Some hopes for marriage equality

I’ve already shared some of my general thoughts on the marriage equality movement, but now with the overturning of Prop. 8 and the possibility of my home state of California allowing gay marriage, I find myself thinking about what I hope for the future of marriage.

My feelings about the news were conflicted. On one hand, I’m ecstatic that the court chose the side of equality, taking steps to ensure that same sex couples who hope to commit to each other in marriage can enjoy the same rights and benefits as heterosexual couples who do the same. I’m not even going to bother trying to put in my own words what Judge Walker so eloquently explained about how gay couples who deserve to marry deserve equal rights — to me it’s just common sense.

On the other hand, I have to stop to wonder, what are we fighting for? The right to be miserable in marriage, and to join the ranks of the frequently divorced? Our little piece of a historically oppressive institution? The chance to show people from outside of our communities that we’re “just like them”? It’s not as if this changes anything for relationships between LGBT people. Queer folks have been loving each other and committing to one another for centuries, and it’s not as if we need the validation of traditional marriage to make us feel like we have the right to love each other.

Unless it does change something. Maybe if I try not to be so cynical I can hope that, rather than queer folks adjusting their lives and perspectives to support traditional marriage, the result of such acts as overturning Proposition 8 will be the queering of marriage.

Some hopes for the future of marriage:

  • Perhaps the obvious: more acceptance of queer folks and their families. Moving past outdated attitudes and religious interpretations that characterize people in same-sex partnerships as “living in sin” and being incapable of sustaining stable, loving relationships or raising healthy children. Hopefully we can reach a day when nobody would think twice when a bride-to-be announces her engagement to a fellow bride.
  • A shift in our understanding of gender and gender roles. In his ruling, Judge Walker pointed out that it’s not a change in marriage that allows for same-sex couples to marry but a change in an understanding of gender. Perhaps if society no longer expects for marriage to only occur between a man and a woman, then we will no longer adhere to traditional ideas about the role of the husband and the wife in a partnership. With many traditions left over from the days when marriage made a woman the property of her husband, we can only benefit from moving on from our ideas of binary gender and male and female roles.
  • A recognition of the role of marriage in race and immigration movements. Unjust immigration policies have torn apart queer partners and their families, and perhaps working to dismantle these policies on a federal level can lead to much-needed solidarity between racial equality movements, immigration movements, gender equality groups and queer rights groups, and others who realize how these issues affect us on all levels.
  • Related to the above point, increased dialogue and community building among communities of color and communities of faith. Hopefully, an elimination of language and attitudes that frame being a person of color or a person of faith as separate from being a queer person. Recognition that there are some people whose identities intersect these areas, and that there is room in these communities for acceptance of queer folks.
  • I also hope that this whole struggle for marriage rights will shed light on the imperfection of the institution of marriage. I hope we can see that marriage isn’t for everyone and it shouldn’t be imposed on everyone, to realize that many of the rights and benefits tied to marriage should be available to everyone, even if they don’t choose to express their love in the form of a traditional marriage.

Well, I could go on for days about how I’d like to see marriage change, but this is a start. Hopefully, the marriage equality movement won’t stop at winning the rights to marry, but will continue to address the social issues related to the struggle and create a picture that truly reflects equality for all people.

Photo from the Huffington Post slideshow

Published in: on August 7, 2010 at 12:49 PM  Leave a Comment  
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Immigration and justice for all

If you couldn’t tell from Saturday’s fiction, I’ve had immigration on my mind. Specifically, the place of the Black community in the struggle for immigrant rights.

At the U.S. Social Forum, there was a workshop called “Crossing the Color Lines,” featuring a panel organized by the Black Alliance for Just Immigration (BAJI) to discuss a vision of just immigration and the role Black folks could play in achieving it. The panelists had some moving stories and words about crossing community lines and finding solidarity, but when it came time for questions, some of the audience members made it clear that their doubts, coming through an “us” and “them” mentality, remained: “Well, they don’t show up at our rallies.” “Well, it’s true that they’re taking our jobs!” “Well, they don’t want us around.”

It’s clear that if we keep thinking this way, as separate communities with separate concerns, we will remain divided. The frustration is understandable, of course. With the high rates at which unemployment plagues the Black community, it’s easy to point a finger of blame at Latino immigrants whose labor is cheaply exploited so employers can cut costs. It’s important to remember, however, that this system hurts all communities of color. Immigrant communities are hurting as well, and it’s not their choice to run things this way but the choice of those who see people of color not as humans but as animals who can be exploited, denied fair wages and benefits, and denied jobs altogether when they demand fair labor practices. It can be hard for anyone to find a decent way to make a living when facing the racism and classism that affects Latino and Black communities alike.

There’s also the fact that in spite of the way it’s framed in the media, immigration isn’t solely a Latino issue. I keep this in mind because, while some of my ancestors came to this country in chains centuries ago, my father arrived here from Trinidad and Tobago in the 1970s. Articles like this one claim that Black immigrants aren’t concerned with Latino immigrants’ issues, because many come with a more specialized focus on things like law and medicine, and therefore aren’t competing for the same “crumbs” as many low-income Latino immigrants. Sure, it’s true that my dad came here to attend school and eventually become a doctor. I can assure you, however, that that doesn’t mean that he’s been free of discrimination against people of color or immigrants. Let anyone who has walked away from his care, preferring to be seen by a white American doctor, tell you that the racist eye sees no difference between a Caribbean-born doctor and a Mexican-born farmworker.

