Dr. Jillian T. Weiss

Comment of the Week: Elise Harris on "We Die, You Get Married"

Filed By Dr. Jillian T. Weiss | July 31, 2011 7:00 PM | comments

Filed in: Marriage Equality, Politics
Tags: ACT UP, assimilation, Christian fundamentalists, coming out of the closet, gay marriage, immigrant rights movement, Jose Antonio Vargas, Michele Bachmann, New York Times, Richard Kim, structural homophobia, the nation

Comment of the WeekOn Mattilda Bernstein Sycamore's post "We Die, You Get Married," which interrogates Richard Kim's comparison in The Nation between coming out as undocumented and the strategies of ACT UP, on the one hand, and gay couples coming out to get married on the other hand. Sycamore suggests that "The gay marriage movement does just the reverse: enforces (or "weaponizes," as Richard Kim phrases it) a single-issue politic at the cost of broader social change."

Elise Harris comments:

It's tricky citing ACT UP as having "positions" when they were so practical in their goals. It was always about lowering the price of a particular drug, not destroying the pharmaceutical industry. It was about changing the FDA, not eliminating it. I was just reading various ACT UP Oral History entries last night. Peter Staley, Jim Eigo, Mark Harrington, Maxine Wolfe. I was interested in the intellectual diversity on economic issues. Eigo is explicitly anti capitalist and has the greatest investment in getting rid of the health insurance companies. Staley says he was usually the most capitalist voice in conversations at the London School of Economics; he was of course on Wall Street-- and it's partially his insiderness that helped persuade unbelievers that Burroughs Wellcome was increasing the price of AZT not by 10x but by 100x or 1000x. The extent of the price gouging. Wolfe thought that some of the TAG men became pawns of Fauci and/or the pharmaceutical industry. Harrington was devastated when Mixner and the push for gays in the military displaced national health care. Just to say that it seems to be very easy to mislead on ACT UP because it (1) used a dual strategy, insider-outsider vis a vis gvt and pharma and (2) it was so diverse intellectually. So whenever anyone says "ACT UP said x or y" my response is usually ... well to whom are you referring?

Did ACT UP articulate an "oppositional queer politic"? It was always very interesting to observe who drew which line where. Who opposed which clinical trial, which policy, which emphasis. Who wanted to push for a cure, when a cure surely would make less money for pharmaceuticals than drugs for chronic HIV. Just to say ACT UP was plagued by conflict over many of the same problems of framing that plague us now.

I find Harris's comment particularly interesting in its nuanced understanding of ACT UP as an organization with varied, and sometimes conflicting goals and effects.

What say you, Projectors? Are the social/political effects of coming out to get married, as an act of oppositional politics, comparable to the effects of ACT UP and coming out as undocumented?

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Jay Kallio | August 1, 2011 5:52 AM

I found that original post by Matilda so bizarre and devoid of any reality based thinking that I needed to avoid it altogether last week.

Citing ACT UP, of which I was a member in NYC, as some oppositional counterpart to marriage equality is such nonsense to begin with that it strikes me as a good example of willful fabrication for ax-grinding purposes. ACT UP used confrontational street tactics for the purpose of garnering media attention to certain goals which specific to gay men with that disease. The organizational structure was decentralized, and often "affinity groups" pursued their own activities, without the knowledge of others, and many times there were raging controversies over those actions.

The epidemic later spread to other groups, and some of the advocacy efforts broadened along with the epidemiology, but ACT UP remained a disease specific organization until I personally went to a meeting of one of the few remaining active chapters and asked them to support single payer/Medicare for All. I found it very funny that Matilda cited that expansion of ACT UPs raison d'etre as signifying a grand social change agenda. Even though a notice went out to the entire huge ACT UP listserv that there would be an important presentation and vote on this major policy change, only 6 people showed up at that meeting. Five voted to support single payer, and one abstained. Until that day approximately 4 years ago ACT UP did not pursue any broad based social change agenda, and one could even say that the urgency of AIDS activism siphoned off most of the time, energy, and money of the LGBT community for many years, instead of putting that advocacy to work to change the system toward more egalitarian goals, that would help everyone, not only people with HIV/AIDS.

