Wednesday, May 7, 2008

Mildred Loving and the fight for marriage equality

LA Times Article on the late Mildred Loving by Jocelyn Stewart

Mildred Loving, 68, a champion of marriage equality, passed away yesterday. Loving challenged Jim Crow laws that prohibited interracial marriage, which was led to the supreme court, and on 1967 over turned anti miscegenation laws. Stewart writes that "The Lovings never intended to be activists; they wanted to be married and live in Virginia."

i read this story and i think about "how far we have come"....but the pressing question i have is, marriage equality for whom?

although interracial marriage is legal, there are conventions - social, cultural, economic and legal- which inhibit it. the transferal of wealth is no longer a primary goal of marriage, but it is still a reality. we live in a society which is divided by race, and class.

although there are "diverse communities" which create spaces for interaction across class and race, people tend to stay -or be forced to stay- amongst themselves.

interracial marriage is not as prevelant as one would think, >Wikipedia Page on Marriage, and cross class unions are even rarer.

i cant think about Loving and interracial marriage without thinking about a myriad of other histories and injustices, one being that of Genarlow Wilson. Wilson a young black man, was sent to prison for two years for having sex with his white girlfriend. Wilson was 17 at the time, his girlfriend was 15. Wilson is one of countless young African American men who are victims of Jim Crow practices that still exists very much today.

yes, Mildred Loving's strong will and dedication to attaining the same rights that were afforded to white couples is landmark. but 40 years later, there are still practices by the state and society which prevent even the marriages or relationships of two heterosexual people. we must look at the experiences of Genarlow Wilson and others to see where we can move forward in addressing racism in society as well as institutions.

but for some, there is not even an option of marriage. but looking at this through a queer lens, i still think about privilege. Gay marriage is seen as the forefront of the gay agenda. When talking about issues affecting LGBT individuals, gay marriage is discussed ad nasuem. the people talking about it in the mainstream, are more often than not, white and professional. always with the arguments for the same "rights afforded to straight couples should be afforded to us." For me, its discussed in a very isolating way, that makes me disconnect. a lot of those same people "fighting" for marriage equality are the same white gay men and women that created queer havens like chelsea and park slope through ethnic cleansing gentrification. i have a hard time thinking about caring about gay marriage when police brutality of queer people of color is rampant, and HIV rates and homelessness of queer youth are still rising. those, to me, are much more immediate than a being able to spend a few grand on a ceremony to say " i do."

although these views are legitimate, they are very divisive. we are tricked into thinking gay marriage is something that would only really benefit white gays and lesbians. many studies show that queer couples of color would gain the most from legalization of gay marriage. Peacework Magazine printed an article last year titled Black, Latino, Asian Same-sex Couples Have Most to Gain, Lose from Marriage Fight with a great study.

This article cites studies that show

-people of color work are twice as likely to work in public sector jobs which by law have benefits for spouses.
-gay and lesbian couples of color are up to twice as likely to have children. gay marriage would provide not only benefits to children of queer households, but also legitimize children and create stronger families.
-immigration and citizenship are also issues that have been outside of discussion surrounding LGBT issues. asian and latino gay and lesbian couples in the united states are more likely to be non citizens than their white and black counterparts.

marriage is an institution that provides real benefits and services which lead to strong families and communities because of practical programs like first time home buyer programs, childcare services, family formation/planning and others like tax credits. i considered getting married for tax and health care purposes alone.... to a woman!

critics of marriage will talk about its history and its inherent evil, and that gay and lesbians should not assimilate or conform to archaic conventions. i feel this is such a privileged way to look at things... maybe if you are rich and dont need subsidies to get a house or provide for your family, its ok to reject marriage. But for the hundreds of thousands of gay households across the country, marriage and its benefits, are a little more savory than going against the grain.

for the prominent gay "movement" to acknowledge queer people of color and their struggles, it would require the introduction of class, race, and even more gendered consciousness and analysis into a population whose lexicon does not remotely contain words like intersectionality. Although LGBT organizations are getting better at recognizing the experiences of people of color, working class and immigrant communities, these issues must be brought to the forefront of organizing and discussions locally, from the bottom up. its very easy to criticize mainstream organizations, however even progressive grassroots organiations have done little to be inclusive of the LGBT individauls. we need to create these spaces to talk about the LGBT experience within issues like police brutality, education and healthcare, then we will create change, and shake things up.

i will leave you with a great quote by Huey P. Newton "There's nothing to say that a homosexual cannot also be a revolutionary. On the contrary, maybe a homosexual could be the most revolutionary..."

the studies mentioned above studies can be found at the National Gay & Lesbian Taskforce's Website (A MUST VISIT) Reports and Research Page

1 comment:

Sky said...


thank you for this! lots of great points. i've been wanting to blog about marriage for a while now. so i'm gonna piggyback off you! :)

in my view, the "marriage" debate is a worthy issue brought to the forefront for questionable reasons, but still ours (brown folks, poor folks, queer folks, etc) for the taking.

as i see it, it's not just that marriage provides access to thousands of rights and privileges which have real and tangible benefits for couples. It is also that the act of marriage is revolutionary.

yes,revolutionary. as you mention, there stands the academic critique of the institution. i think the power of marriage as revolution is rooted in history and busts right through the academy.

marriage is not a new debate for this country. before same-sex couples, there were interracial couples. before those, there were non-white couples, slave couples, colonized people whose humanity was being denied through the regulation of marriage. in addition to granting rights and privileges, marriage helps establish communities, and with community comes organized power.

The surface argument for denying couples the right to marry has historically involved pseudoscientific justifications coupled with religious dogma (science "proves" that people of color are not fully human and Christianity "tells" us that they are not god's children). The arguments today are not so different (Studies "prove" that LGBTQ couples may not provide stable homes for children, and Christianity "tells" us that their relationship is a sin).

I believe no academic would deny the value of marriage in establishing community amongst various communities of color throughout this nation's history, nor would they advocate the reinstitution of anti-miscegenation laws. So why deny the value of access to marriage for LGBTQ couples?

It's the same shit, different day/decade/century.

As we (brown folks, poor folks, queer folks, etc) start to see this connection and root ourselves in a legacy, I see the potential for us to take over the "gay marriage debate". We can start to build this movement on our own terms.