Why same-sex marriage matters

When the U.S. Supreme Court heard arguments on same-sex marriage over two days in late March, it signaled how far the fight for lesbian/gay/bisexual/transgender/queer rights and liberation has come. Mass consciousness has changed. An ever-increasing majority of people in this country now support same-sex marriage. Regardless of how the high court rules in June, this trend will continue. One day soon the marriage battle will be won.

Why is this shift in public opinion a victory for LGBTQ people and for the class struggle as a whole? Why should all progressive people, radicals of all stripes, especially communists, stand in solidarity with the fight for marriage rights?

It is not because we’ve forgotten the history and meaning of marriage, rooted in patriarchy and male supremacy, based on the subjugation of women, devised to maintain class divisions. We have not suddenly become proponents of a historically oppressive institution. Nor do we care what the state thinks of anyone’s relationships.

But marriage in today’s advanced capitalist state comprises many legal rights and privileges, and there is a material basis to the fight to open it up. There are major income-tax advantages from which couples not permitted to marry are barred. Social Security survivor payments go only to heterosexual spouses. Bosses that provide medical benefits to straight employees’ spouses do not have to provide them to same-sex partners. Thus, not being allowed to marry is pure discrimination.

This discrimination hits the most oppressed of the LGBTQ community hardest. For those with good jobs and no money worries, getting married might bring joy and fulfillment and help offset the pain and trauma of living in this homophobic society. For those couples struggling to get by, getting married might bring, among other concrete material improvements, a fat tax refund for the first time ever, since they’ll finally be able to file a joint income tax return. No one should underestimate the importance of, say, $500 or $1,000 to a working-class couple.

This is a class issue. This is about workers winning some rights. And, although it should go without saying, we’ll say it: When any workers win an advance in their rights, it strengthens the whole struggle of the working class and the oppressed. It builds unity, breaks down artificial barriers within the class, leaves the bosses with one less tool with which to leverage divisions among workers. At the same time, it signals that advances can be won. That even at a time like this, when the bosses and politicians are bulldozing rights and cutting programs, even now we can wring some concessions out of them.

Every human being should be guaranteed free, quality, accessible health care. We will fight for universal health care for as long as it takes. But if in June the Supremes rule correctly, which is by no means assured, and as a result some members of our class finally get medical coverage via spousal employment benefits, we will celebrate. We always celebrate when any of our sisters and brothers wins a gain, whether it’s through a union contract, local ordinance or court decision. It advances the class struggle whenever any of our class takes a step forward.

We started by talking about consciousness. It has indeed moved swiftly since the Stonewall Rebellion of 1969. This is what relentless struggle accomplishes.

Now the battles rage on. LGBTQ people who face racism, transphobia and sexism remain doubly and triply oppressed. Violence and police brutality continue to rage, especially against queer youths of color. Trans people, particularly trans people of color, face bashings, homelessness and vicious bias in housing, employment and health care. Lesbians risk losing child custody. There is still no federal antidiscrimination law, so it is perfectly legal in most states to discriminate against LGBTQ people in employment, housing, public accommodations, etc.

The struggle will continue on all these fronts if — when — marriage rights are won.