Of course, if you were dying of AIDS, or your loved ones were dying of AIDS, you might prefer that advocacy go for saving your life, or your loved ones, not for saving the lives of a great number of people you don't know. I lost an incredible number of people I loved to AIDS in the '80s, but I was also an emergency medical worker, and saw the horrifying truth of the lives of the uninsured, who suffer and die today, as well, with no organizations going to bat for them, and no special ADAP or other programs advocating for their needs. They have no recourse, they just go without, suffer, and die.

I would argue that Marriage Equality is far more broad based in it's across the board effects of improving the lives of the entire socioeconomic spectrum of LGBTQ people who choose to get married. It will save lives by granting people greater access to health insurance, so fewer will die like my life partner did, without access to care. Fewer LGBTQ people will live in old age in destitution, choosing between food or rent, and prescriptions. If we can overturn DOMA, it will have an even greater beneficial effect on the lives of the poor, struggling, and marginalized. To denigrate the needs of those outside the elitist, intellectual leftist Queer understanding of what progress in social change means is incredibly self indulgent. I personally find it offensive, heartless, and inhumane, placing ideology above the suffering and losses and injustice that everyday people face.

The ivory tower queer social theory constructs that damn marriage as an institution of oppression fail to recognize the basic reality that for a huge number of people marriage works as a relationship, especially when the responsibility of children is involved. Children are incredibly vulnerable and completely dependent, and having the commitment and investment of parents is often critical to their survival and well being.

There is great emotional reason why people enjoy marriage and legally sanctioned family life. Most people work, study, and have goals and interests to pursue, and barely have the energy and emotional capacity for intimacy with one person, never mind many. For them marriage is a practical preference. These are down to earth realities, and I find it silly when people denigrate something that works well for so many just because it is so prevalent.

Many people find that "family of choice", polyamory, and communitarian living and interdependent relationship work as long as they are young, healthy, able, and hot. As long as they remain viable, energetic and able to contribute much to others they receive the bounty from multiple relationships. But life is long, and people age, and circumstances change, and many people face increasing disability, economic constraints, doors that once seemed open and opportunities limitless turn into quagmires of limitation, and many find that the "family of choice" chooses not to.

For example, if you have a serious head injury, or stroke, or MS, etc., and are incontinent and constantly drooling out of one side of your mouth, perhaps can no longer talk, how many "family of choice" are going to be there for years on end to turn you every couple of hours so you do not get bedsores, and change your adult diaper every time you urinate or defecate, so you do not develop infections? Let's talk real life and real everyday adversity, when it is no longer about partying and being defiantly different and outstanding? That is when the deep, lasting commitment of even one trustworthy person in life becomes extremely valuable, and the fragility of relationships with friends and lovers becomes apparent. Without any legal bond and social support for a relationship it can dissolve very easily under stress and the inevitable changes life brings, for better or worse. The power of real commitment is huge, and often makes the difference between spending and ending life feeling content, safe, and loved, or ending it feeling embittered, abandoned, and betrayed. Choose wisely.

Obviously many marriages fall apart under stress as well. I am not arguing that point, it would be absurd. But research at SAGE shows that an inordinate number of LGBTQ seniors live alone, in isolation, without comfort or companionship, far more than in the heterosexual world. That is when we most need committed family, and so many of us don't have it. And yes, we too started out swearing our "family of choice" would always be there for us. Didn't happen.

I could go on about the value of marriage in people's lives, and I'm certain many others can contribute insights in that regard. In any case, marriage is far more than an instrument of oppression, and to rail against it in that manner misses the forest of value it provides, for a paltry tree.

Inventing fantasy reasons that marriage equality supplants other social change goals merely sows pointless enmity. We know that the money that was donated toward the Marriage Equality movement was donated specifically for that purpose; it would not have been donated to begin with for other radical social change goals, because much of it came from relatively conservative sources that would never have given it for those alternative goals. This is an argument over nothing; it's pointless. If you want change, you best work for it, and donate toward it, to make it happen. No amount of sour grapes about the success of something that works, helps so many, and makes so many lives better, safer, and healthier is going to create a better world, if that is, indeed, what you are after.

