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Saturday, June 27, 2015

My Sad Trombone Blows For The SCOTUS Decision (Which Also Blows)

Love did NOT win on Friday when the Supreme Court declared (so-called) "marriage equality" a Constitutional right in its Obergefell v. Hodges decision. Make no mistake: there were a lot of people/interests/agendas that did win yesterday, innumerably more that lost, but "love" wasn't even a lowly grunt in that battle. Neither were "dignity," "respect," "tolerance," "acceptance" and least of all any progressive sense of "equality."

The War on/for Marriage of the last decade was only ever a series of battles between Marriage1 ("traditional" marriage, between one cis-man and one cis-woman) and Marriage2 (also "traditional" marriage, but the cis-woman can swap out her cis-man for another cis-woman, and vice versa). So color me not-at-all-surprised that the protracted-- though, historically speaking, quite abbreviated-- denouement of this War was brought to its finale with SCOTUS' pronouncement that (shocker!) marriage won the contest against itself.  That is to say, a fundamentally exclusive, overdetermined and state-sanctioned cultural institution-- which bestows civic and economic rewards for thoroughly undemocratic reasons entirely unrelated to merit, right or desert, which does so at the expense and to the detriment of more than half our democratic citizenry, which has no governing interest other than the managerial consolidation of private property and the compulsory regularization/normalization of sexual behaviors, familial structures and gender expressions-- has now been marginally modified by the highest court in the land to be a slightly-less-exclusive exclusionary institution.

Color me also unimpressed.

I'd first like to address my LGBTQA friends and colleagues, in order to head off at the pass a number of anticipatable objections.  Before anything else, let me say for the record that I don't personally object to anything about your love, your relationships, how you choose to ceremonialize or celebrate those relationships, what you choose to call one another or anything else about your romantic life and decisions that (to borrow from Rawls) does not interfere with a coextensive exercise of the same liberties by all. You do you.  That goes for all y'all.

I do, however, object to your defense of the civic-economic institution of marriage. Strenuously object.

To my LGBTQA friends who have spent the last several years in the trenches of this War on/for Marriage-- and lets be honest, I'm really only talking to the (mostly white and more or less wealthy) L and G peeps here, and also their A(llie)s, who have been far more interested in and spent far more political, cultural and real-money capital fighting for the validation of monogamous same-sex relationships than negotiating solidarity with B's, T's and Q's, or any of the POC or poor people with whose interests theirs would be much more progressively aligned  -- and who say "we just wanted the same recognition as straight people, we just wanted the opportunity to have our love validated, we wanted a legit wedding, we fought for it, and SCOTUS has given us that" I say: SCOTUS did not give you that. You have always been able to love and to marry, outside of the sanction of the church or the state of course, but your love has never required the sanction of the church or the state to be valid.  (See Michael Warner's "Publics and Counterpublics")  This appeal is the most crimson of red herrings.  Stop it.

To my LG[BTQ]A friends who say "there are more than 1,100 rights and privileges that we have been denied because we have been denied state-sanctioned marriage equality, we want those rights and privileges, nay, we are owed those rights and privileges, and SCOTUS gave us EQUALITY!" I say: Thanks for being honest. Now, if you don't mind, please stop talking about equality. The actual institution of marriage, no matter how you look at it-- historically, religiously, culturally, politically, economically-- is and has always been about manufacturing, maintaining and regulating INequality. Yes, it could be otherwise, but in its current state-sanctioned iteration it is not, and there is no expansion or modification of that state-sanctioned institution that will make it so. If you are really interested in LGBTQ people's (and others') equal access to the rights and privileges associated with marriage, you would fight for universal access to those same rights and privileges for all of our democracy's stakeholders, independent of their marriage status. Just because you can now join a club that is slightly less exclusive than the super-exclusive club down the street doesn't make you a populist, even less so an advocate of equality.1  So yay, I guess? Same-sex married couples can now flash their VIP cards to the hospital-visitation nurse, and the IRS, and they can include their newly-legitimated spouses under their insurance coverage, and 1,000+ other benefits.  BUT WHAT ABOUT EVERYBODY ELSE?  I'm sure I wasn't the only one who watched a number of so-called representatives of LGBTQ "equality" shame, boo and then silence Jennicet Guitierez at the White House Pride reception only a few days ago. If you've been fighting for marriage equality because you want the swag-bag that comes with it then, okay, I get that, but please file in with the oligarchs and plutocrats, not with the people.  Pace Beyonce, that's to the right, to the Right, if you please.

