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Why Gay Marriage is the Wrong Issue

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It's just plain sad what the gay and lesbian movement has come to. November 4 was so extraordinary, so magical. The whole world seemed to come together. Except for gays and lesbians in California. We were supposed to feel crushed over Proposition 8. And now the whole scenario is gearing up to repeat itself on January 20: the whole world will celebrate the inauguration of the first black American president and the end of the George Bush insanity - the whole world except gays and lesbians who will be protesting Rick Warren's presence at the inaugural.

How is it that queers became the odd ones out at such a momentous turning point in history? By pushing an agenda of stupid issues like gay marriage.

"Gay marriage" turns the real issues of equal rights for sexual minorities upside down and paints us into a reactionary little corner of our own making. Yes, married people get special privileges denied to others. Denied not to just gays and lesbians, but to all others. Millions of straight people remain unmarried, and for a huge variety of reasons, from mothers whose support networks do not include their children's fathers, to hipsters who can't relate to religious institutions. We could be making common cause with them. We could be fighting for equal rights for everyone, not just gays and lesbians, but for all unmarried people. In the process we would leave religious institutions to define marriage however their members see fit.

That's how you win at politics, isn't it? You build principled coalitions that add up to a majority, and try not to hand potent mobilizing issues to your opposition in the process.

We have done the opposite. Instead of tearing down the walls of privilege enjoyed by the nuclear family, we are demanding our own place at the married couples' table (leaving all those other unmarried people out in the cold).

I know the idea of gay liberation is ancient by today's standards, but it wasn't so long ago that a lot of gay and lesbian activism began from the premise that the queer perspective was one that could offer a particular contribution to a more just society as a whole. My how times change.

Is this really where decades of struggle for sexual freedom ends? With the state granting its blessing to homosexual nuclear families emerging from City Hall, husband-and-husband or wife-and-wife, with the photographer and the rice and the whole bit, finally having become just like them?

Not for me. Not for my family, with its various men, each of whom I love in a different way, a child, and two moms. Not that my family is any sort of queer norm. But that's the beautiful thing about queer culture: there is no norm. We piece together our families, holding on to those relationships that work.

The fact is most of us won't marry even if we have the right to. We are putting all our resources into winning a right that only the few of us in long-term conventional couple relationships will enjoy. What's more, we are creating a social climate in which young queers are encouraged to recast their vision of the relationships they seek to favor the married couple. This is not only a loss for the vibrancy of queer culture, it is a disservice to young people who will not be well served by their nuclear family ambitions. Just consider the high number of gay and lesbian divorces (yes, the rate is already high despite the fact that we have not even fully won the right to marry yet).

It is no secret that marriage isn't working for straight people. That's why religious institutions are so up in arms about it. The institution of marriage is in crisis. On what basis does anyone imagine it is going to work better for queers?

Through years of queer demonstrations, meetings, readings and dinner table conversations, about gay bashing, police violence, job discrimination, housing discrimination, health care discrimination, immigration discrimination, family ostracism, teen suicide, AIDS profiteering, sodomy laws, and much more, I never once heard anyone identify the fact that they couldn't get married as being a major concern. And then, out of the blue, gay marriage suddenly became the litmus test by which we measure our allies. We have now come to the point that many unthinkingly equate opposition to gay marriage with homophobia.

Rick Warren is now the flash point, the one all our political allies, even Barack Obama, are supposed to denounce because he doesn't pass gay marriage the litmus test.

I disagree with Rick Warren on many things. To start with, he believes that 2000 years ago God sent his only Son to die on a cross so that mankind would not perish but have everlasting life. To me, that's weird. I don't know how to even begin to address an idea that far out. And he believes that everyone who does not accept Jesus as their savior will go to hell. He doesn't single out gays and lesbians in particular. To me, the weirdest thing there is not that he thinks queers will go to hell, but that he believes in hell at all. But mainline Protestants believe in hell too. So do Catholics, who also add purgatory and limbo.

Steve Waldman, founder of Belief.net (where you find the most thoughtful exchanges on present day religion), did an extended interview with Warren which has been hyped all over the blogosphere as an example of why we should all be screaming for Obama to disinvite Warren from the inaugural. The quote that got all the attention was when Warren said gay marriage would be on a par with marriage for incest, pedophilia and polygamy. And yes, I think that's off-base. Not up there are the scale of the whole God-sent-his-only-Son-to-die-on-a-cross bit, but weird nonetheless. But let's look the rest of the interview, the parts that didn't get as much attention as that one line:

Q: Which do you think is a greater threat to the American family - divorce or gay marriage?
A: [laughs] That's a no brainer. Divorce. There's no doubt about it.

Q: So why do we hear so much more - especially from religious conservatives - about gay marriage than about divorce?

A: Oh we always love to talk about other sins more than ours. Why do we hear more about drug use than about being overweight? [Note: Warren is quite overweight.]

Q: Just to clarify, do you support civil unions or domestic partnerships?

A: I don't know if I'd use the term there but I support full equal rights for everybody in America. I don't believe we should have unequal rights depending on particular lifestyles so I fully support equal rights.

Q: What about partnership benefits in terms of insurance or hospital visitation?

A: You know, not a problem with me.

I have an idea: let's accept equal rights for all. Equal rights are the issue when it comes to national politics. That's Obama's position, and I think he has it right.

Then, for those of you who are truly concerned with marriage above and beyond the issue of rights, you should go to your church, or synagogue, or mosque, and have that battle. In your community of fellow believers. I wish you all the best. And the rest of us can move on to things that matter to everyone, regardless of religious beliefs. Like, say, global warming.

Which brings us back to Rick Warren. Warren is the shiny new star of American evangelicalism. Just one of his many books has sold over 20 million copies. And his books, like his ministry, are all about rallying evangelicals to battle global warming, poverty, and AIDS. He rarely mentions culture war issues like gay marriage. And it is not just talk, he puts his money where his mouth is. As Waldman points out in a blog right here on the Huffington Post,

Warren has used his fame and fortune primarily to help the most destitute people in the world. He reverse tithes, giving away 90% and keeping 10%. Please contemplate all the religious figures who have gotten rich off their flock and pocketed the money... he's worked hard to get other conservative evangelicals to care more about poverty...

Just a reminder to all those gays and lesbians who never look beyond their cultural ghetto: we've got some serious problems going on in the world today that need to be addressed now. Global warming in particular can't wait. For thirty years Evangelical Christians have been the anchor that has pulled this country to the right, giving us first Reaganism and then Bushism. Wars in Nicaragua, El Salvador, Iraq, Afghanistan, etc. And a decade of world-threatening climate change denialism.

At a minimum, 80 million Americans identify as evangelicals, and up to double that depending on how you define evangelical. They are the largest single religious group in the country, and the fastest growing. They are not going away. Somehow, some way, queers are going to have to share this country with all these people.

I am delighted that there is a new generation of evangelicals that thinks the biggest issue isn't homosexuality but global climate change, AIDS, and poverty. And who "don't believe we should have unequal rights depending on particular lifestyles." I am so ready to make common cause with them. I couldn't care less about what they think of gay marriage.

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For more info, see the "I STILL Think Gay Marriage is the Wrong Issue" group on Facebook.