I Love the Gays

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Look! A cute doggie! Awww don’t you just want to pet it? It’s so cute and fluffy and friendly. Just like the gays, in fact! Aww I love the gays.

Facetious, certainly, but this awful and patronising attitude (hello, Neko Case) seems to be far more prevalent than it ought to be and it is currently unavoidable whenever the issue of gay marriage rears its head. Right-on liberal icons write about ‘the gays’ like they’re some homogeneous mass of stylish and sassy accessories. All women must have a Gay Best Friend, after all – a topic Moran is so enamoured with that she returns to it in this awful interview. Loving the gays is some liberal badge of honour and it both feeds into and is fed by the ‘gay is good’ idea. Twitter yesterday was awash with the ‘heroic gays/awful homophobes’ dichotomy and endless trite reiterations of ‘only homophobes have a problem with gay marriage!!’ (which, ya know, isn’t actually true)

Obviously the ‘gay is good’ thing grew out of real pain and adversity. It had a purpose and there are still contexts where it will have a purpose. In the UK in 2013, however, the pervasive idea that gays are cuddly little pets who you can pat on the head to show how right-on you are should be confined to the dustbin. It’s embarrassing and stupid. Of course many gay people are all too complicit in allowing themselves to be patronised; there is still a little fuss whenever any straight celebrity says something nice about the gays (it will without fail be reported on Pink News). Gay magazines still have an unhealthy affection for straight men who say they like gays while posing in their pants while the idea beloved of broadsheet journos that ‘gay’ represents something “exciting, underground, pioneering, fearless ” is clearly an easy ego-boost if you’re that way inclined (egotistical, not gay). For all of the offence taken at stereotypes and presumptions, many gay people are happy to indulge in them ranging from the widespread ‘gay people are more sensitive/liberal/funny/etc’ to the ridiculous. And of course, we allow niceness about the gays to be used as a nice polish for the images of companies and politicians.

Personally, I don’t want to be reduced to a mere conduit for flattering the self-image and ego of ‘liberal’ types. I don’t want to be complicit in becoming a one-dimensional person and I don’t want people to think that they deserve special props merely for not being a wanker. You deserve scorn for being a bigot, sure – that’s because you’re not supposed to be a bigot. It’s kind of a given these days – we’re thankfully largely past the days where people would feel alright advertising the fact that ‘some of their best friends are black’, an attitude which is now rightfully mocked. If you’re not homophobic, great – all it means is that you treat me as a person, not that you automatically treat me as some lesser being who should be simperingly grateful that you’re being pleasant. Because guess what? There are people who are gay who are utter gits. There are people who are gay who are racist, sexist, violent, stupid, ignorant. There are people who are gay who do terrible things. And everyone who is gay has good points and bad points, good days and bad days. Shocking, huh? So if you are one of those people who feels the need to make a song and dance out of how cool you are with people being gay or a gay person who rewards this behaviour….if you retweeted Neko Case thinking ‘awww’…if you think that Andrew Garfield is amazing cos he wouldn’t mind if Spider Man was gay…you’re kinda part of the problem when it comes to achieving ‘equality’. 

Jeremy Irons – Outrage!

Sigh. Another day, another outrage (yet another one inspired by gay marriage, at that). Somewhere, someone is starting an e-petition. Jeremy Irons has committed the almighty sin of speaking about gay marriage in terms beyond ‘IT’S GREAT!’ If only he’d kept quiet and waved an equal sign around, the delicate sensibilities of those forced to face the horrific fact that some people think things which they do not would have been spared.

You can watch Irons speaking here. You can see that he didn’t angrily denounce gay marriage or gay people. You can see that he in fact went out of his way to stress that he had no ‘strong feeling’ on the matter. He even states that he thinks anyone having someone to love is ‘fantastic’ and “what it’s called doesn’t matter at all”. What’s his great crime, then? Well…he thinks about the issue and its implications. That’s pretty much it. You can be certain that if he’d uttered a trite and banal ‘go gay marriage!’ that many now condemning him would have thought he was a right-on guy. Now the scent of homophobia will linger around him.