To my LGBTQA friends who say "SCOTUS' decision compels a recognition of the inherent dignity of LGBTQ folks, likewise compels respect for and acceptance of LGBTQ folks, so even if it is not the mountaintop of the struggle, it represents a progressive step on the way there," I say: No, just no. Obergefell v. Hodges will do about as much to eradicate heteronormativity, homophobia and transphobia as Loving v. Virginia did to eradicate racism, or as much as the other two recent Supreme Court decisions (in re ACA and Fair Housing/"disparate impact") did to actually help poor people  Statutes and laws regulate behaviors; they do not change hearts and minds.  Consider this: five black churches have been burned just in the last week in the United States. It is safe to assume, I think, that those arsonists executed their crimes entirely unhindered by a single extant mixed-race marriage, entirely unpersuaded by the implicit "dignity" that the state's recognition of mixed-race marriage allegedly bestows on black people and black lives, and entirely in keeping with the reality of our New Jim Crow system. Nothing inspires viciously creative strategies of intolerance quite like pro forma, enforced tolerance.  In fact, there is very good reason to worry that the obsessive, myopic focus on state recognition of same-sex marriage has not only distracted people of good conscience from directing their energies toward combating historically-ingrained systemic injustices like antiblack racism and abject poverty, which (unlike marriage) are matters of actual life and death, but decisions like Obergefell v. Hodges may even further entrench and compound the violence of systemic antiblack racism and plutocratic exploitations of the poor.

Folding LGBTQ people into the state's regulatory custody by extending the right to marry does not represent a victory for justice. It's just good business. Look how quickly SCOTUS' decision was "branded." No, seriously, just look at your Twitter and Facebook feeds today. Look at the photos of the rainbow-hued White House, Empire State Building and Niagara Falls. Interested in state recognition and validation? There's already an app for that. And a selection of prefab #hashtags. And cake!  All this can be yours for the low, low price of your allegiance to and silence regarding that same state's continuing, unrelenting and ultimately profit-motivated neglect of the poor, the undocumented, the incarcerated, the disenfranchised, the unmarried, the brown and the black.

The civic-economic institution of marriage, in its current iteration, is a bedrock of our neoliberal state, which commodifies and exploits those elements of our "private" life that it can, forcing us to invest in its recognition and regulation of them in order to secure their value and keep them legitimately "ours." And what of those elements of our so-called private lives that the state cannot (or opts not to) recognize and regulate, i.e., our communal interests and values?  It divests and ignores and leaves them to the workings of the Invisible Hand.  I fail to see how one can be for an institution like marriage or for the sort of state that defines it at it is now defined and also be for equality and justice.

Let's just call the SCOTUS decision what it really is: a Pyrrhic victory. Which is to say, a loss. Not just for LGBTQ people, but for all of us who want a democracy in which rights are not first and foremost determined by private property interests, if not also a democracy in which rights are not figured, first a foremost, qua private property.

