Devil Take The Hindmost: A Rant on the Politics of Marriage Equality

This morning, I encountered a brief post at ThinkProgress, “Conservative Pundits: Accepting Same-Sex Marriage is Common Sense.” The article relates remarks made by Mary Matalin and George Will on yesterday’s This Week with George Stephanopoulos to the effect that the popular politics surrounding marriage equality in the United States is trending inexorably towards widespread popular support for equality. The state-level victories for marriage equality in the 2012 elections, and public opinion charts like this one, tell the story.

The tenor of the ThinkProgress article is positive: it means to say “look, marriage equality and LGBTQ rights are obviously advancing when even Mary Matalin and George Will admit publicly that marriage equality is coming.”

But I am not so excited. This post inadvertently shows an ugly side to the politics of marriage equality, an ugly side others and I have feared would come. Read carefully what Mary Matalin actually said on Stephanopoulos:

MATALIN:  There are important constitutional, biological, theological, ontological questions relative to homosexual marriage. People who live in the real world, say, the greater threat to the civil order are the heterosexuals who don’t get married and are making babies. That’s an epidemic in crisis proportions. That is irrefutably more problematic for our culture than homosexuals getting married. I find this important dancing on the head of a pin argument, but in real life, looking down 30 years from now, real people understand the consequences of so many babies being born out of wedlock to the economy and to the morality of the country.

So. Is this how it is?

We are going to begrudgingly accept marriage equality because, well, single parents and people who have children without being married are the real reason society is crumbling?

Are queer folk so desperate for social acceptance that we are willing to purchase it from the likes of Mary Matalin at the expense of raising the age-old conservative specter of “out-of-wedlock” parents?

Are we really going to nod in approval while Mary Matalin trots out conservative racist dog-whistling tropes? Are we so naive that we don’t understand that when Matalin is talking about rampant out-of-wedlock births, she is talking about blacks and immigrants, and especially single black women? Do we really want this kind of “help”?

Are we really going to be content that Matalin has managed, intentionally or not, to link LGBTQ rights with conservative handwringing over the demographic shift away from whiteness that helped drive the 2012 elections?

Are we now, just maybe, among the targets of demographic realignment that the Republican Party has in mind in order to overcome its narrowing base of straight white men?

Are we really going to take whatever rights we get with marriage equality– rights that are going to come with a price tag— and then run? Are we really going to say “Devil take the hindmost” and forget to stand in solidarity with other queer folk for whom marriage is not a goal? With trans* folk, who still struggle for basic recognition of their identities under the law, with rampant discrimination in housing and employment, with harassment and violence? With immigrants, with organized labor, with the poor?

Are we secretly glad that some conservatives are looking for someone else besides us for a change to target with their paranoia and their fear?

Or are we going to resist this fearmongering? Are we going to stand shoulder-to-shoulder with all LGBTQ folk, with people of color, with immigrants? Are we going to listen to, affirm, and learn from one another’s stories? Are we going to learn to build coalitions that will help us resist being co-opted by the overwhelming forces of capital and compulsory heterosexuality?

I sincerely hope it is the latter. I am certainly not against marriage equality. Quite the opposite, in fact. But the politics of it can very easily turn very ugly. I hope we are not starting to see that here.

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