The following article appears in Proletarian Revolution No. 70 (Spring 2004).
The right of gays and lesbians to marry is moving to the front line in the long struggle for gay rights. The increasingly reactionary character of our ruling class, and its mounting defense of conservative social and religious institutions, dictate a showdown. Right-wing sections of the bourgeoisie, afflicted by the underlying crisis eating away at capitalism around the world, are focusing on what they see as the moral degeneration of the old order. They, and their traditional and religious followers within the petty bourgeoisie and backward sections of the working class, fear and loathe gay marriage as a threat to “family values” and the family itself. Whipping up mass patriotic and religious superstition is key to maintaining their legitimacy, and homophobia is an inevitable weapon in their arsenal.
The problem is not just open reactionaries. Even the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court, in a long-overdue decision, pointed out that mealy-mouthed alternatives like “civil unions” for same-sex couples ought not to pass constitutional muster: “Separate is seldom, if ever, equal,” the court said, echoing the U.S. Supreme Court half a century ago on school segregation. But nominally liberal and populist politicians like the Democratic Party’s front-runner John Kerry and runner-up John Edwards have fearfully embraced the “civil unions” evasion that even George W. Bush is willing to allow.
Unless gays have the legal right to marry, their equality before the law is a lie, no matter what other marriage-lite arrangements are conjured up by squirming populist politicians. As Marxists, we have no love for the repressive and hypocritical institution of marriage itself: it is a buttress for a system which not only exploits our labor but also attempts to corrupt love and every other decent human feeling on the altar of profitability. Intimate human relationships in a better world will not need the approval of the parasites in the churches and states that plague us today. Nevertheless, we recognize that many people today see no alternative, and need the personal assurance and the legal and economic protections afforded by marriage. They have the absolute right to so choose.
In the fight for gay marriage rights, we Marxists emphasize the societal and class roots of the attack. We point out that gay rights cannot go forward in a nation where all the gains made by workers, Black and Latino people and immigrants are being rolled back. The fight to defend and advance the rights of gays is linked as well to the need to defend against the present assault on the right to privacy, the right to profess Muslim beliefs and the right to protest American imperialism, all endangered by the patriotic and chauvinist claptrap. Those gay leaders who proclaim that their stress on marriage rights is a means to prove that gays are also defenders of the bourgeois family and the glories of America – and who rely on Democratic politicians to win gay rights – are leading the struggle into a dead and potentially deadly end.
Above all, we try to convince our fellow fighters that the only lasting way to achieve and defend gay liberation is through working-class socialist revolution and the overthrow of capitalism, the antiquated social idiocy that rules our lives and invades our bedrooms today.