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WORKERS WORLD PARTY

'Why we support same-sex marriage rights'

By Leslie Feinberg

Excerpted from a talk at a Feb. 13 Workers World Party meeting in New York City.

There are moments in a prolonged, historic battle that are qualitative turning points in which victory is inevitable. And this, I believe, is just such a moment.

By inevitable, I don't mean automatic. It's not that the lesbian, gay, bisexual and trans movement and all who stand in support can just quit struggling and go home and make it a Blockbuster evening.

It's that when a movement makes an egregious inequality so apparent, it is the injustice itself that makes the struggle to defeat it inevitable.

We in Workers World Party are not just onlookers cheering this struggle on. We are in and of the movement for lesbian, gay, bi and trans liberation. Our Party has made important contributions to the political, theoretical and historical understanding of the roots of oppression based on sexuality, gender and sex. We helped play a decisive role in winning the left to this political position.

Same-sex marriage rights were an important part of Workers World Party's presidential campaign platforms in 1996 and 2000.

Why do we as revolutionaries support same-sex marriage rights? Is it because we want everyone to get married? No.

We do understand the burden of loneliness, isolation and alienation under capitalism. But we are not romanticists who believe love and marriage go together like a horse and carriage. Nor are we bourgeois moralists who think that sex should only take place in monogamous wedlock or that couples who marry are more committed. We are as irreconcilably opposed to bourgeois morality as we are to all forms of prejudice.

It's really a simple matter of equality. Relationships between couples of the same sex are denied more than 1,000 of the benefits that civil marriage bestows. And these bread-and-butter issues aren't small. They include Social Security benefits for widowers and widows, inheritance rights, legal shared custody of children, and the life-and-death question of employment-based medical benefits.

A matter of justice

We don't say people should get married; we say they should have the right. And we say that the state does not have the right to discriminate.

The demand for an equal right to civil marriage is not a revolutionary demand. It's a bourgeois democratic demand.

Yes, as Marxists we are trying to lead the class struggle to overturn capitalism. But oppression is a pillar of capitalism, too. And sometimes a demand as simple and just as the right to sit down and be served at a lunch counter, or to register to vote, or to win a modest Equal Rights Amendment to the Constitution can propel a struggle that will either end in an important victory for the working class and oppressed or in a defeat that is a terrible setback.

There's a debate in the LGBT left wing about the demand for same-sex marriage. Some fear that the demand for same-sex marriage will "bourgeoisify" the movement. Others don't want this one single issue to overshadow the important struggles against racism and economic oppression, bashings and lynchings that affect the lives of the most oppressed sectors of the LGBT movement. And some argue that state-sanctioned marriage is a reactionary institution in class society, oppressive to women, and that LGBT people should stay outside of it.

These important concerns need to be addressed.

First of all, it's one thing for forces within our LGBT movement to have this internal debate. But when it comes to those outside the movement there is no debate: The only progressive position is support for same-sex marriage rights.

In the 1980s, the terrible human toll of the AIDS epidemic intensified rage about the discrimination that same-sex couples face. Lovers were told they could not see their dying partners in hospital emergency rooms, were cruelly denied bereavement leave by their bosses, or were kicked out of their apartments by their landlords after their lover's death if their name was not on the lease. This institutionalized inequality fueled the movement for domestic-partner benefits. Today, many of the Fortune 500 have been compelled by the struggle to provide domestic partner benefits.

This is an economic demand that affects the entire working class. An injury to one is an injury to all. Unequal benefits allow bosses to pit workers who don't receive family benefits against those that do.

And a victory for one is a victory for all, too. The gains that the domestic-partner benefits movement won helped provide more benefits to unmarried heterosexual workers, too.

But domestic partner benefits are not enough. They don't address the extent of economic and social inequality that same-sex partners face. Nor is the compromise of a separate, unequal category of "civil unions" a solution. Denial of state recognition of same-sex partners forms a bedrock foundation, along with anti-gay and anti-trans laws, for oppression and repression, gay-bashing, bigotry and discrimination.

The struggle for same-sex marriage rights also impact trans people--particularly transsexual and intersexual people--who can play a strategic role in this battle.

In the past, when a couple who had been legally married for many years approached a doctor about one of the two having sex-reassignment, the doctor told them they'd have to first get a divorce, because otherwise they would be a same-sex couple. But having a sex change neither transforms one's sexual preference nor makes one fall out of love. So many couples have stayed married while one partner transitions. As a result, there are legally married same-sex couples in the United States.

And this right-wing ballyhoo about nature's design: One man plus one woman equals marriage. Nature seems not to have been consulted. It's no secret that there's an anatomical spectrum between female and male. But surgical and hormonal interventions are used to partition the sexes. What about these intersexual people? Do they have a right to marry?

