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News :: Gender
Anti-Gay Marriage Amendment: Tightening Tradition's Chains
08 Mar 2004

Anti-Gay Marriage Amendment: Tightening Tradition's Chains

Revolutionary Worker #1231, March 7, 2004, posted at

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 them.

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 broken.

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 certificates.

Bush called for rewriting the federal Constitution--with an amendment that would permanently define marriage as only between "a man and a woman."

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 homeland security."

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 itself.

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 2000.

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 Morality"

"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 law!

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 property.

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, equal."

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 stability.

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 obedient conformity.

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 rightwing crusade.

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. - Revolutionary Worker Online -RW resource page on resisting the juggernaut of war and repression - Discuss revolutionary strategy and the RCP's Draft Programme

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