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.
1 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.