Same-sex marriage should be legal. It is a civil right. But as Scot Nakagawa points out in his blog post “Why I Support Same-Sex as a Civil Right, But Not as a Strategy to Achieve Structural Change,” making the institution of marriage available to same-sex couples does not extend rights to everyone. Nakagawa states that “civil rights ought not arbitrarily exclude people” and those who choose not to marry will continue to be excluded from the benefits and rights married people enjoy.
Making these rights available to domestic partners also leaves the door open for many problems. As Nancy D. Polikoff notes in the excerpt from her book, Beyond (Straight and Gay) Marriage: Valuing All Families under the Law, transsexual or transgender individuals risk discrimination registering themselves as being part of a same-sex couple in order to acquire benefits for their partners. These inclusion strategies preserve the exclusion of rights and benefits not only from those who choose not to marry but for those who don’t want to risk identifying themselves as transgender.
Achieving same-sex marriage is the right thing to do but it probably also illuminates marriage as a class that can be exploited by those wielding power. USA Today’s article “Conservative effort underway in push for gay marriage” illustrates a segment of right political thinkers reaching out in support of marriage equality in order to maintain their relevancy as Americans continue to move in support of marriage equality. The discourse is not more inclusive. It is just becoming slightly less exclusive. Marriage is normative and easier for GOP to support.
In some ways same-sex marriage is a lot like the It Gets Better Project which had the admirable goal of reaching out to struggling youth and addressing the growing LGBTQ suicide rate. As Jasbir Puar wrote in her article, “In the wake of It Gets Better,” it gets better for some more than others. The co-founder of It Gets Better, Dan Savage, is described by Puar as “able-bodied, monied, confident, well-traveled, suitable partnered, and betrays no trace of abjection or shame.” It is much easier for white middle-class males to navigate existing dominance structures. In the same way same-sex marriage remains limited in its inclusiveness. It is the right thing to do and the obvious thing to do but it doesn’t answer the needs of everyone. There is still more to do.