Anti-Gay Marriage Amendment: Tightening Tradition's Chains
Revolutionary Worker #1231, March 7, 2004,
posted at rwor.org
Starting just before Valentine's Day, San Francisco erupted in a
festival of gay marriage.
The new mayor simply announced his city government would issue marriage
licenses to gay couples. Immediately, lines stretched for blocks around City
Hall, starting before dawn, day after day, in rain and sunshine.
"We've been together seven and a half years. We've faced discrimination
but we love each other and we want to get married," Sharon, a newlywed, told
the RW reporter on the scene. "We have a ceremony coming up in May and this
just validates it even more. We were domestic partners and now we're going
to be legally married."
Couples came from all over the U.S., often surrounded by their kids and
friends. As each newly married couple emerged from City Hall, clutching
their new marriage certificates, the crowds cheered wildly--waving their
bouquets in the face of a rightwing climate.
Each wedding was a personal statement of commitment- -but together they
formed a city-wide manifesto of civil disobedience.
For centuries, gay and lesbian relationships were the "love that dare not
speak its name." They have been driven underground by a vicious stigma-- by
the threat of cruel rejection, jail and violence.
All those stigmas, rejections and threats have certainly not disappeared.
Bigots showed up at City Hall to call down divine wrath on everyone. And it
is well known that the new marriage licenses are being immediately
challenged in state court.
California's Terminator-Governor announced that these marriages had to be
stopped immediately or else "all of a sudden, we see riots, we see protests,
we see people clashing. The next thing we know, there is injured or there is
dead people." Rightwing radio talkshow hosts demanded the arrest of San
Francisco's Mayor--for "lawlessness."
This is the same America that has been quivering in a hysteria of
rightwing "decency" after Janet Jackson bared a breast during the Superbowl.
Since then, episodes of popular TV shows have been re-edited. Five-second
censorship delays are required for live TV events. Media moguls are
groveling before congressional committees, promising to even more
aggressively police television, radio and the larger culture.
This is the same moment when the FBI announced that it needs to hire 900
more "intelligence analysts" to keep up with their dragnet of new wiretaps
and political surveillance. This is a moment when Ashcroft's Justice
Department investigators are fanning out among major hospitals, demanding to
see the records of previously performed abortions and the doctors who did
Surrounded by all this, in one defiant city for a few days, the love of
gay couples was honored in public. This was a taste of future equality, and
thousands of people walked through those doors to grab for it.
A Just Demand for Equal Rights
On one level, the furor over gay marriage is mindboggling. The thousands
of couples outside of San Francisco's City Hall weren't proposing new,
wildly experimental sexual arrangements. They simply want to get hitched,
like everyone else!And they want the very ordinary legal and
economic status that comes with official marriage: including right of
inheritance, right to adopt, right to visit in hospital and prison, tax
breaks, the right to rent and own homes without discrimination, and (of
course) they want the important protection of employer health benefits.
This is a demand for official acknowledgement of millions of
families that already exist.It is a simple, very reasonable demand
for equality, acceptance and basic democratic rights. And it deserves the
firm support of anyone who wants to see the grip of bigotry and injustice
And, it is hard not to wonder at the hysterical claims that are being
made against gay marriage.
A few thousand gay couples pledge love in public--and we are told that
civilization "as we know it" is under attack? Are we all supposed to hoard
more duct tape to seal our homes off from this danger of gay marriage?!
But this must be said: As absurd as the foaming attacks seem, they
are deadly serious. And the proof came when President George Bush
himself stepped forward as their pointman.
The Emperor's Next Declaration of War
February 24, as gay marriage entered its second week, the war-time
president George Bush announced a dangerous new threat to the homeland. His
tone of emergency was so intense you expected him to send armed commandos to
San Francisco in a search for dangerous stockpiles of banned marriage
Bush called for rewriting the federal Constitution--with an amendment
that would permanently define marriage as only between "a man and a
This call is not mainly a matter of Bush "catering to the rightwing of
his social base"--as it is claimed. On the contrary, it is a case of Bush
giving marching orders to that extreme social base and to an apparatus
of political operatives.
Very powerful leading forces, high within the ruling class and political
establishment, are determined to throw down--over religious morality
in public life, gay marriage, abortion, cultural diversity, birth control
education, teenage sexuality, political dissent, and all the many other
things that define where a culture is going.
Bush's anti-gay constitutional amendment was carefully written over three
years ago by a highly placed team of experts--including the notorious Judge
Robert Bork. To become an amendment, this proposal must be passed by
two-thirds of the U.S. Congress and ratified by three-fourths of the state
legislatures--which is a protracted process. But, in the meanwhile, in this
planned and deliberate way, a chunk of the power structure has chosen
to make "gay marriage" a centerpiece of their next offensive.
For three years, extreme government offensives have come dressed in the
language of national defense. Global military aggression is called "the war
on terrorism." Domestic police spying and militarization are "defense of
And now, the President himself has ratcheted up the "cultural war" as his
opening shot of this presidential election.