The above comment is based on the assumption that married people in "committed relationships" are somehow just better people and others, like friends and lovers are incapable of sticking by those in trouble or dying of old age.

I find the reiteration of AIDS history here interesting in that it leaves out the one crucial fact that all of us should remember: that when no one would take in the sick and dying during the height of the AIDS crisis, queers were able to turn to their networks of care, their families of choice, if you will, to take care of them.

This vision of committed partners or family taking care of you till death do you part is, of course, utterly and effectively contradicted by the sad sight of the many, many old people in homes, dependent on the care of strangers while their children and, oh, ex-spouses forget about their very existence. Study after study has shown that the best and most effective remedy against depression in old age is to make sure that your network of affection and friendship extends to much more than your spouse and children.

I find the reiteration of family values - and that is what it is - above to not be worthy of much further comment, except to note, and I hope others will as well, how much a significant part of the gay marriage movement holds to the sort of traditional notions of "family" that we see in the Christian Right. I've said it before and I'll say it again: when it comes to marriage, the gay community is as fundamentalist and as conservative as the so-called "enemies" it claims to fight against. I really want gay marriage to pass in all the states for this very reason: when the dust settles, the rest of us can finally turn to the things that matter.

As for the bit about insurance, I think Elise, in her last comment on Mattilda's blog, said it best, and I'm just going to repost her words:

"I think we all know people who work full time but lack health insurance. I know many people like that who are single. One is a family member of mine; he has a serious and life threatening disease. I won't mention it for the sake of his privacy. For many years he was sick, but there was no partner to get health insurance from. He pretty much just resigned himself to dying. I didn't understand the issues at the time and was pretty passive about it. Having a public option in his state, or preferably federally, ideally a federal single payer program, would be the only way to save him. Only single payer would help everyone, single AND partnered, who lack health insurance and need life saving medication. I want healthcare for all. Including your partner, including my family member."

You (and I mean here a generic "you," not Jay) may disagre with what forms health care for all might take, but to keep arguing that marriage SHOULD be what guarantees health care is nothing short of heartless. To assume that marriage will actually give you health care is itself nonsensical, frankly, given this economy where fewer jobs come with health care, even for the married. A vision of a society where everyone can access good SPOUSAL health care as some kind of egalitarian nirvana is a fundamentally unequal one and assumes that everyone comes from a certain class background.

You may disagree about what forms "family" should take, but to actually, in the face of the bankruptcies and deaths of people without insurance, to argue that they should just get married to gain health care is, well, let me repeat myself, an argument worthy of a fundamentalist society that only values the lives of married people.

I would also remind you that the supposedly "elitist" folks, like me, who are arguing for health care and other benefits for all, regardless of marital status, are in fact without insurance of any kind. I'll wager you any amount of money that most of the people who write on this blog, as contributors or commenters, are without insurance. Is the solution that we should all just get married?

I find it mildly amusing that we are often called elitist, heartless, and insensitive to the needs of gay marriage advocates when the truth is that we actually care "too much" - we care about more than the narrow interests of those who can prove their fidelity and commitment to each other via marriage: we actually care about people without demanding the litmus test of marriage.

So who's elitist here? Those who insist that only married people are worthy of health care that could determine whether or not they live or die? Or those who insist that, in a sane society, no one should have to prove their morals and levels of "commitment" before it can be determined that they should live or die?

I just want single payer. Because it doesn't put me in some weird emotional pretzel of having to say my partner is more important to me than my brother, when he is sick and she isn't. It acknowledges those people who work at McDonald's who aren't partnered to people who work at the Board of Ed (to modify Mattilda's example of the homeless junkie and the banker). It addresses the many same sex couples where both parties lack health insurance. It accepts the realities of the income/wealth spectrum, the over general but nonetheless big-picture accurate facts about who partners, who marries, who has health insurance. Statistically more affluent people marry. http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2010/12/06/the-state-of-our-unions-n_n_792345.html I'm all for EITC reform but I don't think that there's going to be any great shift in the demographics of marriage. I care about the half of the lgbt world who is totally unpartnered. I know you do too. I'm certainly not going to engage in us vs. them drama.

