American Friends Service Committee
Sara Burke, Managing Editor
Sam Diener, Editor
Pat Farren, Founding Editor
2161 Massachusetts Ave.
Peacework has been published monthly since 1972, intended to serve as a source of dependable information to those who strive for peace and justice and are committed to furthering the nonviolent social change necessary to achieve them. Rooted in Quaker values and informed by AFSC experience and initiatives, Peacework offers a forum for organizers, fostering coalition-building and teaching the methods and strategies that work in the global and local community. Peacework seeks to serve as an incubator for social transformation, introducing a younger generation to a deeper analysis of problems and issues, reminding and re-inspiring long-term activists, encouraging the generations to listen to each other, and creating space for the voices of the disenfranchised.
Views expressed are those of the authors, not necessarily of the AFSC.
Robert Dove, Cambridge MA
In the May, 2004 edition of Peacework ("Uncoupling Marriage and the State"), Amy Beth and Jim Jer-Don are rightly critical of the state's interference in personal relationships and the regulations of society's benefits through the institution of marriage.
Yet, the couples I saw on the steps of Cambridge City Hall Sunday night, May 16, 2004 were not there for benefits, never mind "privileges." After decades of living together, they have figured out how to compensate for many of the so-called marriage benefits. And knowing a few of them as I do, I am quite certain that they carry many priorities on their social change agendas, as does the group Gay and Lesbian Advocates and Defenders, which was so instrumental in working this case through the courts. Very few of them will become more consumerist because of marrying their lifelong partners.
The Cambridge event was a party thrown by the city. The mayor and city council, as well as the Superintendent of Schools and the Public Health Commissioner, put a public face on this milestone because it really is about liberty for everyone. The glow on people's faces, including heterosexuals and singles, continues as I write this. Truth be told, I don't think this was even about marriage. It was about a dramatic first step toward equality on every issue.
There are, of course, inequities woven throughout our entire social fabric. Social Security benefits should be seen as an asset which can be passed on to any beneficiary who has contributed to the life and support of the deceased. Health care proxies, powers of attorney, and all sorts of legalized relationships should be easier to come by. And there ought to be universal health care, while we're at it!
Deciding on a strategy for social change is
a hard thing to do. And though I would not have chosen marriage
as a priority, it does tie into issues of self-respect, dignity,
mental health, hate crimes, and even immigration. To be sure,
marriage is not enough, but same-sex marriages do not lessen our
energy for dealing with these other issues. Rather, they may give
us additional visibility and energy to engage those issues more
Jim Jer-Don replies:
Robert Dove alludes to the key issue himself when he writes, "And though I would not have chosen marriage as a priority..." I do not consider marriage the innocuous "first step" that he does. Obviously, at the personal level there is a wide range of rationales for marriage, just as there is in the heterosexual community.
But the important, and apparently unasked, question for me is what is the ideological agenda driving marriage (and gays in the military) as primary high-visibility political issues? Why was the movement by Gay and Lesbian Advocates and Defenders not to push the state out of the marriage business altogether (a process which would have resulted in a much more equitable and accessible outcome)? Who indeed, if neither Robert nor Amy nor I, chose to make marriage the goal? And why?
It was not too long ago that mainstream gay
and lesbian groups were arguing that Dykes on Bikes and drag queens
shouldn't be allowed in the Pride Parade because they sent the
wrong message: I assume they meant a message celebrating difference.
I cannot help but draw a connection between the motive for such
calls and the emphasis on "gay marriage."
Amy Beth replies:
When straight marriage is the bar of equality toward which society strives, I believe we all ultimately lose. In the short period of time since marriage for gays and lesbians on the state level in Massachusetts has become legal, the insurance industry has comprehensively ceased to offer domestic partner enrollment for new subscribers who do not choose to marry.
So, government managed marriage is depriving
members of our community of basic needs, including the right to
health care. Already, a conversational politic presuming every
gay and lesbian couple considers marriage to be the highest expression
of commitment has permeated our social interactions. I remain
supportive of recognizing and celebrating our relationships and
the diversity of our lives. This should not require conforming
in order to receive health care -- or societal nods of approved