From Stonewall to the Supreme Court: The death of first-wave liberation?
By: Brosh Grey
No union is more profound than marriage, for it embodies the highest ideals of love, fidelity, devotion, sacrifice, and family. In forming a marital union, two people become something greater than once they were. As some of the petitioners in these cases demonstrate, marriage embodies a love that may endure even past death. It would misunderstand these men and women to say they disrespect the idea of marriage. Their plea is that they do respect it, respect it so deeply that they seek to find its fulfilment for themselves. Their hope is not to be condemned to live in loneliness, excluded from one of civilization’s oldest institutions. They ask for equal dignity in the eyes of the law. The Constitution grants them that right.
The judgment of the Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit is reversed.
It is so ordered.
Obergefell v. Hodges, 576 U.S. (2015)
With these words, the Supreme Court of the United States of America made same-sex marriage a national reality. 26 million Facebook profile pics went rainbow coloured, and it seemed love had won.
And I’m certainly not raining on that parade. Marriage equality—especially in the US, which lacks the de facto rights we have in Australia—is a big deal. I’m not underestimating the hard work that went into achieving this outcome, how much it means to some, and what a significant positive shift in public sentiment towards same-sex relationships it represents.
Personally, though, the judgement hasn’t inspired the same joy. In fact, the reasoning behind it leaves me wondering how a gay liberation movement that started with the Stonewall Riots ended up here at all.
The Stonewall Riots were a reaction to the criminalisation of extra-hetero sexuality, and the gay liberation movements that formed in its aftermath were intended to restructure American society. As Bruce le Bruce put it, “the engine of the gay movement used to be an idea of adventurous and extreme sexuality. Gay culture itself was regarded by the status quo as something pornographic and sexually radical” (VICE, 8 November 2011). But now it seems we’re resigned to accepting the status quo: to celebrating a ruling that declares no union to be more profound than marriage; that to be unmarried is to be “condemned to live in loneliness,” while matrimony equates to “equal dignity in the eyes of the law.”
The post-Stonewall dream of sexuality’s liberation—in all its permutations—seems to have been subordinated to the heteronormative ideal. In fact, it feels to me that the LGBTI community has forsaken the ideal of liberation. If anything, some of the most radical thinking, doing and activism is coming out of the straight community.
While on one hand, polyamory was, and continues to be, vociferously marginalised by the majority of LGBTI marriage equality campaigners, on the other, mainstream media outlets as diverse as the New York Post and Intelligent Life (an offshoot of The Economist), reported sensitively and positively on the rise of non-traditional, extra-monogamous relationships. The New York Times and Daily Mail both ran articles about long-term partners who choose not to live together. Actress Tilda Swinton, and ex-première dame, Carla Bruni, voiced support for extra-monogamy. And marriage counsellor Susan Pease Gadoua and journalist Vicki Larson went so far as to suggest that “marriage, as we know it, is dying” (The New I Do: Reshaping Marriage for Skeptics, Realists and Rebels, 2014), encouraging their readers to consider less traditional marriages, including everything from a parenting marriage (intended for the sake of raising and nurturing children) to a comfort or safety marriage (entered into for financial security or companionship). In a similar vein, Ryan and Jetha (Sex at Dawn, 2010) argued that sexually monogamous marriage is a recent invention that runs at odds with physiology. As a bloke quipped to me in a nightclub last weekend “Who wants to get married anyway? Only the gays and lesbians want that.”
But maybe in countries like Australia where it’s not a crime to be LGBTI—where there’s, in effect, no difference in the legal rights and protections for any committed couple, regardless of the gender of the partners—we need to stop thinking of the world as being divided on the basis of sexual orientation. Perhaps it’s time to accept that the ideals of the gay liberation movement as it was conceived decades ago are dead. Or perhaps they have evolved – into a sexual liberation movement relevant to people of all genders and sexual orientations who still want to explore, live, love and fuck in ways that fall outside of the societal mainstream. Perhaps the question of whether to pursue a relationship that falls outside of the mainstream is as universal as the wish to enter into its most conventional form.
Brosh Grey is a 30 something queer transman. A freelance writer, advocate and educator he holds a Master of Arts, a long history of involvement with not for profit organisations, and has experience working across issues relating to HIV, mental health, and drugs and alcohol.
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