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Davis, California

Friday, May 24, 2024

Guest opinion: Marriage ruling obscures larger discrimination issue

Not all lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender people are happy about the same-sex marriage ruling. While we recognize that the California Supreme Court decision positively and importantly affects some queer lives, marriage alone cannot solve the problems plaguing queer communities. In fact, the ruling further marginalizes relationships and families that don’t conform to a lifelong, monogamous two-partner structure. We are concerned that most media stories about the ruling have erased queer voices that are critical of extending rights only to a privileged few.

Most U.S. households are not modeled on the nuclear family, meaning many families and relationships still do not receive the rights and benefits afforded married couples. Blended and extended families; single parents; close friends, siblings or senior citizens serving as primary caregivers to each other – all are common examples of family structures denied rights extended through marriage. While legal marriage benefits some, this ruling does not grant full equality for all LGBT people.

We are also concerned with the state’s use of marriage as a coercive tool. For example, the current U.S. welfare program provides economic incentives to promote marriage, in some cases offering extra benefits to single mothers who marry their child’s biological father, even if this relationship isn’t desired or beneficial. Welfare benefits that limit parenting and relationship choices demonstrate that for many people – regardless of sexual orientation – marriage is not the key to social justice. While some LGBT people celebrate state-recognized relationships, many of us are wary of increased state control over our sexual lives.

For a chilling example of governmental regulation of bodies, sexuality and supposed deviance, consider the May 14 sentencing of an HIV-positive man in Dallas, Texas to 35 years in prison for spitting on a police officer. Despite long-standing reports from the Centers for Disease Control that saliva does not transmit HIV, the defendant’s saliva was ruled a deadly weapon, meaning he must serve half of his sentence before becoming eligible for parole.

Consider also the current committee appointments for revising the American Psychiatric Association’s Diagnostic and Statistical Manual. The DSM lists diagnostic criteria for mental disorders, including Gender Identity Disorder (homosexuality was removed in 1974). Dr. Kenneth Zucker is chairing the Sexual and Gender Identity Disorders Work Group, despite advocating that queer and trans people (especially youth) can be “cured” through reparative therapy. That many LGBT people are unaware of these recent abuses by state institutions reveals that the same-sex marriage struggle overshadows some of the most damaging actions against queer and trans communities.

We support the personal and spiritual meaning that marriage has for many, but question whether fighting for marriage as a state-run institution is the best strategy for queer liberation more broadly. We urge the networks formed through the same-sex marriage struggle to continue working in the service of all marginalized communities. Following the work of projects like Queers for Economic Justice and beyondmarriage.org, and scholars and activists such as Lisa Duggan, Richard Kim and Nancy Polikoff, we advocate the following: Instead of linking state benefits like health care, housing and welfare to marital privilege, they should be detached from marriage and available to all, regardless of marital or citizenship status. Rather than furthering the norm of two partners acting as a single economic childrearing unit, we argue for a movement that embraces multiple meanings of family, and recognizes that marriage and domestic partnership are not always optimal or desired choices. Finally, we believe we can better serve marginalized communities by fighting against all state regulation of sexual and gender choices, identities and expressions.


TOBY BEAUCHAMP, STEVEN BLEVINS, CYNTHIA DEGNAN, BENJAMIN D’HARLINGUE, CATHY HANNABACH, CHRISTOPHER LEE, TRISTAN JOSEPHSON, LIZ MONTEGARY and KARA THOMPSON authored this guest opinion. They are undergraduate and graduate students at UC Davis, engaged in queer and trans activist and academic work.


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