In his 75 B.C.E. biography Pyrrhus, the Greek historian Plutarch includes a report from Dionysius telling of Pyrrhus' now-infamous "victory" over the Romans at Heraclea and Asculum, during which Pyrrhus' army suffered such devastating casualties as to render them effectively powerless.  Dionysius reports:
The armies separated; and, it is said, Pyrrhus replied to one that gave him joy of his victory that one other such victory would utterly undo him.  For he had lost a great part of the forces he brought with him, and almost all his particular friends and principal commanders; there were no others there to make recruits, and he found the confederates in Italy backward. On the other hand, as from a fountain continually flowing out of the city, the Roman camp was quickly and plentifully filled up with fresh men, not at all abating in courage for the loss they sustained, but even from their very anger gaining new force and resolution to go on with the war.
This is what I felt when I read the "joys of victory" regarding the SCOTUS decision all over my Facebook and Twitter feeds, when I received countless similar expressions of victorious joy in emails and in text messages on my phone throughout the day and well into the night: one other such victory will surely undo us.  LGBTQ people didn't "win" yesterday, we conceded, and our concession likely came at the cost of untold numbers of casualties.  The most ingenious battle strategy is to offer one's enemy a morsel of kindness, to extend a insignificant tidbit of mercy or privilege, to seduce them and distract them with a victory at the front while you gather your troops to overwhelm them from the rear "as from a fountain continually flowing... plentifully filled up with fresh men, not at all abating in courage for the loss they sustained, but even from their very anger gaining new force and resolution to go on with the war."  As much as I'd like to be happy for my dear friends who view the SCOTUS decision as a victory, I cannot.  For all of our sake, I just can't even.

You know what the sound of a Pyrrhic victory is?  A sad trombone.  Like deflating a balloon, like a blood-letting, like death by a thousand cuts, it is slow and sly and demoralizing and not painful enough to motivate you to fight back against it.

Let's not go out like that.

-------------------------------------
On that point, allow me to blow another sad trombone for the SCOTUS decision regarding ACA subsidies. "Obamacare," #thanksnothanksObama, has exactly zero to do with universal access to essential healthcare, something that only a government-subsidized, single-payer system can accomplish.At best, the ACA accomplishes a moderate redistribution of the expense of health insurance, an industry that is by all available measures one of the most devastatingly exploitative iterations of contemporary finance-capitalism.

11 comments:

Sync said...

What a whiner. Regardless of whether or not you'd like to see the institution of marriage eliminated entirely, now and forever, as a practical matter in our current society there are certain priviliges awarded married couples that same sex couples wanted the benefits of. Things having to do with various spousal rights, many of which might very well be irrelevant or meaningless to single people or those otherwise not interested in marriage. Now these rights could be awarded other than by calling it "marriage", but the name means whatever you want it to mean, it's just a label-- what the LGBTs wanted was the exact-same-rights and there was no reason not to award them via the existing civil mechanisms we have for it, no need to create a parallel bureaucracy with it's own name for no reason other than to placate the bigots. So LGBTs fought for those rights and now they got them. If you think single individuals are discriminated against by the institution of marriage and this was some kind of a step backwards, maybe you should try to build a legal case for that, too. Otherwise you might as well STFU, Quixote.

Will Roberts said...

Hi Leigh. You claim that "Marriage 2" is "also "traditional" marriage, but the cis-woman can swap out her cis-man for another cis-woman, and vice versa." This seems wrong to me. Why does cis-gendered matter at all any more, as far as marriage is concerned? Isn't the upshot precisely that no one any longer has to declare or identify with any gender in order to marry?

Leigh M. Johnson said...

@Sync: As a practical matter, we ought to divorce the institution of marriage from the civic/economic privileges with which it is currently associated. There is no good justice-based reason for that association.

@Will: You're right. "Cis"-gendered identification no longer matters for marriage-sub-2. My suspicion is that "gendered" identification is still requisite, and will continue to be so. (I'd have to look into this more, but I don' think one can apply for a marriage licence in any state without both partners declaring themselves M or F.) My point in the OP was just to stress how little difference there is/was between marriage-sub-1 and marriage-sub-2, both of which still serve as a manner of legitimating and regulating certain configurations of gendered, familial relationships.

Will Roberts said...

If one's state still requires that one declare one's gender to be M or F in order to get a marriage license, then this ruling would provide the basis for a legal challenge to that requirement: the state has just declared that it has no real interest in "knowing" the gender of marriage partners. I think you are under-estimating the legal resources this ruling provides for winning further battles.

Anonymous said...

