Thursday, March 28, 2013

Nice Bunch Of Allies

The role of the wealthy and powerful in promoting same-sex marriage is a story too infrequently reported.  Recall that New York Governor Cuomo enlisted the assistance of Paul E. Singer, the founder of Elliot Management and enthusiastic Repub donor, Daniel S. Loeb, the leader of Third Point, and Clifford S. Assner, head of quant fund ACR Capital.  The first two had supported same-sex marriage efforts in the past, and the latter was famous in part for passing around to his Wall Street buddies a letter whining about how mean President Obama had been to hedge fund managers.  With their help in persuading a few Republicans to come on board, Cuomo successfully pushed through the legislature a measure legalizing same-sex marriage.

Singer, Assner, and Loeb and other well-healed and advocates of same-sex marriage may be motivated by a heartfelt belief that individuals are not fully free unless there is a recognition they have a constitutional right to marry whomever they wish regardless of gender.  Or not.  But the support the movement has among the powerful should serve to remind us that marrying someone of the same sex was never really the taboo so many people assumed it was.    Same-sex marriage proponent Sally Kohn, while conceding she appreciates Senator Rob Portman's support, brilliantly explains 

The very same day, conservative social “scientist” Charles Murray also made waves by declaring his support for marriage equality at the annual CPAC conference.  Murray cited personal relationships as his motivation, too, saying awkwardly, “We have acquired a number of gay and lesbian friends.”  But Murray’s reasoning was also laden with conservative morality — as when he noted that the gay folks he knows who have kids aren’t just responsible parents but “excruciatingly responsible parents.” More responsible than others, presumably.

This is the same Charles Murray who infamously claimed in “The Bell Curve” that wealth and achievement gaps between white and black Americans were due to differences in IQ.  And last year, Murray came out with a new book arguing that a growing “white lower class” has been caused by the destruction of marriage and family primarily at the hands of government and (black) single parents on welfare.

And at the pro-marriage panel organized on the fringe of the official CPAC agenda, conservative commentator Margaret Hoover spoke about the long-standing right to marry in clear terms of bias-laden moral judgment:

“If you are a prisoner, you are a murderer in jail, you have a fundamental right to get married,” she said. “But law-abiding, patriotic, gay Americans who want to commit their lives to each other and generate this stability and this economic prosperity can’t get married.”

The conservative moral argument for marriage is that marriage is good and good people get married and “law-abiding, patriotic, gay Americans” are good people.

In 2006, as a segment of gay rights organizations began the full-fledged push for marriage equality in America, another set of queer activists, joined by many straight people of color and feminist allies, voiced concern about making gay marriage a goal, let alone the centerpiece of the gay rights movement. Several prominent activists wrote and signed onto a statement called “Beyond Marriage.”  In effect, they argued in a perpetual us-versus-them political paradigm, the solution to the systematic “otherization” of the gay community could not be found in joining the ranks of privilege through marriage while reinforcing the continued exclusion of other families. They wrote, “Marriage is not the only worthy form of family or relationship, and it should not be legally and economically privileged above all others.”  These activists built on the radical traditions of the gay liberation movement — that the path to justice did not run through heteronormativity but through liberation for all.

Just as conservatives now acknowledge the fight to prevent gay marriage may be ending, the fight to prevent marriage as the central gay movement agenda ended some time ago. Those, myself included, who dreamed of a more imaginative gay rights movement — one rooted in transformation, not assimilation — could find encouragement sandwiched between the great intellectual scholarship of the past and the rising generation of more radical queer youth. In the meantime, we all fell in line with or were drowned out by the gay movement chorus calling for marriage rights.

Fine, but how we attain that goal — the moral rationales on which we rely, explicitly or tacitly — is as important if not more so, setting up the terms of debate for future struggles around justice and freedom.  In the interest of expediency and bringing as many unlikely conservative allies on board, the gay rights movement may give cover to or even amplify a set of narrow values that rank married families as better than unmarried families, two parents as better than one parent — norms that continue to divide America into good people and deserving families versus everyone else. And even if we temporarily succeed in getting gay folks added to the “good” category, is it worth it?  Plus do we really think that’s the way we or anyone else will be treated equally?

In his latest book, Charles Murray argued that America is “coming apart at the seams” because while the “virtuous” white upper class continues to value marriage and other traditional norms, they are failing to impose those norms on the rest of the country. This is not marriage as choice but compulsion, an extension of the “marriage promotion” agenda Republicans have forced into welfare reform and other programs. In an important 2008 report, Dr. Jean Hardisty and Political Research Associates revealed that the marriage promotion and pro-fatherhood movement is deeply rooted in right-wing networks and ideology and merely masquerades as (junk) science. This is not a cause with which the gay rights movement should in any way, shape or form link arms.

Guilt by association must be suspect, of course.  But Kohn is not questioning support by the Repubs who signed the legal brief which was to be submitted to the Supreme Court in support of striking down Proposition 8.  Those names included 131 individuals from various fields, such as Alex Castellanos, strategist and CNN pundit; Clint Eastwood, actor, Richard Hadley and Paul Wolfowitz, foreign policy advisors; Douglas Holtz-Eakin, economist; Meg Whitman, failed corporate executive and failed politician.  Few are social scientists of any sort.  Rather, it's Charles Murray, for goodness (or badness) sake- the same Charles Murray who came to prominence arguing that blacks are genetically inferior to whites, in what we recognized as racism before it became a catchword for a whole host of feelings and thoughts.

Though the impetus for same-sex marriage has a mostly progressive genesis, it has been fueled by the forces on the right promoting marriage and fatherhood as solutions for a variety of social ills.   And while same sex marriage is benefiting from an emerging political correctness, its eventual impact on societal norms may prove surprisingly deleterious.

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