Yet the issues Irons discusses are very real. The problem is that many are unwilling to or incapable of thinking about them, despite the fact that you can’t hurl around platitudes about ‘equality’ and ‘consenting adults’ and then decide that these principles only apply up to the limit you decide on. As I’ve written previously, if you’re using arguments of equality and consent then you have an obligation to think about what these terms mean. The repeated outrage (such as this tweet from Stonewall re: polygamy) whenever anyone does this in public, however mildly, underlines that this consideration has not taken place in many cases. Instead it seems that the thinking behind the matter goes “Equality is good! Adults can do what they want!” and then everyone grabs an equal sign and feels great that they’re on the side of the angels.

As Irons states, though, the argument does indeed raise interesting questions. Where do we draw the line of the ‘equal right’ to marriage and why? Everyone has jumped onto his comments concerning a father and son as ‘comparing gay marriage to incest’. There are a couple of ripostes to this. Firstly, there is the question of incest itself and why we consider it to be wrong – so wrong that it overrides our modern obsession with the right of consenting adults to do as they please. This is hardly a question which is beyond the pale in polite company – The Guardian pondered its morality only last year. There are undoubtedly compelling arguments against incest (not least the issue of abuse) but actually thinking about what they are rather than rushing to self-righteous condemnation at its very mention is a GOOD THING. The second point is that Irons’ suggestion that a father and son may want to marry for inheritance tax reasons actually puts incest to one side. Indeed, when civil partnerships were introduced a high-profile case resulted where two sisters wanted the legal rights which such partnerships conferred. This was not a question of incest by any stretch of the imagination. It was instead one of the privileged legal status afforded to couples recognised by the state and why these should not be conferred more widely on any two people who desired them. In the instant outraged response to Irons, where is the consideration of this? Where is the evidence that these people have even spent a second thinking about what marriage actually means, both to themselves and to wider society? If it’s an issue of equality, I find it hard to argue why myself and my boyfriend should enjoy certain privileges over these two sisters merely because our relationship is ‘romantic’ (ie involves sex). If it’s an issue of consent I find it difficult to understand why this argument doesn’t apply just as equally to two, three, four adults who want to have their relationship recognised by the state.

Thinking about these issues necessarily involves thinking about the nature of marriage and, if you accept that marriage is overwhelmingly about equality and consent, you indeed open the door to changing what it is commonly held to represent currently. Whether that is a good or bad thing is another matter (plenty of ‘radicals’ would be perfectly happy if society moved away from privileging marriage) but to shout down such thought with accusations of bigotry demonstrates little more than hollow and unearned certitude. A certitude which has marked the debate in spades and can be seen in the pithy, self-congratulatory responses to Irons. This is not about thoughtful engagement – it’s about narcissism and it’s getting really exhausting. Jeremy Irons has done nothing more than think critically and lumping this in with homophobia demeans the term. More importantly, it discourages serious engagement in favour of self-flattering dogmatism (which tends to coincide with the sense of belonging to a larger ‘side’ existing in opposition to the ‘baddies’). As Stonewall might slap on buses in another universe: some people think differently, get over it!

Marking Chelsea Manning’s 1000th day of imprisonment, this is a powerful expansion of the critique of LGBT politics and its response to Manning’s plight which I first wrote about here. This piece is so accurate that I want to send it to the offices of every major LGBT organisation, publication, writer etc but there is something for most of us who identity as LGBT to consider from it. This paragraph:

Any number of fading stars and starlets, and non-entities on the make, from Lady Gaga to Chaz Bono to Ricky Martin, have mined the LGBT community to support their careers. Our community’s eager rush to embrace just about any celebrity who deigns to notice our existence is emblematic of our lack of self-esteem, our internalized homophobia.