Dr. Anne Fausto-Sterling, a leading feminist bio-geneticist, has stressed that the reason infants are shoehorned into one of two hard-and-fast categories is economic: "For questions of inheritance, legitimacy, paternity, succession to title, and eligibility for certain professions to be determined, modern Anglo-Saxon legal systems require that newborns be registered as either male or female."

Who will lead this struggle?

We as revolutionaries want to be part of a united front to win basic democratic demands, like same-sex marriage. These are important reforms. We don't want to leave the leadership of these struggles to more bourgeois and petty-bourgeois forces. Especially in an election year, these forces may well decide to urge the movement to chill out and give the Democrats a chance to oust Bush--who has already publicly announced that he will make barring same-sex marriage a plank in his campaign platform.

But look what happened when President Bill Clinton was running for office against Papa Bush. Clinton wooed the LGBT movement with his "I feel your pain" electioneering, promising to abolish the ban on gays in the military. Once elected, he surrendered to the brass-and so did a Democratically controlled Congress-allowing the generals and admirals to step up their witch hunts.

Clinton made common cause with arch-reactionary Sen. Jesse Helms to pass the "Defense Of Marriage Act"--a vicious piece of legislation reminiscent of the racist miscegenation laws that barred Black and white couples from marrying.

The politicians who signed on to this gay-bashing legislation said they were merely defending the sanctity of heterosexual marriage. From what? The current divorce rate in this country is estimated at 50 percent. If these politicians really cared about helping couples who want to stay together they would be fighting for more jobs at union wages, accessible and affordable child care, and more drug and alcohol treatment centers and couples counseling.

Now presidential wannabe Sen. John Kerry and all the other Democrats running for Oval Office, with the exception of the Rev. Al Sharpton and Rep. Dennis Kucinich, are already publicly clear about their opposition to same-sex marriage rights.

We need to help explain that the power of the LGBT movement is in its political independence.

And we as revolutionaries want to define ourselves within the left wing of these struggles. We can win an understanding that the movement needs to be broad and diverse, bringing in the leadership, experience and strength of the most oppressed sectors of the LBGT communities.

A movement that raises all the issues and fights for the demands of the most oppressed will be a more powerful movement that can also bring its weight to bear more strongly and decisively on the question of same-sex marriage rights.

And when the demand for same-sex marriage rights is victorious, and it will be victorious, it will invigorate the movement, and lend confidence and dynamism to the ongoing struggles to address the grievances that remain to be redressed.

The victories already won in this last year demonstrate that a triumph like the decriminalization of same-sexuality can be wrested even from a Supreme Court dominated by seven Republicans, six of them appointed by Ronald Reagan and Bush Sr.

It proves that great gains can be won, like those in Massachusetts and San Francisco, even in a period of deep political reaction. The political establishment is moving to the right, but the great mass of working and oppressed peoples here and around the world is moving to the left.

Until every battle is won!

Winning the equal right to marry challenges and undermines the ideological justification for the patriarchal-dominated nuclear family. And it further widens the separation of church and state by secularizing the definition of a family.

Marxists define family not as "mom-pop-and-a-couple-of-kids," but as an economic unit under capitalism. We understand that the battle for greater equality for these economic units is an important bourgeois democratic demand.

But we're communists. Our goal is a society in which the great economic burden is lifted from individual family units. Perhaps the most purposeful distortion of Marx by ruling ideologues regards his statement that communists seek to abolish the family.

Marx wasn't talking about tearing sobbing children away from parents. He was talking about the historic need to shift the economic weight from the individual family to the collectively owned state.

From each according to ability, to each according to need--that is what will free heterosexual women from the economic bondage of the patriarchal nuclear family. That is what will liberate the complex matrix of all human sexuality from economic compulsion.

Sexuality, gender expression and the sexes have been partitioned and state-regulated since early class society to conform to the objective class needs of a patriarchal-dominated ruling elite.

With universal abundance, under technologically advanced communism, sexuality, gender expression and the sexes will be more free to develop into even greater complexity, with even greater choices than were imaginable under early, pre-technological communalism.

But how do we get there? How do we make that revolution? By waging the battles today that will create stepping-stone victories that we can build on, and that cement greater solidarity amongst all those who have the least to lose and the most to gain from a profound societal transformation.

As revolutionaries, we stand with all who are oppressed, with all who are fighting back--from San Francisco to Baghdad--and we will not stop fighting until every battle is won!

Reprinted from the Feb. 26, 2004, issue of Workers World newspaper

This article is copyright under a Creative Commons License.
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