Flags waiving, music blaring, the nearly 6,000 participants in this past New York Pride celebration meant that folks had much to be prideful for. Passing the Republican majority Senate late Friday night two weeks ago, the state legalized same-sex marriage, making it the 6th and largest state to recognize the right. Many are calling this a huge and especially important victory for gay rights, as this same month in 1969 New York City saw a police raid at the Stonewall Inn (a bar in the West Village), which ultimately helped to spawn the gay rights movement.
When I heard the news of the law’s passage, I was sitting in one of my favorite bars in Oakland with two fellow social justice advocates. The three of us clinked glasses, hugged, and hollered in the name of gay rights, human rights, and, ultimately, justice. I was on an incredible high that made my participation in the San Francisco Pride an even more important and special experience for me. It wasn’t until the weekend ended – the floats put away, ticker tape cleared, and crowds dispersed that the fog lifted and I began to ponder the possible future effects of the law.
In a New York Times OP-Ed piece entitled Marriage Is a Mixed Blessing, Katherine M. Franke points out that while many in the community have worked hard to establish the right for same-sex couples to marry, many have also been working hard to establish alternatives to marriage. For these individuals, domestic partnerships and civil unions are not a consolation prize to those not allowed to marry, but instead provide a sense of freedom that doesn’t have to conform to the one-size-fits-all rules of marriage.
This movement does not claim to be anti-marriage, but rather, pro-choice, in that commitment should not be an all or nothing decision. With the understanding that in most cases domestic partnerships are recognized to rectify the injustice of same-sex couples not being able to marry, many fear that with the passage of the new law will come the abolition of domestic partnerships. If employers offer marriage as the only option, this may mean that those currently in a domestic partnership run the risk of losing their healthcare benefits. Ultimately, these individuals will have no choice; they will be forced to either marry or lose their benefits all together.
The RJ movement focuses on reproductive oppression, rather than a narrow focus on protecting the legal right to abortion. Therefore, the central theme of the reproductive justice framework is a focus on the control and exploitation of women’s bodies, sexuality, and reproduction as an effective strategy for controlling women and communities. Controlling a woman’s body means controlling her life, her options, and her potential, and thus it can be said that controlling one individual becomes a strategic pathway to regulating entire communities.
There exists a fear that the NY law will ultimately control or oppress the gay community through these individual state sanctioned relationships. While the state may not be controlling their bodies in the physical sense, they are controlling their choice, options, and thus, their potential. Without the aid of insurance, many may find adoption and assisted reproductive techniques difficult or impossible to attain. This is severely limiting the gay community from participating in a reproductive choice.
Many have contently been living for years without the legal ability to marry and have developed their own way of loving, caring, and living together that they feel fits them better than marriage. This is an extremely complex issue that the state will not be able to resolve over night; however, it is an issue that deserves extreme consideration. Whether gay or straight, is it fair to force people to marry in order to have their committed relationships recognized and valued (in the eyes of the state)? While we struggle to find answers to the new problems the law will inevitably bring, you may find me slowly and quietly waiving my flag for the gay rights movement.