Without a doubt, we are living in a very special historical moment with regards to the marital rights of all gay people. In the dictionary, the term “marriage “has plural meaning, two of which I will highlight in this piece. The first lesser known meaning defines marriage as a social union or legal contract between two people. The second more widely accepted belief describes marriage as a consensual state of unity between people of the opposite sex. What strikes me here is not so much that the term is so plural, but that its meaning seems more dependent on change and circumstance. Thus, our current debate is an extension of the evolutionary tendencies in marriage as a lived experience more so than about religion or ideology. I define marriage simply as a commitment between two people. Universally, the ritual of commitment is consistent with the characterized performance of loyalty and trust. It is not simply an image or a human symbol. Of course, throughout time, those in control of social relations designated the relationship between two human beings to mean a straight man and a straight woman. This made all-male/female couples seem morally unnatural.
So now in 2013 we await the Supreme Court decision on whether or not the absence of a legal right to marriage discriminates against gay couples and whether or not this social custom is really unconstitutional. The answer, of course, absolutely, is that it does. The American social system and political machine humiliates and discriminates against its gay citizens. The government leads this assault, most recently in its passing of illegal laws such as the Clinton Administration’s passing of The Defense of Marriage Act (still on the books and pending a Supreme Court decision) and in the military’s Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell admissions policy (discontinued). However, the military’s initiative still thrives in mainstream daily life.
France recently signed into law a gay marriage bill. And, several states, including New York, Connecticut and Vermont have decided that, well, any gay person can obtain a “gay” marriage license. What exactly is a gay marriage license? Is it a document that comes in pink papyrus? Is it a statue of men nakedly clad? Any human being, regardless of gender, once committed and invested in the healthy future of the relationship and therefore country, self-evidently possesses the right to legally marry. Otherwise, will bisexual women get a license in 50 years if they wait on “time?” What about straight women who like to give other women oral sex, but only once a month? Is there a license for that coming in the future too? I didn’t think about this until now but money seems to be a motive. I’ll leave Gatsbying for the Fitzgeralds.
Instinctively, we have all began to pop balloons in celebration. Meanwhile, the system remains hideously racist, sexist and class-conscious. Despite our nation’s unfinished business, and terrible social circumstances, namely poverty and violence, circumstances which we seem incapable, not necessarily unwilling, of fixing, along comes a new found desire to make right and equal the rights of all gay people. Gay, rich, white people.
I may be digressing here. For anyone, the real question, although I mean it rhetorically, is this: what does “gay marriage” really mean? All gay people are free, shouts the world! But is this really true? Since I care more about the truth than I do about an image, my conviction is no. For starters, what does the concept of a “gay” marriage really mean? Does it affect or change the tradition of “traditional” marriage? Does it really grant a sense and a reality of equality to people regardless of their sexual orientation? What does focusing on the law of marriage do to other important social conflicts? Does it render them insignificant or forgettable? Does it empower other discriminated groups? Has it translated into our day-to-day customs? What about its language or meaning? Is this debate a reinforcement of boxing in the human spirit to this or that, only? Whatever the answers, we now await a moment of national clarity. As is required with patience, waiting allows us time to reflect, question, and to also become wiser, better than before. After all, the past is left behind for a reason.
The signing of gay marriage into law does not grant equality. Instead, it reinforces our absurd notion of separation as the only acceptable answer for conflict, disagreements, differences, and any and all mysterious inevitables as put in place by our Universe. “Straight” marriage is still publicly intact, as are the private beliefs which reinforce them. Even though people say on the surface that all people are equal (what is the catchphrase – “image is everything”), you’d be surprised to find out who is telling the truth and who is self-deluding. In my experience, most are usually contradictory. I want equality for young people but not for the poor. We want rights for women but not for immigrants. We encourage multiculturalism but yet practice colonialism. It is this history of contradictions which alerted me to the gay rights movement in the first place. Most gay white men I know show hatred towards black people. A lot of rich lesbians hire immigrants without papers to domesticate their homes and children. The double consciousness that W.E.B. Du Bois describes as the personal predicament of all persons of African heritage living in foreign places would be more useful to describe the immoral condition of our great nation. In other words, the gay rights movement has absolutely nothing to do with equality and redress. The movement is not about recognizing the birthright of all people as human beings and individual but as also sharing universal qualities, for example a heart.