Legal Extremism and Gross Hypocrisy
"Marriage in the United States shall consist only of the union of a
man and a woman. Neither this Constitution or the constitution of any
State, nor state or federal law, shall be construed to require that
marital status or the legal incidents thereof be conferred upon unmarried
couples or groups."
Musgrave version of anti-gay amendment,
co-sponsored by 100 members of Congress
There is an extremism built into this amendment proposal. It represents a
view that there is far too much freedom and change in the U.S. today -- and
that strict, narrow, conservative norms need to be written right into the
Constitution , where they would be beyond the reach of future laws,
court decisions and a changing culture.
The rightwing forces have demanded a series of amendments that
essentially rewrite key legal rights. The "flag-burning amendment" was
proposed as a rewrite of the First Amendment freedom of speech. The "prayer
in schools amendment" was proposed as a rewrite of the First Amendment
separation of church and state. The "anti-abortion amendment" was proposed
as a rewrite of the constitutional protections of privacy.
Now the issue turns to the definition of marriage.
Up until now, each of the various states defined the rules of marriage.
And the federal constitution's "full faith and credit clause" required
marriage in one state be recognized by all states. And, the "equal
protection" clauses (in both federal and state constitutions) form a legal
basis for challenging different treatment for gay and straight couples.
But now, this new "anti-gay marriage amendment" would over-rule all those
existing constitutional arrangements--to prevent a gradual movement of
reform through state legislation and court decision. And it would reverse
the "separation of church and state" by writing the conservative moral
prejudices of fundamentalist Christianity right into the Constitution
In addition, the language of the Musgrave amendment forbids giving the
"legal incidents" of marriage to "unmarried couples." This may well roll
back the many existing city, state and federal laws that give health
and pension benefits to "domestic partners," not just gay couples but also
unmarried straight ones.
All of this comes packed with hypocrisy:
Bush rants that this "gay marriage" problem was caused by "activist
judges" imposing change by undemocratic means. But he was quite willing to
have "activist judges" impose his own presidency in the election of
Bush rants that states must not decide this marriage issue for
themselves, but he insisted on "state's rights" when the issue was the
white-racist Confederate flag flying over Southern state houses.
Why is it some great presidential-level "crisis" when committed gay
couples want to get married, but not considered any crisis at all
that a third of U.S. women are beaten or raped-- "within the family"--by a
husband or boyfriend during their lives?
Jamming an Ugly Morality Down Our Throats
"The union of a man and woman is the most enduring human
institution, honored and encouraged in all cultures and by every religious
faith. Ages of experience have taught humanity that the commitment of a
husband and wife to love and to serve one another promotes the welfare of
children and the stability of society."
President George W. Bush, Feb. 24, 2004
"This issue is about protecting the sanctity of marriage. The
President believes very strongly that we should protect and defend it. It
is a sacred institution."
White House Press Secretary Scott
McClellan, Feb. 11, 2004
"Capitalist society portrays morality as timeless ideals that have
existed in all human societies throughout history and that rise above
classes. But in fact it propagates the morality of a particular class of
exploiters--the bourgeoisie--which came into existence in relatively
recent times, historically speaking (only several hundred years ago), and
is headed for extinction as a class."
RCP Draft Programme on ""Proletarian
"No more tradition's chains shall bind us!"
From the Internationale , anthem
of the international working class
Make no mistake about it-- these "marriage wars" involve an attempt to
impose a very particular, reactionary, Christian fundamentalist
morality. The U.S. president and his political forces openly insist that
their vision of marriage is "sacred"-- meaning god-given.
And let's make no mistake about this either: The morality of the
Christian Bible regarding gay people, families and women is oppressive.
The Old Testament (Leviticus 20:13) is brutally clear: " If a man lies
with a male as he lies with a woman, both of them have committed an
abomination. They shall surely be put to death. " And this exact same
stand is repeated in the New Testament (Romans 1:27 and 1:32).
Other "sacred" Biblical rules claim that adulterers and kids who curse
their parents should also " surely be put to death ." Women are
repeatedly ordered to " submit to your husbands as to the Lord ."
(Ephesians 5, Colossians 3)
We are being told that society would fall apart without the ugly sexual
norms and moralities of fundamentalist Christianity. But this is not true!
The old traditional chains of patriarchy need to be broken, not
tightened. They should be boldly criticized and overthrown, not written into
It is also not true that the modern American heterosexual nuclear family
is some timeless institution that is "honored and encouraged in all
cultures." Human history has seen many forms of marriage and family.
(The Christian Bible comes from a time when the multiple marriages of
polygamy, huge extended clans, and sale of daughters were often the norm.)
