Book Reviews | Gordon Campbell | News Flashes | Scoop Features | Scoop Video | Strange & Bizarre | Search

 


The symbolic victory of same-sex marriage

The symbolic victory of same-sex marriage

by Anne Russell
April 19, 2013

Over the past year or so, the marriage equality bill has essentially served as a filter through which New Zealand has discussed queer sexuality and gender identity. Marriage is perhaps one of the least threatening manifestations of contemporary queer identity, reassuring all but the most raving queerphobes that queerdom does not, in fact, destroy the fabric of society as we know it. Many of the speeches made in Parliament opined that there were no reasons not to support marriage equality. National MP Maurice Williamson has made international news for his speech, for which 3News has labeled him an "unlikely gay icon".

Unlikely indeed, given his position in a historically queerphobic party, combined with his own emphasis on what a minor law change it is. The public demonstrations of gratitude to Williamson and his right-wing colleagues show how little the queer community has come to expect from politicians. It also demonstrates the extent to which marriage equality has co-opted queer struggles in the West. At this juncture, it's far more common to hear straight allies in the public sphere proclaiming their support for marriage equality than for queer equality.

The widespread, cross-party support for marriage equality has partly materialised because it allows most politicians to walk a comfortable ideological middle ground. Progressives and the queer community will be pacified somewhat by the inclusion of queers into certain areas of society, but some conservatives may also feel reassured when queerdom is normalised and publicly confined to traditional institutions like exclusive monogamy. Economically speaking, the business sector receives more opportunities to market towards the queer demographic; tourism companies are already rolling out the rainbow welcome mat. The 77-44 vote demonstrated that opposition to marriage equality is not an easy political position to maintain.

Owing to the nature of both legislation and the media, the queer movement, like any other demographic, typically needs focal events to rally popular support. Single-issue queer politics can make it difficult to maintain an ongoing public discussion of queer rights. The debate around marriage equality has managed to keep queer issues in the media spotlight, which may fade as the queer movement catches its breath.

After all, this bill in itself is not a victory for all queers. The proposition that same-sex marriage will have knock-on benefits for lower-class queers is no more than queer trickle-down theory, an excuse to direct extensive activist forces primarily at middle-class issues. The prioritisation of marriage ignores the fact that much of queer oppression exists independently of the practice of intimate relationships--getting beaten up or fired for one's non-normative appearance, the dearth of queer sex education or history in schools, and the internal repression of desire. Many queers who are at highest risk of violence and death may not ever make it to an intimate relationship, let alone have the worry of what they call their partners.

But a few more may survive thanks to the public process of enacting the legislation. The main victory of the marriage equality debate was to highlight queer identity and relationships and treat them as legitimate. It has given some queers the courage to come out to their communities, and convinced some straight people to support them. The obviousness of the bill could arguably become a strength, as many straight allies have newly noticed the ridiculousness of denying people equal rights on the basis of queer identity. If queer rights activism continues to focus on the family, many more people may start attacking more urgent inequalities, such as the rates of queer youth homelessness in this country.

It will be interesting to see where the queer movement goes next. The marriage equality bill represents a symbolic and semantic change, rather than a transformation of the material conditions of people's lives. Action like queering education policy across the board, allocating tax dollars to transgender healthcare, making bathrooms gender neutral, and enabling adoption rights requires redistribution of power and material resources. Moreover, issues like poverty and poor housing, that were arguably sidelined by the marriage equality debate, disproportionately affect the queer community and need queer attention.

As such, it may be much harder to convince queerphobes that further political action won't affect them personally. Future political framing will hopefully not end up permitting queerphobes to exercise their oppressive ideology at all. However the marriage equality debate was framed, it is undeniable that extreme queerphobia lost this round. Congratulations to all the queers and their allies who worked on getting this bill through.

*************

Anne Russell is a Wellington-based journalist with a degree in political science and religious studies. She occasionally blogs at goodbyelittlefox.wordpress.com and is on Twitter: @elvisfchrist.

© Scoop Media

 
 
 
 
 
Top Scoops Headlines

 

Gordon Campbell: On The Bernie Sanders Aftermath

Even as Bernie Sanders was celebrating his win yesterday in New Hampshire, the road ahead for the Sanderistas seemed as dark as ever. The notion that the Sanders victory has shaken the Democratic Party to its core and is causing furrowed, worried brows etc among the party mandarins is complete nonsense. More>>

ALSO:

Franklin Lamb From The Middle East: Social Control Is Emerging As ISIS (Da’ish) Motive

It is widely recognized that the damage done to our cultural heritage in Syria and to the heritage of those who will follow us, cannot be calculated... Heretofore, three varying but cogent explanations for ISIS’ rabid destruction of our shared cultural heritage have been commonplace. More>>

ALSO:

Gordon Campbell: On The Myopia Of The Business News

Listening to the business news is a bit like eavesdropping on the radio transmissions from space aliens. There is no discernible connection between the concerns of the captains of these space ships – the bank economists and the finance house spokesmen – and the concerns of ordinary listeners back on Planet Earth. More>>

ALSO:

Gordon Campbell: On Clinton, Sanders, Trump And Cruz

Come November, the world will have a new US president-elect and the least unlikely winner still looks to be Hillary Clinton. Right now though, the polls are showing a rocky stretch ahead for her in the immediate future. More>>

ALSO:

Binoy Kampmark: Sean Penn And El Chapo - Vanity, Hollywood And Reportage

Leaving aside Sean Penn’s personal history with drug use, let alone alleged efforts to get a slice of celebrity in portraying a drug lord, the furore surrounding his interview with El Chapo is instructive in a few respects. One is worth noting: the blind rage it has provoked with some US political figures and advocates who show how utterly lacking in understanding they are of their own liberal market system... More>>

ALSO:

Gordon Campbell: On Podemos, And Spain’s Election Stalemate

By hard grassroots effort, it convincingly rejected the fragmented, individualising forces that had shaped political life for the past few decades – instead, it organized its supporters on the basis of their common, communal experience via collective decision-making aimed at rolling back (a) the austerity-driven cutbacks in public services and (b) the home evictions of those unable to meet their mortgage payments. More>>

Binoy Kampmark: Merkel, Refugees And The Cologne Attacks

Huge pressure was already on Angela Merkel’s shoulders prior to the New Year celebrations. When it came in its waves of chaos on the eve, the security services in Cologne were found wanting. The police document from Cologne, leaked to Der Spiegel, speaks of chaos and lack of control. More>>

Get More From Scoop

 
 
 
 
 
 
 
Top Scoops
Search Scoop  
 
 
Powered by Vodafone
NZ independent news