John D’Emilio, queer history founding father and all-around badass, is unafraid to pee in anyone’s Wheaties (even in his allies’ breakfasts) to make a point. Via Tenured Radical and the Twitter musheen, John D’Emilio is “Thinking About Marriage” over at OutHistory:
When I think of the long history of LGBT activism in the U.S, stretching back to the post-World War II years, I’m struck by how the periods of most creativity, the periods that involved the biggest leaps forward, were those in which activists most clearly challenged common assumptions and core institutions. The U.S. LGBT movement was launched by a group of gay men who had ties to the Communist Party and who theorized that “homophiles” were a distinct minority with a special role to play in society, based on their difference. The Stonewall-era gay liberation and lesbian-feminist movement saw the oppression of queers as thoroughly linked to gender, racial, and class inequalities; it believed liberation would come only if one thoroughly re-imagined and reconstructed the nuclear family; and it sought to make common cause with other radical movements. The radicalism of ACT-UP that AIDS generated by the late 1980s wanted to remake the health-care system in the United States and provoked a community debate about sexuality and pleasure as key elements of human life. By contrast, the movement for marriage equality aligns itself with an institution that is not only in decline. It is also an institution that acts as gate-keeper for who deserves key benefits basic to a human’s survival – parenting, an income in old age, health care and insurance, and many more. Significant and exciting as this campaign has often been, it seems a sad misdirection of a social change movement’s limited resources.
From what I’ve seen, marriage isn’t in decline everywhere–it’s mostly in decline among poor and struggling working-class families. Bourgeois folks meet in college or professional school and enjoy expensive weddings, and they even seem to enjoy their marriages too in that their divorce rate is also pretty low. Marriage is now functioning almost as marriage did in the ancien régime among aristocrats, as a system that shores up inherited and accumulated wealth and privilege as well as serving as a gate-keeper to middle-class privileges that really should be entitlements for all of us. Continue reading