In Counterpublic Collective you were the only person who responded to posts about PHIMG and other NYS groups who want to do what Vermont for Single Payer has done. Or might do. I was excited to see that even ONE person knew what that was. FOR SURE I remember Dolly Meieran addressing the floor of ACT UP New York about national healthcare. People clapped perfunctorily at the end of her speech, but were not sincerely engaged. I guess they thought universal healthcare wasn't going to happen anytime soon, whereas they could have an impact on nnrti pricing or the protease inhibitor approval timeline or whatever. That disengagement was definitely a dissonant moment for me. But a minority within ACT UP, often healthcare professionals and or policy nerds, slogged through endless hearings and meetings on the minutia of bills and process. Same then as now. It was Charles King and Keith Cylar, Mark Harrington, Iris Long and Jim Eigo. I treasure both ACT UPs. The hyper theatrical people and the quieter ones. I'm more the latter type but you need both. I'll be curious to see if today's queers can focus on ultra boring things like redistricting reform, endless hearings and meetings, etc-. It's specialized stuff. But I can imagine protesting at the offices of the Republican State Senators who stand in the way of the redistricting reforms that stand in the way of single payer. Or even in the way of a Mass Health type option for NYS. Now is the time, seriously, especially in those states where Democratic governors and (possible) legislative majorities create some window of opportunity.

Jay Kallio | August 1, 2011 8:05 PM

Elise, I love single payer as the most important cause in my life, always has been, always will be, way beyond any LGBTQ issues, to be totally truthful. But I understand it is a hopeless case, because the US public no longer trusts government to do anything right. They won't support government to administer such a program.

I have to say that given how our two party system is constituted, and the Big Money interests they are owned by, it is doubtful that even single payer would work, even if it were anywhere near possible to enact such a program. Single payer is the only way to cut health care costs and cover everyone, and the horror of all this is that the public is still willing to trust the insurance companies over the government to decide their coverage.

I advocated for the entire single payer movement to put all our resources into the Vermont single payer program, because that is how single payer in Canada was started - in one province. There was no hope to win a federal single payer program, and only if we pooled resources in one small state could anything be possible. The Vermont plan is fraught with problems, and is not really single payer at all, but it is better than the Massachusetts program by quite a lot.

I see the Mass plan, which is the model for PPACA, as a frightening step that places ever greater resources in the hands of the for profit insurance companies. The mandate that everyone must buy insurance is a deal with the devil, because the added huge new revenue stream will be used to further deregulate the industry. Politics is basically about "where does the money go", and when you see huge amounts of wealth being transferred to the huge financial institutions as PPACA and the Mass plan does, with a few very limited crumbs going toward giving a few more people Medicaid (temporarily), then you know the bait and switch is on. The health insurance companies are basically financial services companies offering "risk management services" and we pay them to deny care so they can make a profit on killing people by any means possible.

Many rich people believe they will be spared being denied care, and for the most part, they are correct. The insurance companies evaluate their enrollees' financial status before accepting them into their plans. If you have high income and resources they calculate that you can pay a lawyer to fight them to get your claims paid, so they pay your claims without delay and you receive excellent service from them, at a high premium. If you are middle class or lower, even if you pay their huge premiums and deductibles, they deny your claims for care, because they know you cannot afford the legal representation to fight for your care, so they just keep denying what you need. Same policy and premium, but terribly different coverage delivered. And their denial of coverage kills people and adds a huge amount of overall expense to health care costs because of the tremendous administrative costs of fighting to get paid.

That's why I support Marriage Equality, because a few more people will be able to marry for health insurance, and perhaps a few more life saving benefits down the line, especially if we can overturn DOMA. I simply do not see any other way possible to improve people's lives. It is a paltry win in that regard, but that small gain will save lives.

It has become clear to me that no political change will be possible that is based on what is "right" or on "what works as policy" and none of it has anything to do with public good. Legislation is completely determined by money. Money making more money. It will remain that way until we have campaign finance reform. Only then will single payer be possible, and only at that point will single payer be properly administered, by public servants who are genuinely acting to promote the public good, because that is who pays them.

