Wednesday, February 02, 2005

Uncle Tom Faggots:

John Corvino's Bay Windows column "Civil Discourse on Civil Unions" is now posted at Independent Gay Forum. There he notes that a previous piece on the subject resulted in the accusation that he is an "Uncle Tom faggot." Corvino responds to this charge by arguing:

Our best strategy for securing the social endorsement (i.e., marriage under the name “marriage”) is first to secure the legal incidents. Then people will look at our civil unions, realize that they are virtually indistinguishable from marriages, start calling them marriages, and gradually forget why they objected to doing so before. That's what happened in Scandinavia, and it's happening elsewhere in Europe.

True enough. But this line of reasoning misses at least two major points.

First, as a matter of strategy, it makes no sense for gay rights advocates to push for civil unions rather than the full marital rights we desire. It may well be that our efforts will not succeed in the short-run and that law-makers will "compromise" by proposing a civil union option. This is what has happened in Vermont and California. But as any negotiator worth the name will tell you, it's simply bad strategy to start the negotiations off by ceding our ultimate objective because this may well jeopardize our chances of getting even the compromise we may be content with.

A second point Corvino misses is that there is more than a little uncle tommism in the idea that civil unions are an acceptable compromise. Thus Corvino warns:

Attempts to force the social endorsement too quickly (by demanding the name “marriage” above and beyond the legal incidents) may backfire, resulting in state constitutional bans not only on gay marriage but also on civil unions. The upshot would be to delay both the legal incidents and the social endorsement.

Well, yes and no. Attempts to demand rights from the courts may well backfire (as I argue here and here) by engendering support for the Federal Marriage Amendment. But there is no reason this should be the case with legislative advocacy. As long as we are making our arguments in public and then giving the people -- speaking through their representatives -- a chance to consider our arguments and respond accordingly, no one should be worried but the minority who loses. That minority is likely to be gays and lesbians. And if it is the minority that is losing, the risk of the majority passing a state constitutional ban should not be very likely.

The only reason not to fight for marriage rights, then, would be because doing so might offend the sensibilities of "mass'a." But this is exactly what the gay rights movement is about: offending the sensibilities of those in power who believe that we are perverts, inverts, sick, sinful, pscyhologically damaged, and otherwise incapable of forming relationships worthy of the name marriage. Which is why it's one thing for a legislature to reach a civil union compromise, and quite another for gay people to start the debate off with it. We should never send the message that we will settle for "separate, but equal" treatment. The black civil rights leaders didn't make this mistake, and they were subjected to physical abuse and brutality. We should be just as courageous.

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