is so apposite that I almost punched the air when I read it. Our hysterical gratitude whenever a straight celebrity says something nice about LGBT people or, indeed, when a celebrity comes out, is utterly counter-productive and cements the notion that we are some meek, simpering minority who need assistance in being ushered into the ‘mainstream’. So we end up with the quite absurd elevation of someone like Ben Cohen and have palpitations whenever some nobody from ‘Hollyoaks’ or a sportsman looking to make a name for themselves says that, hey, they quite like the gays actually. Sod that. People don’t get to use being a decent human being as a career choice and no-one should encourage them to do so. As the paragraph states, the swift rapture which greets these utterings doesn’t suggest a community which has a strong sense of self or the certainty that we are indeed as ‘good as you’. It’s embarrassing. It seems to me that any decent human being would both sympathise with Chelsea Manning and be outraged by her treatment. Again, this piece is completely on-point here, particularly with the observation that Gay Inc would be up in arms “If a homophobe had so much as broken Chaz Bono’s finger nail” yet remains largely silent regarding Manning. Despite being in the UK I think the points made regarding the flat-out refusal of dominant LGBT voices to expose/oppose Obama apply here; they can obviously be extended to our own political context and the timid reluctance of groups like Stonewall to seriously challenge power or societal norms. What’s most dominant in the seeming inability of Gay Inc to “take on “difficult” political subjects” is, however, not really touched on in the piece: it’s the preening, narcissistic and neoliberal reduction of LGBT politics to the individual, the deployment of homophobia as part of someone’s identity. “In what way does this issue enable me to appear oppressed?” The hysteria over equal marriage illustrated this perfectly, allowing an overwhelmingly white, male and middle-class constituency to work themselves into a frenzy regarding their own perceived victimisation. This ties in neatly with current writings on social media and its importance in both shaping our personalities and expressing hierarchies. It’s deeply unfashionable to be seen as powerful, as privileged; instead we race to fixate on the ways in which we can perceive ourselves to be oppressed and, most importantly, be seen to be so. The Manning case, then, offers almost nothing in this regard. You’ll see that in this piece the author even tries to articulate a narrow, explicitly LGBT angle which Gay Inc could latch onto:

Besides the Honduran angle – 89 LGBTs murdered over three and a half years in a country of less than 8 million, including leading activists like Walter Trochez and Erick Martinez Avila – there are other LGBT angles that NGLTF and HRC could have highlighted.  The sexually humiliating torture that Manning received, stripped naked in a cell for days on end, ordered by no less than a two-star general – was tinged in homophobia, and yet where were the protests from the gay human rights groups? Not even a token press release.

As undeniably important as these issues are, they would be weak entry-points to Manning’s cause as it’s clearly about so much more than LGBT identity. Any attempts to make it about this would, I suspect, only highlight the narcissism which underlies much of Gay Inc. No, the Manning case requires a focus on common humanity and, crucially, on the nature and use of power. In this respect it is exactly the same as the Israeli ‘Pinkwashing’ or the abhorrent militarism of Western governments: they are ‘difficult’ issues because they cannot be easily reduced to ‘look at how we as LGBT people are being oppressed!’. They do not flatter our victimisation, the same identity which is so well-served by celebrities flattering our ‘cause’ with obsequious words. And so Manning, an undeniably brave individual and possibly as perfect an example of an LGBT ‘hero’ as you are likely to have in the developed world, is left to rot by people and organisations who instead prefer to knock-off the 4000th column or press release about equal marriage or access to the military. It’s a shameful commentary on modern LGBT politics, a movement which is popularly seen to have began with a riot and now finds us actively trying to victimise ourselves rather than challenge power as engaged, informed and compassionate human beings. The Chelsea Manning Support Network can be found here. Chelsea Manning and the Appalling Silence of Gay, Inc.

Note – this was written pre-transition and amended afterwards.

The “gay marriage debate” – made for (but ill-served by) social media

The gay marriage ‘debate’ is, in many ways, made for liberals on social media. It’s easy to slot it into the ‘barbarians at the gate’ narrative which writers like Charlie Brooker have made a career out of, flattering the egos of a self-identified ‘enlightened’ group by contrasting them with an oppressive, bigoted ‘other’. Related to this, it allows that smug, trite superiority which many non-believers feel over the religious, who have become the symbolic receptacle of any and all anti-marriage sentiment (which itself has become synonymous with homophobia.) The debate feeds the unpleasant self-victimisation which is clung to by many privileged (white, middle-class) gay people – witness, with tiresome inevitability, the speed with which these people have once again rushed to analogise their ‘plight’ to that of black people (apartheid! segregation!) More than anything, it facilitates the sense of certainty and being right which Twitter absolutely thrives on.

