by Mia McKenzie
President Obama just “endorsed” gay marriage. And guess what? I barely give a damn.
I mean, don’t get me wrong, it’s okay. It’s fine. There’s nothing inherently wrong with it. Saying that gay people who want to get married to each other should be able to do so is basically a good position. And considering that North Carolina just banned gay marriage yesterday, it’s a nice way to combat (or, at least, speak against) laws invented to discriminate against certain groups of people. In his interview with Robin Roberts (the gayest of all morning show personalities—and that’s saying something!), the President said, “I’ve always been adamant that gay and lesbian Americans should be treated fairly,” and “I’ve just concluded that for me personally it is important for me to go ahead and affirm that I think same sex couples should be able to get married.” Yeah, that sounds great.
He also said, “I have to tell you that over the course of several years as I have talked to friends and family and neighbors when I think about members of my own staff who are in incredibly committed monogamous relationships, same-sex relationships, who are raising kids together…”
Um. Okay. Hold up.
See, this is where it gets sticky. And not in a sexy queer way.
So, basically, what the President is saying is that same-sex couples who are in relationships that look a certain way (monogamous, for example) should be able to have all the rights of straight people.
What about those of us, queer and straight, who aren’t into monogamy but are into committed relationships? (And, for the record, you can be poly and be committed to multiple people). We still get the shit end of the stick, right? (No pun intended!) We still don’t get the tax benefits that married people get, or immigration and residency for our (non-monogamous) partners from other countries, or inheritance automatically in the absence of a will, or joint adoption with whomever we choose, or any of the other 1,400 legal rights that are conferred upon married couples in the U.S.. Right?
This is the problem with this whole same-sex marriage thing (okay, there are a lot of problems with it, but this is one). It’s not really about equality. Not for everyone (which is what equality means). It’s just about extending a few more “rights” to a select few people. It’s just a way of saying, “As long as you are otherwise as much like us normal people as you can possibly be, we will overlook the fact that you do icky things in bed and let you have some more rights. You’re welcome.”
It reminds me of white folks, liberal-types, who think they’re not racist because they have black friends, only their black friends have their same level of education, talk just like they do, live in houses and neighborhoods that look just like theirs, and are basically indistinguishable from them except for their skin color, which happens to be browner. They need their colored folks to be just like them, or as near as possible. Otherwise, it’s just awkward.
In fact, this whole marriage thing is a lot like whiteness. Over time, certain groups get to be added to this realm of privilege, so that other groups can always be left out of it. (see: Irish folks, Jewish folks, etc.)
Here’s another problem I have with all this: A few years ago, I was watching Keith Olbermann and he did this whole long, drawn-out, pompous blow-hard piece on why the gays should be able to get married. And his position was, basically, LOVE. Yeah. Love. That same-sex partners who love each other should be able to get married. Because that’s just fair and right. Yeah, he was real proud of himself, like he always is. And I was all, “Fuck you, Keith Olbermann.”
Because guess what? Straight people are not required to love each other to be able to get married. Nobody even asks them—no goddamn government official, anyhow. There is no question on any marriage license form that says, “Do you really love this person you are about to marry?” (Ok, I’ve never actually read a marriage license form, so I don’t know what the questions are. But I’m pretty sure that aint on there. And even if it was, it’s a pretty easy thing to just lie about). I mean, Kim Kardashian and that cro-magnon-looking mofo she was married to for like five seconds certainly did not love each other, certainly were not committed, probably were not monogamous, and still were allowed 1400 more legal rights for the duration of their five-second marriage than I get.
My point is, straight folks are not held to criteria such as love or monogamy or even commitment when being assessed for the right to marry. They do not have to be made worthy in the eyes of the public. (And nor should they be.) They just get it, flat out, case closed. And the rest of us don’t. Which means that all this talk of marriage “equality” is a kind of a joke.
(I am not advocating for poly marriage here. I don’t really care about that. I am saying that the issue of “marriage,” gay or straight, still elevates that particular kind of relationship above all others, and gives rights to some people that others never get.)
And even more importantly than all of that, is this question: what does same-sex marriage do for homeless queer youth? What does it do for the trans people being murdered in the streets? What does it do for the poor, of which many, many are queer people of color? Who does all this same-sex marriage stuff really benefit?
Until we stop giving value to certain kinds of relationships over others, until we stop projecting our personal values onto the lives of other consenting adults and making laws about it, until we stop being distracted by the crumbs that the few people in power throw at us so that we are too busy fighting over them to see that the actual pie is still forever off-limits to us, we’ll never break down these oppressive systems that let a few people through the door just so they can help hold it closed to the masses of people still being kept on the other side.
Mia McKenzie is a writer and a smart, scrappy Philadelphian with a deep love of vegan pomegranate ice cream and fake fur collars. She is a black feminist and a freaking queer, facts that are often reflected in her writings, which have won her some awards and grants, such as the Astraea Foundation’s Writers Fund Award and the Leeway Foundation’s Transformation Award. She just finished a novel and has a short story forthcoming in The Kenyon Review. She is the creator of Black Girl Dangerous, a revolutionary blog. She is a nerd who will correct your grammar, so watch out for that.