Shortly after 5pm last evening, the Governator of California lifted his veto pen to the first legisature-authorized extension of same-sex marriage rights in the country. Gay activists are up in arms, or at least their e-mails would lead one to believe so as the Castro has not exactly erupted in window-smashing protest. Personally, I'm having a hard time feeling anything but ambivalent about the issue.
If anything stirs me, it's the hope that rich gays who thought they could cross the ticket and vote for Arnold because he was a "social liberal" learn a thing or two about politics. When it comes down to it, a Republican is a Republican. No matter how moderate one claims to be, being a member of the party means being of the party of George W. Bush and Tom DeLay.
As for the issue of same-sex marriage itself, it feels more and more bourgeois and narrow - albeit highly emotional. Here's what I want to know: are there any measurable statistics that show the lack access to marriage rights really affects people's quality of life on a significant scale? I know the stories - of denied benefits, children taken away, longtime partners written out of wills. They are sad. But in the larger scheme of things, how does not being able to marry stack up against more established social ills?
To be sure, there are plenty of cases in which being able to marry would help specific couples with access to healthcare, tax breaks, inheritance, visitation, and child custody issues. However, the moment we start talking about marriage as a systemic solution to those problems - especially the economic ones - it begins to reek of the same defective policy the Bush administration wanted to push in its marriage incentives in the welfare bill.
Bottom line: being able to visit a doctor should never rest on one's ability or willingness to be in a romantic partnership. Ditto for the whole slew of rights that can be signed over on a marriage license with the stroke of a pen, $50, and an unenforced claim to be sleeping with someone 'until death do us part.'
In a perfect world, it would be nice if folks could marry the person of their choice, regardless of gender. But the condition is far from that. Things seem to keep getting worse and worse every day, and in that environment, we have to pick our battles. Yes, it is unfortunate that conservatives have been able to leverage the politics of hate and use gay marriage as a wedge issue. The truth of it is that sexuality is still a red flag issue for all too many, and leading with the issue of marriage may be too high a threshhold for many people to surmount right now.
Now imagine this: a gay movement that decided to work on universal healthcare, or strengthening social security, or passing sensible welfare policies, because, well, there are poor gay folks, as well as poor Catholics and poor Baptists and poor African Americans and poor Latinos and poor rednecks, and people who are more than one of those. Might people learn something about one another?