I have no doubt that Vermont's single payer law, flawed as it is, is due to that state's clean elections act. I spent today wondering about that, is it best to go blue state by blue state, cleaning up legislatures, creating the conditions to pass campaign finance reform? Of course I know Vermont is "better" than New York in terms of clean and honest politics. I know New York politicians are corrupt. But I am a third generation New Yorker and very attached to NYS in a way that people who grew up elsewhere can never really be. A lot of affluent gay New York is non responsive on single payer because they have healthcare. They moved here from elsewhere, live in that high powered part of NYC, and don't feel any connection to the rest of the city and state. They also aren't necessarily going to be lifelong New Yorkers. They don't tend to belong to political clubs, or get into decades-long reform processes. Most of today's kids who would have been in ACT UP in 1988 are into art and lifestyle stuff, not politics. They don't really have the mindset for state politics. I do think that there is a place for direct action in this whole mess of NY State politics, though. What happened 1987-1992 was specific to that moment, but there are important lessons to learn and apply today. I do believe that the marriage equality narrative failed/fails to frame the issues in an honest way. I heard Bob Rafsky and Maxine Wolfe articulate a complicated political perspective on the ACT UP floor and then decades later Christopher Blair talk about campaign finance reform in a PHIMG meeting. So I know it's possible to do single issue politics while articulating a broader value system. I didn't see that coming from the marriage equality movement. I often saw an avoidance of the bigger picture.

Jay Kallio | August 1, 2011 7:28 PM

Yasmin, I really totally resent your assumption that I am saying people who marry are "better", when I specifically pointed out that it is the legal bond and social support for a legally sanctioned relationship we call "marriage" that makes it a more stable relationship, than those without that bond. You make up fantasies about what I am saying, and I totally reject your characterization. You can believe whatever you want to, but there is no basis for your claims here, so I won't waste my time replying.

Jay, as you and any other intelligent reader will deduce, I'm referring to the politics of your entire comment here ("based on the assumption" is one clue) - which does, in fact, more than imply that, yes, married people are indeed just better than anyone else. And that non-marital relationships simply can't hold the test of time.

You're welcome to reject my characterisation, but your comment is right there. This will, soon, turn into a fairly typical comment thread, with folks insisting they did or didn't say one or another. But there are bigger issues raised here, about health care, for instance, and whether or not people should just be told that they should get married in order to save their own lives or that of others. You could argue that you never said that either - but your comment also makes it explicitly clear where you stand on that.

Jay Kallio | August 1, 2011 8:58 PM

Only in your fantasy, Yasmin. If you want to use this blog to cast aspersions on me based in what you fantasize that is your issue. I will leave it there. Make up whatever you want to, I let my 40 plus years of activism, volunteerism, and personal care for others stand as my record. I watch what people DO, not what they say, as my determinant of their character, and indulging personal fantasy interpretations of what others are saying because you cannot offer a plausible case for your own position just doesn't work for me.

Regardless of anyone's character or values, having social and legal recognition and support for a committed relationship, instead of being invisible, unrecognized, and having others undermine that relationship by either ignoring it, exerting pressure on people to hide their relationship, or outright denigrating it causes tremendous stress on any relationship, even if the people involved are deeply committed.

As an example, in hospice care there is often terrible pain inflicted when the partner of an LGBTQ person is dying, and staff and community deny that relationship. The grief is magnified, and the surviving partner is often denied all the recognition and social support and warmth that a heterosexual couple is given when a spouse is dying. They suffer alone, and others may require them to carry on as though they had not just suffered a catastrophic loss. They are denied all the ritual support that others receive that helps to sustain them, and complete the grieving process, to whatever extent that is possible. That is only one example of how social support makes a tremendous difference in how people survive, or thrive.

There is genuine emotional reality I am speaking of here that supports the institution of legalized, socially recognized committed relationship, whatever you want to call it. Here we are calling it "marriage". We are interdependent and need each other, and social support is important, as is having legal rights and responsibilities.

Would you prefer that LGBTQ organizations turn away the huge contributions that were given to promote Marriage Equality, and crawl along, losing on all the other legislation you are saying we should be pursuing instead of Marriage Equality, and remaining underfunded and outgunned by the Right? Because that is the practical alternative being suggested. I do not understand how that would serve anyone. I do not support that.

