legalized in California, where I live, by the state Supreme Court. Sadly, same-sex couples only had about five months to get married because California voters, via Proposition 8, quickly reversed the Supreme Court decision. Prop 8 instantly took away my ability to marry my partner. It was an extremely terrible blow to those of us who worked hard to fight against it. I always felt like marriage was one of those rights that should not be put up for a popular vote, but should be decided by the courts because it is a protection guaranteed to all citizens by the constitution and it is up to the courts to protect minority rights against the tyranny of the majority.
It took five years for the U.S. Supreme Court to overturn Prop 8. My partner and I were thrilled to see it finally overturned — along with the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA), which Bill Clinton signed into law in 1996. After DOMA was reversed, it gave federal recognition to any state same-sex marriage, allowing for full federal benefits, including the right to citizenship for immigrant partners.
In May 2014, my wife and got married in California. It was incredibly emotional and empowering to finally be able to legally marry the love of my life. In the last few years the marriage equality movement has picked up steam. In 2012, residents of Maine, Maryland and Washington voted in favor of same-sex marriage. And many people started suing for recognition in their states, which ultimately led to the recent Supreme Court decision (aka Obergefell v. Hodge).
Polls showed that U.S. residents were about 61 percent in support of same-sex marriage at the time, which is a big difference from just a short time ago. This level of social acceptance was not easily won, and the credit goes to courageous individuals who came out to their loved ones, friends, and co-workers, couples; to people who had lost loved ones who fought for the recognition and benefits they deserved; and to dedicated activists and movement builders who marched, held signs in the rain, raised money and consciousness, and advocated at the local, state, and national levels. Also it is in part due to a new rising generation of young people who don’t see gay people the same way as their parents or grandparents do. We are seeing the dawn of a new country more open to differences.
Where to Go From Here
The fight for the recognition of marriage equality has been central to many social justice movements. I remember working against Prop 22 in California in 2000, which defined marriage between a man and a woman in the family code. Fifteen years later, same-sex couples can now receive over 1,000 benefits and protections. Through winning the legal recognition of our human right to marry, same-sex couples have also secured protection, dignity, and respect in the eyes of the law. It is one step further into having a protected class status as a minority group.
However, we have a far way to go. Marriage is not enough, especially because it only helps people who get married. What about single people? Don’t they deserve protections and benefits? How about people who want to form families with more than two people? Many people say same-sex marriage will lead to plural marriages. I never saw a problem with that myself. What about queer youth, who make up 40p percent of the homeless population and are often targets for bullying? Or transgender people, particularly transwomen of color, who are disproportionately targets of violence, rape, and murder? What about employment discrimination and having no federal law protecting LGBT people from being fired? How about adoption rights for same-sex couples or single queer people? What about those in the LGBT community who suffer minority stress, mental illness, and suicide? There are so many things we need to do in order to reach “equality.”
In general there are hierarchies to overthrow, powers to equalize, and transformative justice to be gained along the lines of gender, sex, race, sexuality, class, etc. Dare I say I think the recognition of same-sex marriage may push people along to extending equal protection under the law to more people? I think we can also expect to expand the gains made for LGBT people to include more people and to protect more people against violence and discrimination. In this way, I think we are queering marriage, and expanding the definition, instead of a mere assimilation into heteronormative institution. We can choose to challenge the old ways of doing things on many levels.
As more queer people become visible, from transfolks to gender non-conforming people, our society is being exposed to new ways of being in the world.
We are seeing a transformative shift away from the traditional nuclear family, with people living in various formations of “family” units. If love makes a family, the legal system should expand how it defines family.
We also need to continue to challenge the gender binary and fight against heteropatriarchy. At the same time we must push for socialist feminism and for economic democracy.
We have an opportunity to redefine community too. Hell, while we’re at it, we can redefine how we relate to each other, how we connect to one another, what respect looks like to each other, and how we support each other moving forward in a society where more and more people are living as their authentic selves.
While same-sex marriage is not socialism, it is a step in the right direction. Imagine the places we can go from here. We can’t stop our work until we have liberation and transformative justice for all. Same-sex marriage is just one door opening, and now we have to open them all.