With the Supreme Court’s decision to grant cert petitions for cases involving the Prop 8 campaign as well as the 1995 Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA), pundits, activists, academics, and your normal CNN viewer could all predict that the federal government’s first real response to the question of same-sex marriage ought to emerge in the next year. Given the success of grassroots campaigns in Minnesota, Washington, Maryland, and Maine this November, it seems only logical to assume that petition campaigns, direct actions, and consciousness-raising initiatives will play a key role in forging a coherent national policy and message towards lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and queer/questioning (LGBTQ) Americans.
Existing campaigns for same-sex marriage have covered tremendous ground. Only in the past year or so have the majority of Americans come around to marriage equality. Among young people — particularly college students — the issue of marriage is being treated almost as a fait accompli, something so rational that it’s inevitable.
This concern over not just the way that the federal government legislates “love” but the ways that LGBTQ individuals live together, raise families, and build families is what is sometimes lacking in the marriage equality movement. As a queer-identified American, I support marriage equality efforts — but for a much different reason that you might think: Namely, it will help (some) queer folks afford to pay their bills just that much easier.
You see, DOMA does a couple things. It defines marriage as between one man and one woman in the eyes of the federal government, and it instructs states that they need not recognize LGBTQ partnerships across boundaries with those few states that recognize a form of LGBTQ partnership.
The key, though, lies in the implications of these declarations. Consider what majority society would consider a ‘normal’ heterosexual couple. These two partners are able to file their taxes together, collect survivor benefits, exchange health care benefits, adopt and raise children together, as well as a host of other apolitical collective ventures. For queer couples, the opposite is true. Under the DOMA, LGBTQ couples are prevented from accessing over 1100 federal rights, including the ability to access many bureaucratic and financial processes just mentioned. Essentially, it prevents the couple from being seen as a united presence in the eyes of the law in any and all of its forms. What is the impact of these additional consequences of DOMA? The added cost of being ‘gay’ in America.
I’ve written extensively for both this site and others on the economic implications of DOMA on queer couples. In fact, analyses of the economic burdens of identifying as an LGBTQ individual have been news for years. For example, the “Bucks: Making the Most of Your Money” blog at The New York Times has chronicled public and private sector efforts to lower the “cost of being gay” for committed LGBTQ couples. Of course, one need only speak to a LGBTQ individual in a partnership (federally-recognized or otherwise) to hear first-hand accounts of the bills, bureaucracy, and legal battles required to complete every day tasks.
While the most prolific image of a queer person is that of a white, affluent, sassy gay male, individuals from a myriad of gender, ethnicity, class, immigration status, and ability experiences identify under the LGBTQ umbrella. Many of these folks do not fit the image constructed above. Rather, the LGBTQ community draws some of its strongest activists and leaders from those located at the intersections of multiple forms of oppression.
Money is a concern for LGBTQ people. The economic dimensions of DOMA alongside Congress’s unwillingness or inability to pass comprehensive employment and housing nondiscrimination highlight the very real difficulties of living as a queer American.
If we are to take seriously the concerns raised above, then marriage equality campaigns ought to seize upon not just the ability to mobilize affluent supporters but to push for economic support for all queer people. As long as queer youth are disproportionately homeless and incarcerated compared to their peers, as long as the majority of queer people experience harassment of some form, then the fight for marriage equality remains not just about love but about survival.
Yes, marriage equality is about the elderly couple who have been committed since before Stonewall. However, it’s also about the multinational couple that needs immigration and economic reform now to afford food, rent, and legal fees. It’s about the thousands of queer folks who are afraid to come out for fear of losing their jobs, their livelihoods. It’s about the thousands of LGBTQ people who, in the face of the worst economic crisis since the Great Depression, could use a little help.