As a result, yesterday largely seemed to consist of shrieking slanging matches where many people were acting like they believed themselves to be the UK’s modern-day equivalents of Rosa Parks. Yet rather than fury resulting from an engagement (even in an unproductive way) with people who believed differently, this largely seemed to feed off another one of Twitter’s more dangerous traits – that of it serving as an echo chamber. I could find barely anyone who was making arguments against gay marriage – instead there were scores of people shouting ‘me too!’ while working themselves into a frenzy and almost competing to see who could be most outraged. This reached a bizarre peak with hysterically overblown attacks on Labour for apparently indicating that they would give their MPs a free vote on the issue. This was, it seemed, the worst thing that had ever happened to the labour movement. Never mind clause 4 or the Iraq war, tuition fees or complicity in torture, adoption of most of the worst excesses of Thatcherism or woeful acquiescence to the austerity agenda – it was this procedural issue (one which will surely not even be noticed by most people) which had people threatening to leave the party in droves. This was especially odd given that Labour’s record on gay rights isn’t exactly as straightforwardly glittering as we’re now led to believe. Even more so since we only have to look to recent history to find Labour members assuring us that many gay people didn’t want marriage and civil partnerships brought “joy and security”. Indeed, a search for ‘Labour’ and ‘gay marriage’ in the final year of the Labour government brings only 21,500 results – in the past year this returns 340,000 results. Gay marriage is an idea for which the time has come and it’s very obvious that even many of the most vocal supporters did not even think about it only 2 years ago, making the righteous fury seem very ill-fitting.

This seems to stem from the rise and rise of Labour as ‘the Tories but nicer’. Economic issues, once the raison d’etre of the party, have increasingly been hollowed out and replaced by liberal concerns. Make no mistake, Labour today is a liberal party rather than a socialist one. It was notable that yesterday’s chorus of opprobrium drowned out confirmation that Labour will oppose one of the most shameful and harmful aspects of Osborne’s Autumn statement. This is the direction many of us want Labour to go in and one which has potential to make a real difference to the lives of millions of people – yet only a week after a statement which found the government’s plan for the economy in tatters and them further heaping the worst of this failure onto the poorest in society, much of the left was tearing itself apart over the almost-entirely symbolic issue of gay marriage. Some canny observers noted the timing of the government’s gay marriage announcement with suspicion. Judging by yesterday’s response, it’s difficult not to believe that they were correct to do so.

This of course raises wider issues, not least the question of what ‘equality’ means. The gay marriage debate is concerned only with a very narrow legal equality (and perhaps in a wider sense with civil rights) and almost no-one who loudly bangs on about it seems to pause to think about ‘equality’ in any other way. Yet many who oppose gay marriage do so not because they are homophobic but because they believe that we should be pulling away from the state privileging certain relationships between consenting adults over others, not striving to cement it further. This is partly why some have readily agreed with David Cameron that gay marriage is an inherently conservative (and Conservative) idea, something which the angry righteousness of many supporters cannot possibly allow for. To go even wider, gay marriage is almost completely and utterly irrelevant to economic rights and economic equality, things which should be at the absolute core of any left-wing party. Yet we have the perverse spectacle of activists thanking a government, which is increasing inequality and poverty while dogmatically attacking those on benefits, for their stance on gay marriage. Do gay people exist outside of the economic sphere? Only the most sheltered and privileged of people could possibly expect a homeless gay person, a gay person whose benefits have been cut, a gay person who has been made unemployed, a gay person forced to use food banks, to be intrinsically grateful to the government because they will be able to call their partnership a ‘marriage’.

Inevitably, any move away from the state’s power to privilege certain relationships over others (‘marriage’) would upset some religious people. ‘Some’ being the important part of that sentence. The outpouring of hatred and contempt for the religious which many have engaged in as part of this ‘debate’ is horrific and certainly no better than the vile homophobia engaged in by some in the name of God. Opinion polls suggest that a majority of the British population has supported gay marriage since even before civil partnerships were introduced. Given that the latest census indicates that around 25% of the population is atheist, it surely follows that many religious people support gay marriage? Rather than devoting so much energy to the loud minority who espouse homophobic views it would perhaps be more productive to engage with the quiet majority who don’t. Having been raised Catholic, attending church regularly and going to a Catholic school, I tend to find the lazy superiority of many self-proclaiming atheists to be utterly repugnant. Being religious doesn’t mean you abandon your critical faculties and being atheist doesn’t mean that you are a brave champion of rationality. I still have many religious family members, friends, workmates and acquaintances and absolutely none of them, whether Christian or Muslim or Sikh, has ever had a problem with my sexuality. So as flattering to your ego as it is to celebrate your intellectual superiority over those who believe in ‘old men sitting on clouds in the sky’ (why is it always variations on that?!) I think debate and progression would be better served by getting off the war horse and realising that most folk are actually pretty decent (and indeed that not everyone opposed to gay marriage is religious or even homophobic.)

