I'm writing this in response to the exciting conversation over at Jack and Jill Politics about gay marriage. Several people in the comments section of the original post have mentioned that the pro-gay marriage movement is elitist and ignores the concerns of minority voters. I don't have a ton of time for this, so please excuse my obnoxious PowerPoint style here:
A few of the material benefits:
* Full marriage equality is especially important for working-class and poor gays and lesbians because it grants them necessary spousal benefits, from health insurance to social security (once DoMA is gone).
* Immigrant and foreign citizen gays and lesbians cannot be sponsored for a green card by their American partners. This disproportionately effects poor and working-class gay people who cannot afford to immigrate on student visas or spend years in this country without working.
* State and federal tax breaks afforded to married couples would help working-class gays and lesbians.
Psychological and social benefits:
* One reason that gay people are concentrated in certain areas (New York, San Francisco) is because of homophobia in people's communities of origin. For many gays and lesbians, the difficult choice is to leave their communities to live openly or stay close to home and remain closeted. The legitimacy and dignity of full marriage equality brings us closer to a time when various communities accept sexuality diversity and gays and lesbians can live openly in their communities of origin.
* The children of gays, as I mention in my previous post, are not a hypothetical but an existing group of people. When these partnerships are not granted the same rights and dignity as straight partnerships because of homophobia, this has a negative effect on the self-esteem on the thousands of children of gay families.
* According to Dr. King, unjust laws are those that take the rights away from a certain group that are afforded to another group. An unjust law "gives the segregator a false sense of superiority and the segregated a false sense of inferiority." Because heterosexual adults are allowed to enter into civil contracts called marriages, the California Supreme Court decided that it is only fair to allow any two adults to enter into a civil contract called a marriage. The active retraction of that right by California voters represents a step back towards separate and unequal.
A couple of additional comments:
* Many people believe that the pro-gay marriage movement's use of the term "civil rights" is meant to evoke the Civil Rights movement of the 1960s. While I agree that the term is evocative of the brilliant struggles of that time period, it's also the correct term for the rights granted to individuals in our society for the nonpolitical conduct of their lives. Marriage rights, adoption rights, and property ownership rights are all examples of civil rights.
* The will of the electorate is not always used to decide issues of expanded civil rights, and with good reason. In cases where a majority seems intent to strip the rights of a minority, it is the responsibility of the courts to decide if laws that exclude the minority group are constitutional or not.
* In the case of California, the "No on 8" (pro-gay marriage) people were on the defensive. It is simply a different psychological position when you're trying to ask voters to grant rights than when you have some rights that voters are being given the opportunity to take away from you. It was not a passive or status-quo-maintaining choice to outlaw gay marriage. It was an active choice to remove rights, and I think that a "Why did you do that?" response is to be expected.
* Hopefully, after this tragic defeat of equality, the pro-gay marriage movement will adopt a positive, awareness-raising stance rather than one of scapegoating of various groups and lashing out. Gay voters were big Obama supporters, and he mentioned the contributions of gay Americans to his campaign within the first moments of his victory speech. That bodes well. We can reconcile our differences, but only if we continue to talk to each other respectfully. Scapegoating is wrong and unproductive. However, if a group of people (in this case, African-American voters) has taken a pretty strong stance against the rights of another group of people (gays who seek marriage equality), we have to be able to have dialogue. African-American voters effected the outcome of this proposition, and so what that means to me is that it's time for some serious outreach to the African-American voters and communities in this country. As long as the conversations are respectful, I see no reason why non-Black gays and lesbians cannot engage in them. It's unfair to Black gays and lesbians to ask them to launch and execute a behind-closed-doors PR campaign for Black voters all on their own; that simply does not make sense. We're all Americans, and we can all talk to each other.