By the time you read this, Governor Martin O’Malley should have introduced the marriage equality bill to great fanfare in the Maryland General Assembly. Maryland’s GLBT Community has been ramping up for this moment since the painful collapse of the marriage campaign in the House of Delegates in the 2011 session. People in our community and beyond are bracing for a rigorous debate as GLBT Organizations and their supporters do battle with the antis amassed to remind the public at large that “Gay Marriage” will damage society.
It is no secret that marriage equality supporters are banking on the governor to do the heavy lifting necessary to pass this legislation, notwithstanding the formation of the Marylanders for Marriage Equality coalition. It’s also no secret that any marriage equality legislation will almost certainly be successfully petitioned to referendum. Indeed, Delegate Aisha N. Braveboy attempted to amend the last year’s marriage equality legislation to make the bill contingent on a referendum. Indeed, there is much debate over whether marriage equality would survive a referendum.
Over the next few months, you will hear certain themes repeated during this debate. These themes help us discern what exactly marriage equality will accomplish, for whom, and how we arrive at the goal (however defined). One common theme you will hear is Separate but Equal is Not Equal. This messaging intends to spurn attempts to advance civil unions as an alternative to marriage.
Marriage supporters have made clear that they believe it’s “Marriage or Bust” because a so-called “separate but equal” strategy – such as civil unions for gays – hearkens back to the Jim Crow era in which government segregated facilities between whites and African-Americans. Sure, the “separate but equal” refrain has a certain liberal appeal, but there are historical issues with its applicability to the marriage equality debate. One, Jim Crow was never “separate but equal” – Jim Crow was constructed to reinforce racist white notions that African-Americans were inferior to whites. There was nothing equal about it – African-Americans had the worst of all facilities. The U.S. Supreme Court invented the fictional doctrine of “separate but equal” in the immoral Plessy v. Ferguson decision that upheld the constitutionality of state Jim Crow laws mandating racial segregation (eventually overturned in Brown v. Board of Education).
With regard to marriage equality, many supporters of other aspects of “gay rights” balk – such as civil rights protections in housing, employment, credit and public accommodations – at extending marriage rights because of religious convictions or other personal beliefs about what marriage means. Indeed, undue pressure has been put on African-American lawmakers to support marriage equality, in part by appealing to “separate but equal is not equal.”
Separate but Equal is Not Equal messaging ignores, however, that the Maryland General Assembly could, in fact, adopt legislation that would provide that marriage, wherever defined in Maryland law, includes “civil unions,” and that “civil unions” means a union between two people of the same sex. Indeed, Cheryl Glenn, a Baltimore City Delegate who represents in part the gay-saturated neighborhood of Lauraville, proposed civil unions as an alternative to the marriage bill last session.
Why do Gays resist this? Why do Gays unquestioningly accept that is Separate but Equal is Not Equal?
Political observers note that there seems to be a divide in the GLBT Community along racial lines. Indeed, some of the most vocal opponents to a civil union compromise in the GLBT Community have been white gay males. Perhaps they chafe at the notion that anyone would consider them to be anything less than a “First Class Citizen”? Perhaps they are used to getting what they want because of their White Male status?
Which brings us to “The Goal”? What is the goal of marriage equality? Is it to ensure that White Males feel “fully equal”? Is it to ensure that same-gender loving couples have access to the full panoply of rights afforded to heterosexual married couples? Or something else?
If we want to ensure that same-gender loving couples have access to the same rights as heterosexual couples, we can accomplish this through civil unions. Further, opponents seem less likely to petition a civil union bill to referendum, thus ensuring that our communities can access protections sooner rather than later. Further still, a civil union law would place Maryland firmly in the camp of states that recognize our relationships – an important, not-to-be-overlooked fact if we consider that, ultimately, the U.S. Supreme Court will have its say on this issue.
The quest for marriage equality has drained significant resources – in terms of time and money – from other important matters facing our communities. Relationship recognition for same-gender loving couples is important for our community, no doubt about it. It’s just that many of us are unconvinced that “Marriage or Bust” is what we need to achieve this goal.
Friday, 27 January 2012