The Nation's Pulse

Going Beyond Same-Sex Marriage

The real goal of marriage expanders seems to remain: anything goes!

By 8.15.06

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WASHINGTON -- Advocates of same-sex unions of course argue that they only want equality for homosexual persons. Conservative skeptics surmise that the campaign to redefine marriage is about considerably more than simply legal recognition for same-sex couples. In fact, they suspect, the ultimate goal is to set aside marriage altogether as a repressive and patriarchal anachronism. In its absence, all consensual sexual arrangements will be legitimate.

The suspicions will find confirmation in a new statement from a coalition of sexual pioneers called, "Beyond Same-Sex Marriage: A New Strategic Vision for All Our Families & Relationships" (www.beyondmarriage.org). Released last month, the statement specifically endorses "committed, loving households in which there is more than one conjugal partner," among many other sexual alternatives.

Organized by a "diverse group of nearly twenty LGBT [lesbian-gay-bisexual-transgender] and queer activists," the several hundred signatories include a predictable list of homosexual rights advocates, sexologists, self-professed pagans, and practitioners of polyamory, among other colorful categories. But it also includes Rabbi Michael Lerner of Tikkun, Cornel West at Harvard, Gloria Steinem of Ms. magazine, and a smattering of rabbis, Unitarians, Quakers, ex-nuns, and leftist Protestant clergy.

"We offer this statement as a way to challenge ourselves and our allies working across race, class, gender and issue lines to frame and broaden community dialogues, to shape alternative policy solutions and to inform organizing strategies around marriage politics to include the broadest definitions of relationship and family," the organizers explained.

In their statement, they advocate a "new vision for securing governmental and private institutional recognition of diverse kinds of partnerships, households, kinship relationships and families." This new vision, they hope, will move the nation "beyond the narrow confines of marriage politics" as they exist today. Naturally, they want a "flexible set of economic benefits," regardless of the nature of the association, "conjugal" or otherwise.

The brave pioneers of relationship innovation, standing with people of every "sexual identity" throughout the world, are striving to resist the "structural violence of poverty, racism, misogyny, war, and repression, and to build an unshakeable foundation of social and economic justice for all, from which authentic peace and recognition of global human rights can at long last emerge." It's an ambitious agenda!

SAME-SEX MARRIAGE RIGHTS are only "one part" of a larger effort to legitimize and gain benefits for "diverse" households and families. Indeed, families and relationships "know no borders." There is no norm. Most Americans do not live in traditional nuclear families, they assert, lumping together widows living with grown children with more exotic associations. All households "struggling for stability" will be helped by separating basic forms of legal and economic recognition from the requirement of marital and conjugal relationship.

Besides fighting for relatively conventional "domestic partnerships," the movement affirms the rights of a wide range of "non-traditionally constructed families and non-conventional partnerships." And do not forget the "the transgender and bisexual movements!" Too often, the statement warns, they have been left behind or left out by the "larger lesbian and gay movement." But the transgender and bisexual movements have "powerfully challenged legal constructions of relationship" and "include members who shatter the narrow confines of gender conformity."

For the government to define as "legitimate families" only couples in conjugal relationships is a "tremendous disservice" to other "kinship networks," we are told. Among these other arrangements are seniors citizens living together, children caring for elderly parents, grandparents raising grandchildren, single parent households, blended families, "queer couples who decide to jointly create and raise a child with another queer person or couple, in two households," and the ubiquitous "committed, loving households in which there is more than one conjugal partner.

According to this crowd, there is apparently no possible assortment of people who should not be recognized as "family" and therefore entitled to a wide range of legal benefits. It is nice that they are concerned about elderly people and grandparents, but economic benefits for the alternative sexual relationships seems to be the chief emphasis of their advocacy.

"Marriage is not the only worthy form of family or relationship, and it should not be legally and economically privileged above all others," they explain. They generously insist that they "honor those for whom marriage is the most meaningful personal -- for some, also a deeply spiritual -- choice," but they also insist on recognition for their other households.

Unfortunately, they note, their larger drive for social justice has much to fear. The litany includes: "corporate greed, draconian tax cuts and breaks for the wealthy, and the increasing shift of public funds from human needs into militarism, policing, and prison construction." Civil rights for all people is under assault by the Right, we are warned. The larger "conservative agenda" is pushing for "coercive, patriarchal marriage promotion, "heterosexist definitions of marriage" and limits to government funding for "reproductive services."

THE PUSH TO "PRIVATIZE Social Security and many other human needs benefits" also is "at the center of this attack," the statement asserts. "Many of us, too, across all identities, yearn for an end to repressive attempts to control our personal lives. For LGBT and queer communities, this longing has special significance." The signers want to "repudiate the right-wing demonizing of LGBT sexuality and assaults upon queer culture," and advocate on behalf of full "gender and sexual diversity." They want "freedom from a narrow definition of our sexual lives and gender choices, identities, and expression."

At a time when the Right is asserting a "scarcity of human rights," the movement for "Beyond Same Sex Marriage" plans to fight to "make same-sex marriage just one option on a menu of choices that people have about the way they construct their lives." It is a sweeping agenda!

"Beyond Same Sex Marriage" could be dismissed as marginal, if not silly. But in fact, its conglomeration of issues and interest groups is quite edgy and even clever. Throw in special benefits for one parent families and the elderly with legal recognition for multiple sexual partners. Align everyone who is not in a two-parent with children household as a coalition, from the spinster sisters living together to the pagan polyamores. This new coalition's one unifying characteristic would seem to be resentment aimed at people in conventional marriages.

Political movements based on resentment are often powerful and long-lived. Do not expect this one to go away quietly.

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About the Author

Mark Tooley is president of the Institute on Religion and Democracy in Washington, D.C. and author of Methodism and Politics in the Twentieth CenturyYou can follow him on Twitter @markdtooley.