At the same time, this much is true: All through the history of
class society (since the emergence of wealth and property) marriage has
taken the form of men dominating women and their children. Such patriarchy
is both ancient and traditional --just like slavery. And all the current
talk of "protecting" traditional marriage is, in essence, a demand that a
particular, modern, patriarchal, man-dominated form of family must be
strengthened in the U.S.-- including by enforcing anti-gay discrimination
and other harsh new actions by the state.
But we are not stuck with the ancient traditions of patriarchy. It is
possible (and it is necessary!) to envision new forms of intimacy and
family, for our future society, that are liberated from the ugly
traditional oppression and submission of the past!
And it is typical, that while the Republican Right forms the shock troops
of this political moment, the rest of the official political spectrum (
including especially the establishment Democratic forces) generally and
shamefully get in line--while mumbling some half-hearted complaints.
When New Hampshire first legalized gay unions, President Bill Clinton
himself signed the "Defense of Marriage Act" in 1996 that gave other states
a legal basis to refuse recognition to the gay couples.
This month, as Bush denounced gay marriage, one Democratic leader after
another (including the presidential contenders Kerry and Edwards) insisted
that they too were "against gay marriage," and at most upheld so-called
"civil unions" for gay people.
What exactly are these government-sanctioned "civil unions" supposed to
be? It means that people are supposed to accept two tiers of state
recognition: on one hand, full "marriage" certificates (defined using
religious standards) are supposed to be for heterosexuals only. And then, in
some side arrangement, gay people are supposed to accept "civil
unions"--that grant some limited legal status in relation to benefits and
And this two-tier view is little different from George Bush's
rhetoric--that gay people can set up some legal contracts like wills and
designated beneficiaries--but that they must be denied the status and public
acceptance connected with "marriage" and "family."
Even the Massachusetts State Supreme Court said, in their recent decision
legalizing gay marriage, that this notion of "civil unions" is a plan for
continued discrimination. "Separate," they wrote, "is seldom, if ever,
A Frontline of Resistance
"From whatever vantage point one looks, it is unmistakable that
there is what could be called `a moral crisis in America.' There has been,
to a significant degree, `a breakdown of traditional morality.' But the
answer to this -- at least the answer that is in the interests of the
majority of people in the U.S. and the overwhelming majority of
humanity--is not a more aggressive assertion of that `traditional
morality' but winning people to a radically different morality, in the
process of and as a key part of radically transforming society and the
world as a whole. It is not the tightening but the shattering of
tradition's chains that is called for."
Bob Avakian, Chairman of the RCP,USA
Everyone knows that the old model of "traditional American family" (one
"breadwinner" male, one "housekeeping" wife, and their closely monitored
kids) has broken down tremendously.
Changes in the capitalist economy and the struggles of women have meant
that large numbers of women have both the necessity and possibility of
working outside the home. Almost half of marriages now end in divorce.
Immigrant families must often exist across borders.
And with all that, a much wider range of relationships are now widely
accepted as "families." Many households are now headed by women. Premarital
sex is widely accepted among adults. Many couples live together for years
without being married. One of three children is now born "out of wedlock."
And, as part of all these changes, gay people have increasingly "come out of
the closet" over the last decades. The hateful old "sodomy laws" forbidding
gay sex have been overturned. And gay relationships have won social,
cultural and even official acceptance in many places.
On the one hand, much of this came out of changes in the capitalist
economy, but on the other hand it erodes the basis for that male-dominated
nuclear family which the ruling class sees as so important for social
These changes and contradictory needs of capitalism are like two plates
of the earth's crust colliding- -capable of producing major earthquakes and
upheaval. And this collision has given rise to reactionary movements that
seek to resolve all this by rolling back changes and reinforcing traditional
norms--often by extreme means.
It seems absurd to think that 3,000 gay weddings "threaten" the
heterosexual marriages of hundreds of millions of people. But an army of
reactionaries think their traditions have already been battered to
the edge of extinction--and powerful ruling class forces want to mobilize
those reactionaries on today's political stage.
This push to legally stigmatize gay people and drive them back "into the
closet" is closely connected to the drive to force women and children more
generally into submission. These struggles over "traditional sex roles" are,
in turn, tied by a thousand threads to the much larger cultural war that is
being waged for suppressing dissent and experimentation, imposing
fundamentalist religion as a source of morality, and demanding a mindless
And this whole cultural war, in turn, is inseparable from the larger
raging global offensive of the U.S.--that tries to bulldoze any opposition
while screaming "with us or against us!"
Millions of people are shocked by the extremism of the moment. But these
"cultural wars" are still far, far too one-sided. Far too many people are
passive and paralyzed--unable to fully grasp the stakes of this moment or
naively thinking that progressive changes will inevitably win out, or else
feeling awed and defensive by the seeming momentum of this whole ugly
There is tremendous potential in this moment and great dangers. Many
things are changing, many social verdicts and norms are being fought over.
And it is far from clear what will win out. What we all do will have a huge
impact on whether something radically new, better and liberated is wrenched
out of the intense struggles of today.
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