You and others can denigrate me, or marriage, on whatever grounds you wish to, fantasy or not, but I am certain the institution of marriage will survive, and be expanded to be inclusive, because it works emotionally for so many people. I'm glad we won Marriage Equality, and I am thrilled many lives will be saved, and others improved, from this effort.


You're resorting to affect, emotion, and personal narrative, as well as a trumped up charge that I have cast personal aspersions when nothing of the sort has happened. I've argued elsewhere that personal narratives resolve and prove nothing and are, in fact, utterly detrimental to a thougthful style of politics – in fact, my entire forthcoming book is about the dangers of affect in a neoliberal economy; you've just proven my point.

If you have reasonable points to make in response to my comments so far, please do so. Otherwise, so far, all you've offered so far is that you have 40 years of experience and that it is terrible to watch a loved one die. Neither fact is untrue, but neither one is the point here either.

Who here tells you that you cannot get married? Who here denigrates you or other married people? How is criticising the institution of marriage, as it functions in the US, contrary to everywhere else in the industrialised world where no one *has* to marry to prove or get anything, the same as denigrating married people - many of whom wish they didn't have to marry but are coerced into marriage by the state, because of something as basic as the need for health care?

Who here denies that it is painful to watch someone die? As for funding, we're critical of the way gays and lesbians have been persuaded that marriage would also solve their economic problems when the truth is the opposite. Take, for instance, the infamous “death tax” controversy, where droves of poor and middle class gays and lesbians were convinced, by the rich and mostly white gay men of Gay Inc. that their “estates” would be torn apart. The truth is that the tax only affects estates of three million or more – that kind of money should be taxed.

No one is telling Gay Inc. to refuse money – we're critical of the way that the movement has, by lying and prevarication, convinced people that the money should go primarily to marriage. There's a difference here, and it's a difference that you try to erase when you place a red herring question like, “Would you prefer that LGBTQ organizations turn away the huge contributions that were given to promote Marriage Equality etc.”

Instead, the questions we pose are quite simple: why build up a society where married people are deemed more worthy of life via spousal health care benefits? Why pretend that only married people are capable of caring for each other? Or that communities and networks of care cannot be as cherished, valued and important as marital and traditional family relationships?

How do you get to decide that marriage works emotionally for so many people when the numbers clearly indicate that fewer people are getting married - are they just fleeing, lemming-like, towards their doom, refusing to heed the words of those who keep insisting that marriage is some kind of holy salve, when centuries have show the opposite? How can you possibly talk of marriage in terms of how "many lives will be saved, and others improved," and not understand why we think that such statements speak of nothing but the worst sort of cold heartlessness? How can you possibly conceive of such a society as a fair one?

I did not cast aspersions on you when I correctly identified the deeply conservative politics in your first comment, which you have now repeated.

If you can respond to anything I've said here without trying to make me or the reader feel guilty, and without resorting to affective narratives, yet again, please do so. I think you can do better.

Om Kalthoum | August 1, 2011 10:52 PM

Could Bilerico have a poll on this subject? Let's vote!

Jay Kallio | August 2, 2011 1:42 AM

Yasmin, we clearly speak very different languages and have an extremely different world view. I have found that one cannot ignore emotional realities when discussing public policy, and institutions that attempt to do so fail. People are not computers, and emotional realities must be respected, not dissed or dismissed. You do so at your own risk. Personal narratives are critically important, because people are, and should be moved by the outrages of injustice, and should empathize with suffering. Personal narratives make dry, incomprehensible statistics real to people, and put a face on numbers, which are otherwise meaningless to them.

The alternative style relationships and institutions you promote in your construct of the world are not in the least bit new. They have been around for a very long time, and if they worked for more than a few people and a few situations they would be far more prevalent. There have been countless well intentioned, egalitarian, idealistic intentional communities that seem to inevitably be composed of only like minded people, and participation in them seems to be very limited and transient. There seems to be an inevitable intense conformity of political and social correctness imposed, and any who stray from adherence to those collective rules lose the support of the community, so the oppressive aspects tend to be fierce. Groupthink and sometimes malicious group dynamics such as scapegoating and power tripping by individuals makes those arrangements shortlived. I would not base a retirement plan on any of them, having participated in several already. Occasionally one will survive for an extended period. Sad to say, the most efficacious and enduring tend to be religion based, which restrict their membership to true believers. If queers wish to emulate some form of "true believership" and create their own mutual support arrangements they are perfectly welcome to do so, just don't promote them as anything more inclusive than a church.

