Marriage Equality Skepticism and HIV

Published: March 27, 2013

We are living through a time of obvious historical significance for the LGBT community. Our victory over “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell,”—the law that forced homosexuals enlisted in the military to hide who they are from their compatriots and commanding officers in order to serve their country—is fresh in our minds, and two of the most visible laws establishing our second-class legal status are being heard before the highest court in the land this week.

But many homosexuals, both in my personal life and out in the wilds of the internets have expressed a certain amount of skepticism when it comes to our collective pursuit of marriage equality. While some of these skeptics simply disdain the thought of giving up their reserved seating at the edge of society, many feel we have bigger fish to fry and ask very reasonably if our resources—time, wealth and social capital—might not be better spent agitating for a cure for AIDS, or an end to draconian HIV criminalization laws, or better legal protections for transgendered persons. And furthermore, whether state-recognized matrimony is even an institution we want to be a part of. It is a conservative institution, after all—at least David Cameron over in Great Brittain keeps saying so. Didn’t the Women’s Liberation Movement expend a lot of energy trying to throw off the shackles of matrimony? Why are we so eager to try them on?

I completely get where many of these marriage skeptics are coming from. I personally think we as a community—or at least our political elites—have been overly focused on “equality” since the end of the worst of the AIDS crisis in the mid-’90s. During the crisis we were understandably fighting just to survive, to have the right to die with dignity and to force the government and the big pharmaceutical companies to address the plague that was decimating our people.

But before the Plague Years, we weren’t fighting for “equal rights.” In the years leading up to those first AIDS diagnoses in the early ’80s, our people were involved in a struggle for “gay liberation,” the freedom to live our lives openly without interference from the state. I think perhaps we have invested too much energy pursuing those things that heterosexuals have—like marriage and military service—and maybe it has cost us something as a culture. We should be cautious about diving head-first into hetero-normative institutions that seem to make so many heterosexuals miserable.

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