"If you are really interested in LGBTQ people's (and others') equal access to the rights and privileges associated with marriage, you would fight for universal access to those same rights and privileges for all of our democracy's stakeholders, independent of their marriage status." This quote does make sense to me, but as a foreign national who managed to get a green card to stay with my spouse in the United States, I think that some rights are specific to getting married, such as the right to petition for immigration for your spouse. So no, I do not believe that this victory is meaningless. No matter what you call it, it awards rights and privileges that mean so much to me and other couples in the US.

Will Roberts said...

(This is my response to the facebook discussion about this post, so the quotes from you come from FB, not the OP.)

Leigh, I just don't get this argument: "It's "truly amazing!" to be White in a white-supremacist country club, it's truly amazing to be male in a sexist country club, it's truly amazing to be wealthy/propertied in, well, a country club. Is gaining membership to those "progress"? I don't think so, but I can see how reasonable ppl may disagree. Is gaining membership a victory? No, it is a loss." If a white supremacist country club suddenly has to admit any person of color who wants in, then, yes, that's a victory. Why? Because its white supremacist character was constituted by its exclusion of people of color! By your argument, it would seem that the end of Jim Crow was also not a victory, since all it did was let black folks into the white supremacist institutions.

You argue that it is a loss "Because accepting membership and all the truly amazing membership swag *necessarily* comes at the expense of others and of conceding a world where such fundamentally (and, again, unjustifiably) arbitrary allocation of benefits works to consolidate power and resources in the hands of those who benefit from unjust distribution schema." The same was true of desegregation, and emancipation before it. The same was true of women getting the franchise, and of working people getting the franchise. Those were still victories. I am all for analyzing the concrete ways in which this ruling will make matters worse for some people. I don't doubt that it will make some people's exclusion worse, and harder to bear. But my point is that there are *no* liberations that don't do that. The conclusion, it seems to me, is *not* that there are no liberations, no victories.

As you say at the end of your response, I too am honestly very grateful for this opportunity to discuss these questions. I just want to understand the argument you -- and many others -- are making.

Chris Grubb said...

I'm reminded of Voltaire's adage: "Don't let the perfect be the enemy of the good." After reading your post 3 times, looking for the state of the world you would like to see and some practical recommendations on how to get there, I came away with the following: you are opposed to a legal arrangement that confers benefits on those who enter into it (in this case marriage). Ok. Feel free to work to eradicate civic marriage to achieve that more perfect good, or, to use your country club analogy: feel free to work toward eradicating the country club. In the meantime, it makes more practical sense to me to make sure that all who could potentially have access to "the country club" actually have equal access.

Also, what really confused me about this post is how much it takes as given or well-established, with no help to the reader to understand why you think those things to be true. Here are some examples to help out:
- "That is to say, a fundamentally exclusive, overdetermined and state-sanctioned cultural institution-- which bestows civic and economic rewards for thoroughly undemocratic reasons entirely unrelated to merit, right or desert, which does so at the expense and to the detriment of more than half our democratic citizenry, which has no governing interest other than the managerial consolidation of private property and the compulsory regularization/normalization of sexual behaviors, familial structures and gender expressions-- has now been marginally modified by the highest court in the land to be a slightly-less-exclusive exclusionary institution.” What evidence is there that marriage comes at the expense or detriment of our single citizens? I agree there are benefits, duties, responsibilities associated with marriage are not available to single citizens, but that doesn’t mean that they come at the expense or detriment of single folk.
- “…but decisions like Obergefell v. Hodges may even further entrench and compound the violence of systemic antiblack racism and plutocratic exploitations of the poor.” I suppose that’s possible, but what is the evidence/argument that get’s you from expanding the set of consenting adults who can participate in the marriage country club, to an increase of anti-black racism.
- "Folding LGBTQ people into the state's regulatory custody by extending the right to marry does not represent a victory for justice. It's just good business.” Let’s assume for a moment that the fight to eradicate the marriage country club doesn’t come soon. Why isn’t expanding the right to participate a victory for justice? Sure this decision is a loss from the perspective of the more perfect version of reality where marriage doesn't exist as a mechanism to mete out unequal benefits, but that doesn’t imply it isn’t a “good” beyond just being good for business, whatever that may mean.
- "All this can be yours for the low, low price of your allegiance to and silence regarding that same state's continuing, unrelenting and ultimately profit-motivated neglect of the poor, the undocumented, the incarcerated, the disenfranchised, the unmarried, the brown and the black.” I’m really not sure how this is even remotely true. Should no case ever have been brought to force open access to civic marriage? Can’t those who now are eligible to receive these benefits also work to not get them in the future, or even work for justice in the areas you mention?
- "Let's just call the SCOTUS decision what it really is: a Pyrrhic victory. Which is to say, a loss.” I felt like I missed something here. What evidence of devastating loss did you present?
In the end, I guess you could be correct from the vantage point of the more perfect condition where the marriage country club has been abolished. But I am left thinking in response, “Uh, ok…” In the meantime, I’ll join others in celebrating the expanding, imperfect circle of equality.