This applies generally and, of course, takes me back to the beginning because Twitter and the like are fundamentally based on self-validation and polarisation rather than deep engagement or self-reflection. The gay marriage question being played out on these forums has rendered it enormously tiresome and poisonous and we would do well to think about the nature of ‘equality’ and how our own treatment of others is inescapably part of that. Social media has ill-served this debate.

The Stonewall Awards/Useful Idiots

Now that Timeout magazine has adopted a free distribution model, I’ve been flicking through it absent-mindedly in the mornings for the first time in many years. I’d forgotten all about its LGBT section, which I used to pore over for appealing club nights when I first moved to London. No doubt due to the need to reduce the magazine’s size and increase the amount of advertising in it, the section is now a sad-looking one-pager. The main item in it this week is a preview of the Stonewall Awards, which are apparently on November 1st.

The sub-headline explains that Paul Burston ‘asks the campaigning group’s Ben Summerskill why (the Awards) are still necessary’. You don’t have to read it to predict the response – visibility, homophobia, bullying. The answers that are invariably given for gay-related ventures these days. How could anyone be against something which makes life easier for gay kids, after all?

A more aggressive questioning of the Award’s purpose would perhaps ask how such an insipid and absurd occasion benefits anyone other than Stonewall and assorted celebrities. I think it’s fair to say that few people take any notice of them (Time Out was the first I’d heard of them this year, despite the nominations apparently being previously announced) but if you look at the nominations, it’s difficult not to laugh. Stonewall has a habit of prostrating itself before companies which make some nod, however tokenistic, towards the gays (much in evidence in its almost-meaningless ‘Workplace Equality Index’). So we have companies with (to say the least) dubious social and ethical records like Barclays and PWC sponsoring the event while Ben & Jerry are nominated as ‘Heroes of the Year’ presumably for making a promotional-only ice cream ‘supporting’ gay marriage’. In the latter case, if Ben & Jerry want to use their corporate clout to support gay marriage then they can knock themselves out but I fail to see anything ‘heroic’ about it (see first comment below.) In the former case, it’s just blatant pink-washing. It allows an organisation like Barclays to use the issue of homosexuality to portray itself as liberal and progressive while it profits from arms deals and money laundering. Even more perversely, Barclays has traded with and supported the brutal regimes of Zimbabwe and Iran – hardly renowned for their sterling human rights and particular targets of many gay rights activists over the years. Presumably tackling homophobia is only worth celebrating if it’s done on a superficial, PR-driven level which financially benefits Stonewall and those ethnic folk dying across the sea are an unpleasant diversion from the quaffing of champagne.

Stonewall’s other embarrassing habit (one that is, to be fair, reasonably widespread amongst the ‘gay establishment’) is to fawn at the feet of celebrities who are nice to the gays. So we have the ludicrous inclusion of former rugby player Ben Cohen on the panel of judges deciding the Awards. Cohen is very popular as he set up an ‘anti-bullying foundation’ and strips to his pants a lot.  I’ve written about some of my concerns surrounding his elevation as a ‘hero’ previously and I’ve yet to witness a journalist tackle him about the nuts and bolts of his work in his frequent appearances in the gay media. Instead we’re given asinine puff pieces, over and over again. Indeed, this approach is typical of some of the ‘gay media’ nominated for Stonewall Awards (presumably DC Comics and Tatler are nominated because they did something gay-related, at some point, while the Evening Standard is surely being applauded for its incessant campaigning for ‘former homophobe’ Boris Johnson.)

The absence of critical rigour really is astonishing. Jessie J is presumably awarded because she said she was bisexual. Yet the contortions around that have been many. It’s been claimed that she’s actually gay and was told to say otherwise by her record label. She’s spoken of being ‘irritated’ at the fixation with her sexuality – but given that she’s hardly associated with campaigning against homophobia, her sexuality must be the sole reason she’s here. Britain’s biggest LGBT (I know they have a very dodgy record on the ‘T’, I’m being charitable – see first comment below on this) charity reduce her to her sexuality just as much as The Sun did. Similarly, Frank Ocean is nominated because he said he once loved another man. That’s it. That really is the extent of it.