The comments on that article are really disappointing — everything from blaming Latino immigrants for their own problems to saying that Black people are “takers, not givers,” and would never rally for anything. Such comments show a mindset that can only do more harm to communities that are already hurting. Communities that need strength, solidarity and support, not the pointing of fingers or the deepening of divisions that keep us apart. The first issue of the BAJI reader features a speech that the Reverend Nelson Johnson gave to the Low-Income Immigrant Rights Conference in December 2007. Rev Johnson speaks of building bridges between our people, saying, “we cannot and we must not allow black and brown people to be pitted against each other in a painful spiral to the bottom. That’s why we want to organize joint conferences with Latinos, blacks, whites, and others to work out together the road forward. We must build these bridges, for when people cannot work with each other even though they share deep mutual interests, it opens the door for a small privileged group to make decisions that are not in our interest.”

As Black folks, we can’t afford to sit by and allow those in power to continue a system that hurts our immigrant brothers and sisters, even if we think it won’t affect us. Once we look into each other’s eyes and recognize a shared struggle, we can begin to move forward.

“In our work and in our living, we must recognize that difference is a reason for celebration and growth, rather than a reason for destruction.”
-Audre Lorde

Published in: on July 6, 2010 at 10:34 AM  Comments (2)  
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Crossing lines

The boy was thirsty when she found him. He hardly spoke, and she couldn’t understand his words when he did, but Vanessa watched his chest rise and fall as quickly as a jack rabbit’s, even though he was just sitting on the ground beside a mound of his belongings, and had been for as long as she’d been crossing the desert toward him. He was young, younger than Vanessa and about half her size, with long skinny limbs and brown skin that was turning red as the dirt around him.

Vanessa took a bottle of water from her pack and handed it to him. She watched him take it all down in a few gulps and smiled, glad for the chance to help. The Arizona sun was glaring down at her with treacherous heat, and the air smelled putrid, like someone had left a rotten egg to cook on the ground, but the open desert was where she preferred to be. She knew the other children, like her older brothers, were either in air-conditioned living rooms with video game controllers in their hands or jumping into the cool waters of the community pool, but Vanessa didn’t mind the heat. It was with her always, and she didn’t know why everyone else seemed determined to try to escape it.

“We don’t play like that,” her mother said, each time she let her daughter in to realize she hadn’t been playing with her brothers but wandering the desert. “Desert’s not safe. That’s for those other kids.”

She didn’t have to specify for Vanessa to know what she meant, that black kids weren’t meant to play in the desert. It just wasn’t how things were in her neighborhood.

Vanessa took the empty water bottle back from the boy. He looked up at her with grateful brown eyes, wiping away the dark hair and sweat that covered them. What he carried with him seemed meager and sparse, just a small green pack that seemed like it once carried more, if Vanessa didn’t count the mound that was covered by a blanket. He couldn’t have carried that. She’d seen the desperation in the way he drank the water, of course, but only just now realized that he wasn’t out there for fun, like she was. He was one of those other kids her mom talked about. That they debated about on the news. The ones whose parents her father grumbled about at dinner.

She shielded her eyes to look toward the rocky area marked by sporadic spiked barbed wire.

“You made it,” she said to the boy with a grin. “You’re in America!”

She expected him to understand that last word, at least, and held up her arms triumphantly, but the boy only looked more terrified, with wide eyes and trembling lips. She started to move away from him, gesturing for him to follow.

“Come on,” she said. “Time for your new life.”

The boy shook his head. “Mi hermano,” he said.

Vanessa looked down, noticing for the first time that one of the boy’s legs was injured, his pant leg soaked below the knee in blood so dark it looked black.

“Hermano,” she repeated. “Yes, your leg. Can I see?”

She reached out to touch it, but the boy pulled it back from her, and she felt silly in her haste. This boy didn’t know who she was. He couldn’t understand her, and certainly couldn’t be expected to trust her. She remembered stories she’d overheard, of the men who carried guns and sneered as she and her brothers passed, doing worse to people they found crossing the border. She wondered if someone would hurt the boy on purpose.

“We have to find you help,” she said, more gently this time, but feeling a little more urgency in getting the boy to move from the open space.

The boy seemed to understand what she wanted, but he shook his head as his eyes began to fill with tears.

“Mi hermano,” he said again, and though she didn’t understand what he was saying, Vanessa recognized his grief. He held his hands out before him, small palms up, in what seemed to be a universal symbol for loss. She noticed his hands were held above the outstretched blanket, and as she moved closer to it, he repeated his wail.

“Mi hermano, mi hermano.”

She wasn’t sure if he would let her touch his belongings, but his face was in his hands now so she moved to the blanket. With care and two fingers, she lifted one small corner of the thick wool fabric, then gasped and dropped it down, her heart pounding a nervous drumbeat in her chest.

She’d only seen, as a strange oversized reflection of her own dark hand, stiff brown fingers. Now she recognized the smell in the air, not as ordinary desert stench but the smell of desert death. Had she smelled this before? She stood up, watched the boy’s sunken face mourning for his brother. Had she seen this before? The grief, the desperation now seemed to be an ordinary sight she’d simply never stopped to observe before.

What could she say? She was lost for words, and knew the boy wouldn’t understand her even if she found them. She suddenly felt quite protective over him, knowing somehow that he was in for more trouble, and she’d do anything to keep him from it. She put one hand on his shoulder, feeling his bones tremble until her palm settled upon them. With the other hand she picked up his green pack. He’d carried it far enough, and they would have to move soon.

Published in: on July 3, 2010 at 10:36 AM  Comments (2)  
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