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Law professor: Stop spending money on marriage campaigns, find alternatives better-suited to 21st century gays, lesbians

Commentary from Jeff A. Redding, assistant professor at Saint Louis University School of Law:

In the Wake of Maine Vote, Gay Rights Movement Must Change Goals, Tactics

jreddin3As the recent vote on Proposition 1 in Maine has only confirmed, gay and lesbian civil rights organizations are in a losing quagmire with the conservative right in their longstanding conflict over same-sex marriage.  Considering this ballot loss, along with last year’s equally humiliating loss in California on Proposition 8, it would not be unfair to characterize gay civil rights organizations' decade-long focus on marriage as near-sighted, if not disastrous.  As with any battle, goals, tactics, and strategies must be evaluated when losses accumulate so severely.

With responsibility for such staggering losses at their feet, now is the time for the country's leading gay civil rights organizations to take stock of what has happened in Maine and California, to ensure that these organizations’ current leaders are held accountable for their devastating and expensive losses in these two states, and also to jumpstart an aggressive consultation with all sectors of the national gay and lesbian community.  Such a consultation should focus on establishing a set of social, legislative, and courtroom priorities which are not exhausted by the current idolatrous and debilitating focus on marriage.  Many gay and lesbian people have questioned quietly the wisdom and desirability of the marriage agenda.  Now is the time for them to raise their voices, and for the gay and lesbian leadership to listen to these thoughtful voices with seriousness.

Before the advent of same-sex marriage in their state, gay and lesbian Californians had succeeded in their efforts to persuade the California state legislature to pass "domestic partnership" legislation.  This legislation gave same-sex couples the same benefits and burdens that opposite-sex couples experience with "marriage."

This unprecedented and impressive victory apparently was not enough, however.  Leading gay and lesbian civil rights organizations, including Human Rights Campaign and the ACLU's Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Transgender Project, coordinated the ensuing effort to muscle a narrow 4-3 "victory" out of the California Supreme Court, granting same-sex couples the right to the label of "marriage" as well.  A key argument of these organizations was that the lack of access to a faltering heterosexual institution compromised the dignity of gay and lesbian citizens.  It did not take a strategic genius, however, to see that whatever dignity might be gained by a successful effort to join the country club was overwhelmingly outweighed by the prospect of a sure loss to gay and lesbian dignity if California's citizens decided to go ugly in the process of repealing an unpopular judicial decision.

California's entirely predictable slap in the face to its gays and lesbian citizens has now been repeated by Maine.  Similar to the viciously homophobic pro-Proposition 8 advertising campaign that was unleashed in California, a torrent of homophobia was opened over Maine’s airwaves in the battle over Proposition 1.  As difficult as it is to insist upon this, the leadership of gay and lesbian civil rights organizations must be held accountable for their failed strategies and the tide of homophobia which they have helped release, all in the pursuit of a goal of questionable value.

Now is not the time to throw good money after the tens of millions of dollars in community money which have been wasted on the unsuccessful same-sex marriage campaigns in Maine, California, and other places.  Now is the time to think outside of the box, including the imagining of alternatives to marriage which do not replicate its shortcomings and faltering logics (even for today’s heterosexuals) but which are, instead, more directly responsive to the particular needs and desires of 21st-century gay and lesbian communities.

There is no doubt that gay and lesbian people experience slights to their dignity every day of their lives.  These slights come in the form of schoolyard taunts, discriminatory decisions at the workplace, and the government's continuing abandonment of the community to the HIV epidemic.  That being said, it is also the case that these serious problems will not be overcome with marriage.  Indeed, they will be exacerbated by a generations-long, billion-dollar "long war" over marriage - the prospects of which look dim at best.

When gay and lesbian organizations have won marriage battles, they have lost the dignity war.  It is time to stop this marriage madness.  Make love, not marriage.

The author is an assistant professor at Saint Louis University School of Law and has previously written and spoken on same-sex marriage.

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Wrong - separate but equal is inherently unequal. To settle for anything less than the full dignity of rights denies the LGBT community their dignity.

Besides, one only needs to look at the age demographics on same-sex marriage opinion polls to see that the future is coming.

Why are you so afraid of a bunch of religious slobs? "the tide of homophobia has been released." It has always been against us, and to yield to it is exactly what the disgusting religious zealots want us to do; however, I do support turning the tide on them! We need to use the ballot process as a weapon against them. They need to be treated to their own poison. We need to put a referendum on religion, and it will pass with flying colors!

We do need to ask permission from a bunch of bible thumping jesus freaks to get married!

Yes...a referandom on religion. They should lose their tax exempt status if they enter the political arena. Whether it be by registering voters or using collection plate money for political action groups. They need to be taxed like everyone else...then they might think twice about embedding their religious beliefs into state laws.

"As difficult as it is to insist upon this, the leadership of gay and lesbian civil rights organizations must be held accountable for their failed strategies and the tide of homophobia which they have helped release, all in the pursuit of a goal of questionable value." The tide of homophobia was there all along. Now we can see the monster's face. That's the only difference. You need to see the monster before you can fight it.

Onward to equality.
Cheers, Joe Mustich, Justice of the Peace,
Washington, Connecticut, USA.
All summer long I officiated for couples who have been together for 20, 30, and 45 years.
It's time.

We at the Alternatives to Marriage Project (www.unmarried.org) couldn't agree more! Please join us in working to make marriage *not matter* for access to health care, taxation, fair housing and a host of other policy issues that affect Americans' daily lives regardless of gender or orientation.

@JC "Why are you so afraid of a bunch of religious slobs?"

I think the same could be asked of you. The point, so eloquently stated, was "dignity might be gained by a successful effort to join the country club was overwhelmingly outweighed by the prospect of a sure loss to gay and lesbian dignity."

I do not think Mr. Redding is "afraid" of the "religious snobs" (religion is necessarily a bad thing?), but rather doesn't care what they think at all. If the GLBT community can attain the same legal status as their heterosexual counterparts, what does it matter what the name is? I'm pretty sure a large majority of the population in this situation would refer to these couples as "married" anyway; so why bother?

I understand your frustration; however, some things take time. You don't win a war with one battle.

I think the point of the article is that through the decisions to fight for marriage equality very little has been gained. Instead of being recognized by society as having equal rights, homosexuals subjected themselves to a flurry of negative advertising campaigns. These campaigns undermine one of the more vital needs of the gay community - the need to foster thoughtful discussion and understanding among the youth.

While the 'hate' has always been there (and likely will remain), it is pointless to give a national forum to the hate, especially when all signs show that the goal - marriage equality - will not succeed.

By seeking what (most) everyone can agree to be basic *human* rights (visitation rights, property succession, etc.) via civil unions, the homosexual community can actually receive those rights in the short-run. As social norms change and bigotry fades, marriage will be attainable.

It has been proposed that the government simply not acknowledge the word 'marriage', but simply provide civil unions to *all* couples --leaving marriage as a religious institution. While this would not provide the explicit recognition of homosexual partnership sought by many, it would serve to grant equal status.

This is one of many alternatives that might be attainable if only the fight for marriage could be placed on the back-burner.

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