Such a reductive approach is typical of the Awards. The ‘Journalists of the Year’ are either gay or people who have written nice things about gay marriage. The ‘Broadcast of the Year’ includes ‘Britain’s Got Talent’ because it featured some gay people, because being a show predicated on contrived humiliation is perfectly fine as long as you do it equally.  The ‘Politicians of the Year’ are either gay or nice to gays in a very obvious way, so the Conservative Iain Stewart is included despite being a loyal supporter of the government in privatising eduction, the NHS, reducing benefits, attacking the disabled and preventing House of Lords reform, to name but a few big issues. Hey, who cares if you’re attacking the most vulnerable people in society, YOU’RE A GAY!

It really is the most insipid nonsense and only the most facile of analyses could possibly think these Awards meaningfully combat homophobia. Instead they continue to elevate sexuality as the core raison d’être of any person who isn’t 100% heterosexual; they continue to elevate ‘gay rights’ above basic human rights as an ostentatious liberal identifier; they continue to allow celebrities, companies, politicians and others who want a bit of easy PR to engage superficially with ‘gay issues’ and receive hysterical praise in return. It’s embarrassing. Summerskill is quoted in Time Out as saying that ‘we really hope that one day awards like these will no longer be necessary’. It seems to me that Stonewall itself is the biggest obstacle to that day. 

Crumbs from the Table: Obama and Gay Marriage

“I favour legalizing same-sex marriages, and would fight efforts to prohibit such marriage” – Barack Obama in 1996

“They don’t have any thoughts – they have emotional responses” – Gore Vidal, when discussing gay marriage, on the American people

Yesterday a British friend excitedly told me that she had ‘leapt into the air’ when she heard of President Obama’s comments on gay marriage, believing that “he’s won the next election!” Across social media sites people were falling over themselves to praise the President for his courage, his righteous morality, his decency. I was sent links which implored me to sign a ‘thank you’ card which is to be sent to the White House. The inevitable slew of broadsheet columns were overwhelmingly positive; some wearily observed that it was possible to be cynical about the comments but credited Obama for his skilful politics in cornering Mitt Romney on the issue.

It seems that it’s game, set and match – Obama is a good guy. He’s progressive, he’s liberal and he’s one of us. The disappointments have been washed away, cleansed in the serene waters of ‘saying nice things about gay people’.

Even as I write this, I’m well aware of what the response of many would/will be to it: I’m cynical; a Trot; ungrateful, unrealistic and unfair; I am that worst of all creatures – a negative person. In fact I’ve written before about the totemic elevation of an issue like gay marriage above all other concerns, even other human rights ones. Well, it doesn’t get any more elevated than this.

Taking the comments entirely on their own merit, I agree that it’s a good thing for the President to personally support equal rights. I can appreciate that it in the toxic climate of American politics, it can be viewed as a big deal. However I don’t see what is gained in hysteric gratitude for some crumbs from the table. Some blogs have already noted that Obama’s ‘evolution’ on gay marriage seemed to begin with whole-hearted support (the quote above). The further he edged onto the national stage, the more opaque his views became. Then, when he was preparing to run for President (and indeed when he did so), he was wholeheartedly against gay marriage. In the years since, the profile of the issue has grown tremendously, to the point where it seems to threaten the supremacy of abortion and reproductive rights as totemic ‘liberal’ issues. So, in the midst of fundraising season for an upcoming election, President Obama speaks out. He speaks out after the Vice-President speaks out (which was, depending on who you believe, a ‘gaff’ which bounced Obama into speaking, or a ‘test-run’ for it – I’d go for the latter). He speaks out while his aides brief the media, “It’s not like we’re trying to pass legislation”. He speaks out while simultaneously washing his hands of the issue, pushing responsibility for it to individual states. So yes, I am cynical about the ‘endorsement’ but I can’t fathom how anyone couldn’t be. The President has made some personal comments which serve to shore up his electoral base in an election year, instantly portray his opponent as a reactionary bigot and eclipse many of his administration’s human rights abuses – all without actually intending to do anything! As one tweet put it yesterday