Bill Dillard said...

I'm sorry, but neither love, dignity, respect, tolerance, acceptance, and the progressive sense of equality were placed before the Court to decide. The Court, as it should, decided what was before it, and in my view did so in accordance with the law.

To be sure (as the Court proved in this decision),there is a measure of equality guaranteed by the Constitution, and we are compelled by laws held to be constitutional to tolerate and accept certain things and conditions, but it does not guarantee or (from the other side of the coin)compel in free people the duty to love, dignify, or respect anything. There are societies where these things are compelled. Stalin ran one. So did Hitler. North Korea's another.

You are the master of no one's heart but your own, and you have no right and (at least for now) no power to compel any other heart, or to have nine unelected lawyers in robes compel the hearts of others for you.

I'm thinking you should read more, but until you demonstrate the competency to pass a 4th grade civics test, do society a favor and write less....much less.

Adriel Trott said...

/wrt Will's comment: Just to be clear about the context of Leigh's quote where she says "It's "truly amazing!" to be White in a white-supremacist country club, it's truly amazing to be male in a sexist country club, it's truly amazing to be wealthy/propertied in, well, a country club. Is gaining membership to those "progress"?" Leigh is pointing to how it is amazing only because one benefits to the exclusion of others.

Will, your argument seems to be including gay people in marriage changes the very definition of marriage just like including people of color in the country club changes the notion that it could be white supremacist (actually, I don't think that is the case, because the club could even further defend its various white supremacist actions by saying, we aren't white supremacist, we have black members!). That marriage is exclusive and economically privileging does not change by including people who are not straight. The presupposition is that what was important about marriage was its heteronormativity. But Leigh's point seems to be that that isn't what is historically important about the definition of marriage, it's the (white) economic privilege that makes us invested in it. As I understand her, Leigh is pointing to the country club model to say that marriage is the country club through which people have to pass to gain access to certain benefits and privileges. Instead of celebrating the larger membership of the country club, we should resist a parceling out of rights as if they are privileges that one can only get through the country club. We should instead make into universal rights those things that become benefits and privileges when they are exclusive by having say, universal health care, a livable wage, open hospital access and shared parental rights.

Jeff Heikkinen said...

Grant for the sake of argument that abolishing marriage in its current form (getting the state out of the marriage business, essentially) would be morally preferable to not doing so, whether LGBTetc people are included in the current institution or not. Why should we care? That's essentially counting angels on the head of a pin. Such a policy change is not at all likely to happen in my lifetime and certainly wasn't ever a plausible outcome of this particular case.

Of the outcomes that were realistically possible, this was clearly the best one. This may be only a marginal victory for "justice" in some abstract, cosmic sense, or for certain hypothetical future people. But it's a very real victory for actual human beings who are alive right now.

Barbara said...

Really fantastic story! But I know another one about white and black https://kovla.com/blog/13-popular-white-celebrities-who-have-black-spouses/ and it's very interesting and amazing too!) Read it, I'm sure you'll like it!