Marriage will not be right for everyone, nor are other styles of relationships. I sometime look at it as a "collective of two" where the amount of compromise is surmountable between only two like minded individuals, not many, so it might survive longer, LOL. If there are children involved, I do believe those children deserve the safety of consistent parenting whenever possible.

Nothing is right for everyone. no legislation is "fair" to everyone. Marriage is useful as a bond for many people, however. People will vote with their feet, and do what works best for them. Sure, it would be terrific if all relationships were given equal value and validity, but I'm not going to hold my breath waiting on that one. Many queers devalue marriage, so it's a two way street.

Just as the free marketers are finding that free markets are not self regulating, because people do not make logical decisions based in reason as they predicted they would, they make decisions based in emotion, queer and Left ideology based in disregarding the emotional lives of people will similarly fail. I don't expect the proponents of either to ever admit failure, or that their ideas simply do not work in reality. Even though emotion is not hard science, the intangibles of feeling will need to be factored in, not disregarded.

I do find the idea that people who are destitute, and cannot get food, medicine, housing, or health care should wait, suffer, and perhaps die while waiting for the Revolution that will remedy all that, to be unacceptable, and heartless. I don't see that Revolution coming to pass any time soon. People need all the help we can get.

So you go write your book, while I go out to pick through the supermarket garbage dumpsters for food (where many disabled people and particularly destitute cancer patients get their meals) and soon you can tell me again how elitist and conservative I am for wanting a few more people to escape this fate through equal rights legislation, including Marriage Equality. I'm not plugging my evening activities here. It's hot, dirty work and people treat you like you are garbage. I don't recommend it. The competition for the usable scraps has gotten intense as the economy has worsened, and the ablebodied have started beating out the old and disabled for them. The pickings have gotten very slim.

I am going to continue to affirm that life has many twists and turns, and many people face extraordinary hardships that we manage with grace and good humor, and we need all the support and affirmation we can get, in the form of legal rights and having our relationships empowered and recognized, and afforded equal support as those of others. Sorry if you hear me as guilt tripping you in particular, but yes, I do want you to reconsider who you are dumping on when you dump on marriage equality, and I have every right to do so. My truth deserves to be told, and I will not shut up just because you would prefer to dictate the terms of this debate.

I find my beloved Left has grown smaller and less and less powerful because there has never been a coherent strategy devised for getting from here to there, and this is a very good example of that refusal to deal with the reality that struggling people face. Only incrementalism and compromise will work in an evenly divided democracy. Supporting people in their everyday lives is an essential. Otherwise we lose more and more support. Even the social democracies of Europe and Canada are turning more conservative. It's painful to watch. I encourage everyone to face reality, including emotional reality, and be more artful in our approach.

Again, Jay, you consistently use emotional rhetoric in evading the politics of what's at stake: "So you go write your book, while I go out to pick through the supermarket garbage dumpsters for food (where many disabled people and particularly destitute cancer patients get their meals) and soon you can tell me again how elitist and conservative I am for wanting a few more people to escape this fate through equal rights legislation, including Marriage Equality."

The fact is that people who are critical of the marriage focus have equally large stakes in the issue and the fact is – as I've said over and over - that vast numbers of them are uninsured and almost destitute. But, oh, wait, they don't matter – and they are promptly hidden in the piles of garbage that you and yours must pick through etc. Could you get any more cheap? I have no doubt your story is true, but what am I supposed to retort in response to that? Shall I write: “Oh, no, Jay, I too go through garbage looking for scraps. In fact, my garbage stinks a lot more. My unmarried friend had to be deported back to a country where he will, most likely, be killed for being gay. My immigrant friend is stuck in a marriage where she gets the crap beaten out of her every day because she's here on a spousal visa and completely dependent on her husband since the US won't even give her a social security number as a "dependent." And so on.