Obama has endorsed gay marriage the same way he endorsed ending torture, closing Guantanamo, and limiting illegal settlements

Yet his words have been greeted as some kind of latter-day Emancipation Proclamation. This is a very deliberate comparison because you can be certain that, very early in any discussion of gay marriage, someone (usually a white gay man) will compare it to slavery and/or racial segregation. There are grand claims about it being the ‘last great civil rights issue’ (which, incidentally, I’m sure many under the ‘T’ of ‘LGBT’ would take issue with). I have watched open-mouthed as these statements have been shared again and again without challenge. Does no-one see the problem in (more often than not) privileged white people describing themselves as victims of something akin to the brutal and systemic oppression of an entire people based on the colour of their skin?! I have at times almost expected someone to compare the legal inability to call your relationship a ‘marriage’ to the holocaust, such has been the grotesque self-pity on display. From where I’m sitting the lack of ‘gay marriage’ is not preventing gay people in the Western world from fully participating in society and indeed rising to positions of power within it. To borrow Marxist terminology, the issue of gay marriage does not prevent you from being part of the ruling class and enjoying all of the privileges inherent to that position.

Class is one of (perhaps the) most fundamental issue which is papered over by the fixation on gay marriage. Arguments in favour of it appeal to healthcare rights, social benefits, taxation and wealth – there is absolutely no acknowledgement or even recognition that gay marriage won’t make the slightest difference to the structural inequalities which mean that a wealthy gay man and a homeless gay man will never experience these rights and benefits in remotely the same way. Just as I’ve argued that a fundamental belief in human rights must apply to everyone and not just privileged liberals, I think that a belief in equality necessarily demands a commitment to radical reform which improves the lot of an entire class, regardless of their sexuality.

Then there is the issue of marriage itself and its privileged position within society. If you are arguing for marriage on the basis that it grants you access to certain privileges, the question must surely be asked of whether state-recognition of your relationship should bring such access? It’s often noted that society is changing – conversely, as the clamour for gay marriage grows and grows, the take-up of heterosexual marriage declines. People are living in a myriad of different ways, an abundant variety of family units. Couples live unmarried for their entire lives; couples have open relationships; people have polygamous relationships, living with two or more ‘partners’ and so on. Marriage is a formal construct which has varied hugely from culture to culture, period to period. If we are to argue that all consenting adults should be able to have their relationships recognised by the state, presenting gay marriage as the final frontier seems entirely arbitrary.

Without this context, demands for gay marriage as most commonly depicted are merely demands for the privileged status enjoyed by the already privileged.

It was with a grim inevitability that yesterday, in amongst the various articles on gay marriage which popped up on my RSS feed, there was one about the resumed ‘military trials’ at Guantanamo Bay. Obama had suspended these when he took office, promising to use open, civilian trials and close Guantanamo. On the day he lifted this suspension he codified in law the practice of holding detainees indefinitely without charge. As the trials resumed last week the American government once again sought to suppress any evidence regarding and discussion of torture, abuse and rendition. In recent discussions regarding Guantanamo I have found myself wondering if the detainees would perhaps get more attention if they made it known that they were gay and wanted to get married. That sounds like an unnecessarily glib comment but I think it raises fundamental points about the nature of human rights and when we sit up and take notice. Indeed, the case of Bradley Manning seems to have been one of the few incidences of shadowy US government activity which has been covered by the ‘gay media’ due to Bradley’s sexuality and/or transgender. Yet even this isn’t linked to Obama or at least, if it was, it’s now swept away by the emotional gratitude towards his ‘personal support’ for gay marriage. Gore Vidal’s quote at the beginning may be vitriolic but the fixation on gay marriage yet simultaneous belief that it’s an issue which exists in a vacuum smacks of gut emotional responses overriding all else.

As a postscript, I’ll declare my personal interest – I’m gay and I’m engaged. Personally I don’t really care if I get a civil partnership or a civil marriage – I don’t see much difference. My boyfriend does care and wants to get married. So I understand this at first hand. However I think that, when we get married, society is still going to be unequal – not just in terms of competing client groups but in fundamental structural ways. When gay marriage becomes a reality, as it surely will, the fight for human rights and for equality will have barely begun.