The choice to highlight gay marriage as a method for demanding equal protection under law is an illusion of the grandest kind, sort of like the archetypal trickster in folk literature. To be a trickster is to wear a mask in order to mask one’s true intention or nature. In our modern world, physical masks no longer function as the accessory for performance. The mask is now invisible performed through language. Language can trick us and make us think we believe something on the surface but in private, deep down in our souls, we think differently. Language can also call out for truth, or change, and grant it.
To have to choose to call a commitment a “gay marriage” or a “straight marriage” is to segregate people based on their sexual preferences. Laws which support gay marriage reinforce to our culture (consciousness too) the same historical fate visited upon all African Americans upon emancipation. I end on this point. When I read that France had ratified gay marriage, I immediately thought of the post-slavery period in this country, a period we refer to as Re-construction. During those dark days for my people, the light of the law shone like a bright hope for what could be for all peoples: the meaning and expression of freedom. Then, as now, a few policy makers pondered over the dilemma of what to do with a people long committed to their God-given rights. The conflict of skin tone, the color line, was resolved with the unconstitutional passage of legal segregation in the form of a highly controversial 1896 Supreme Court decision, Plessy v. Ferguson. This law condoned “separate but equal” social facilities for Black and White people as the right direction for the country, but also, more absurdly, that separation could also breed equality and cooperation. This magnificent brainwash found correction in the form of the Warren Court and his 1954 decision, Brown v. The Board of Education. Let us not also forget the miraculous work of Thurgood Marshall and the NAACP’s Legal Defense Fund. Many still argue over whether integration served to de-emphasize intra-group unity. Nevertheless, and perhaps more importantly, the hypothesis of separate=equality fell apart. Today, we consider it, even if we don’t agree with it, absurd, false and immoral.
In other words, the careful manipulation of language to fool people into thinking that separate is indeed equal is back again, risen from the dead, albeit in a different form. Gay marriage laws, if passed, will not lead to an equal, more just society. It merely creates a false image of fairness. Why? Because, after all, a “marriage” is a “marriage.” It cannot be gay, straight or crooked without destroying the very nature of harmony between human souls. Conversely, such laws reinforce the tragic American illusion that separating or reducing people motivates order, and sharpens progress. Quiet as it is kept, this debate is more so shaped by destructive, infantile tendencies and unreal fears than to anything remotely related to justice. Love has nothing to do with it. Mix those up with drug or booze induced paranoid beliefs about race, gender and class and we have a world that has mushroomed into a no man’s land called insanity.
Let us diagnose the trickster. The hope is a cure. America doubly tricks itself out of personal and social responsibility by simply talking itself up into an image. How do you enslave the mind and body of a person? Seduce and distract her with the battle cry of freedom. How do you get someone to believe that he is unequal? Overwhelm him about how equal he is or could become. Throw in a token or an exception to cement the razzle dazzle of contradiction. Meanwhile, everything stays in tact to reinforce the latter and former: our schools, government aka religious policy (church and state are one and the same), lived experience and the infamous justice system.
True change or reform to the tradition of marriage is simply to get rid of the old and get in with the new. The old definition is dated, and has run its course. Besides, the right to marriage is not an issue faced only by gay people, but also by Black people and immigrant people. Gay people should demand the right to choose and to commit, to become a married human being, not a married gay. When Ellen and Portia become seen as a married couple and not just a lesbian couple, I’ll know that segregation based on sexuality is no longer real or an image. Until that day, the invisible sign on the door will continue to say, “for straight people only.”