I have lots of stories where about me and my unmarried and even married friends suffering or even dying without health care or people being deported because they couldn't find partner sponsorship....oh, wait, we already did. And you studiously avoid them because they don't fit the narratives that you push to make your insubstantial points. First, you accuse me of being the elitist. When I call you out on that, and show how your talk of "marriage equality" is in fact utterly elitist, you turn around and launch into yet another affective narrative about diving for scraps.

As I've said before, I've consistently militated against the (mis)use of emotion and affect in politics – that's not to deny they have their place, and we should talk about personal issues when relevant. But your responses so far are a textbook example of why and how they are misused. In the end, whether or not critics of gay marriage are or are not "elitists" is a moot point - can you effectively make your own arguments based on facts alone? I think the answer so far is, "No."

You don't know me or my situation and I'm not going to use the cheap resort of going through my life problems in order to convince you that I'm right - which is what you've been doing consistently on this thread (and still: the question of why you would also twist the history of care in the AIDS epidemic remains coyly unanswered). While your rationalisations have gotten even more twisted, you've still not engaged with the issues.

As for dictating the terms of this debate: You've shown up and tried to do exactly that by presenting first, your version of history; refused to respond to a direct refutation of that; engaged in brutally heartless scenarios where only married people deserve to get health care; insisted that marriage and a two-parent family are the best emotional refuges for people; dismissed my own questions about alternative networks by now insisting that I'm dismissing or dissing personal narratives when the truth is that you have chosen to ignore the narratives of those living outside and without marriage. In the world-view you present, the only emotions that matter, it seems, are the emotions of married people.

This is classic evasion, hidden in cheap shot after cheap shot. But, at any rate, you've exposed your politics and the politics of a cheap and shoddy marriage movement that relies on guilt trips about sad and pathetic gays who just want to get married for love, while utterly and heartlessly deciding that unmarrieds or unhappy marrieds simply don't matter. You can twist and turn your words any which way you want, but that's all you've really said so far.

The truth is: the marriage movement is about nothing resembling “equality” when it simultaneously insists that only married people deserve such crucial benefits as health care. The affective narratives on which the movement depends, as true as they might be, ignore the fact that millions of unmarrieds go through the same thing and probably are worse off because they can't get health care through their partners. The truth is also that a state where marriage endows so many vital benefits also makes marriage a brutal and violent trap for the most vulnerable.

The truth, simply put, is that no one should have to get married for something as basic as health care. The truth is that the marriage movement, run mostly by privileged gays and lesbians who have gulled the rest into thinking that marriage will mean "equality," pushes an agenda where only married people get benefits (see the examples of NY, CT, and MA, where domestic partners are now forced to marry for health care, even if they don't want to). The truth is that no amount of individual commitment to health care for all matters if those very same people simultaneously insist, as you do, that non-marrieds should just rot and die.

No, I'm not waiting for the revolution (although I'm working on it). But I am calling you and others out out and asking that you stop endorsing the idea that marriage is somehow a better state of things, and should be rewarded so unequally. In being so dismissive of our calls to not let marriage determine so much, you're not making a practical argument. If that were the case, your comments above would simply state that marriage is a practical necessity for now, but go on to agree that by no means should we allow the state to dictate that only married people can access basic benefits or that marriage is somehow inherently better. But, no, you go much further than that – the evidence is right there, right above. You go on to paint a world where marriage is not just a necessity but actually a better state of being. And that's my problem. Hey, people want or need to get married for benefits, citizenship, whatever – go right ahead. I'm the last person to stop them. But to make a forced necessity into some kind of natural order of things is twisted and barbaric.

Stop pretending that marriage solves any problems and makes anything better and stop ignoring the fact that lots of people, even in long-term relationships, simply don't want to get married and shouldn't have to in order to live.

Since you've turned this into some kind of contest over whose stories can be more heart-rending: Trust me when I tell you that the stories from my side would overshadow yours any day since many of them have to do with people actually being killed, okay?

But, really, for the sake of whatever you believe in, enough with the emotional blackmail. Save that for the politicians.

Om Kalthoum | August 2, 2011 5:13 PM

So, to sum up: Yasmin is against marriage. Jay is for marriage. Thank you for sharing.