Tuesday, 2 July 2013

The Year of the 'Aggressive' Homosexual.

Last week the US Supreme Court has overturned the Defence Of Marriage Act (1996) which effectively blocked the recognition of same-sex marriage. As a result California has swiftly restored same-sex marriage and it is the thirteenth state to do so. Many more states could follow the Californian example and remove the obstacles to marriage equality.

The UK has made the steps of introducing civil partnerships, as well as gay adoption and now the full legalisation of same-sex marriage. The Belgians, Danish and French have legalised same-sex marriage and it looks as though the Germans may well follow the lead. Even outside the reach of liberal democratic Europe we find Vietnam has opened a debate on its restrictions on marriage. It appears almost as though the specter of gay marriage is stalking much of the world.

Of course, these events were not without an unfair share of hysterical and down-right-mad reactions from the usual quarters of civilisation. In the UK debate stirred Conservative MP Gerald Howarth to come out (no pun intended) with the memorable line that the reform will be seen by the ‘aggressive homosexual community’ as a stepping stone to “something further”. It shouldn’t have been taken seriously, and it was rightly mocked by many. 

Howarth has a consistent record for voting against gay rights in Parliament, as well as a similarly impressive record for supporting authoritarian regimes (whether it’s Apartheid South Africa, Pinochet’s Chile or present-day Bahrain). I can’t remember if Howarth spluttered these words before or after Jeremy Irons intervened in his own special way. Still, we didn’t stand witness to far-right demonstrations at the whiff of equality and freedom.

Across the channel the French reactionary Catholic and nationalist historian Dominique Venner shot himself dead in Notre Dame. It was a protest against the establishment of marriage equality in France. This self-styled martyr for heteronormativity no doubt saw his own suicide as the first of “new, spectacular and symbolic actions to shake us out of our sleep, to jolt anaesthetised minds and to reawaken memory of our origins”. The gesture did not have the impact Mr Venner had foresaw.

The Femen organisation was soon on the scene to mock Venner’s last stand against marriage equality. The Femen activist appeared at Notre Dame topless brandishing a toy gun with the words “May Fascism rest in hell” painted onto her torso. Femen leader Inna Schevchenko told journalists “It is a message addressed to all those who support Fascism and those who have expressed sympathy for the extreme-right militant who killed himself at Notre Dame – namely Marine Le Pen.”

The radical litterateur Gore Vidal opposed gay marriage precisely because he opposed marriage as an institution and model of relationships. He once remarked “Since heterosexual marriage is such a disaster, why on earth would anybody want to imitate it?” There is some truth in the anti-assimilationist position that the normalising cause of marriage equality will not solve all problems that the gay community faces. The right to marry may not matter so much to the gay, lesbian and transgender people disenfranchised by gentrification in San Francisco, which was ironically started by gay renovators in the 1970s.

At the same time, it’s worth noting that the LGBT community has been free from divorce proceedings and the expenses incurred by them (not just legal fees, but alimony and child support). It may be the only non-homophobic line to take in opposition to marriage equality. It is compatibility with any conception of ‘natural sexual relations’ and shifts the debate away from the preservation of marriage as a pillar of a non-existent organic society.

The conservative writer Phillip Blond has argued in anti-assimilationist vein for the preservation of homosexuality as distinct from heterosexual relations and norms. To level the playing field would really be demolishing the unique aspects of the gay scene and absorbing the gay community into a hotchpotch society. The point seems befitting of conservatism as we find when John Gray writes “[Christian] Morality has hardly made us better people; but it has certainly enriched our vices.” In this way we find the queer scene can be contained as a kind of hedonic reservoir where a particular lifestyle remains enclosed to its proper place.

The push towards equality only subsumes the gay community into heterosexual society and subjects homosexuals to the norms of heterosexual relationships and nuclear families. In this line of argument, the move towards ‘sameness’ reduces the importance of the heterosexual union – and its standing as procreative – while at the same time limiting the possibility of recognising and celebrating what’s unique about homosexual couples.

It’s nothing new to point out that the establishment of formal equality leaves a whole series of other questions unanswered. Equality of this kind can be neglectful of diversity and ignorant of unevenness. The opening up for a space of married gay couples and gay families would be a step forward towards a properly liberal society. It doesn’t pose a fundamental change to the power structure of class society.

It is reformist in its offer of a more perfect liberalism where same-sex couples can marry and adopt children, thereby possibly leveling the playing field in terms of property rights, inheritance, tax incentives and may well provide stability for generations of children. The conservatives of this world should welcome the spread of marriage across a new section of society, as well as the widening of the possibilities for the family unit. And yet so many of them can’t see this, no doubt because of their deep-seated homophobia.

As the development of a liberal society is conducive for laying the groundwork for the advent of socialism we should see these reforms as necessarily improving life under capitalism. It would take more than liberal reform to achieve a fully emancipatory break with the current order. We have to keep all of this in mind if we are going to be serious. If the future will emerge from the womb of the present system then reform is not futile. Through the circumvention of liberalism’s flaws can lead to a unity of its finest elements.

Rights are certainly achievable under capitalism, but liberation doesn’t end at equality in unfree conditions. Sweeping away the old obstacles to the equality of all individuals might just hasten confrontation on the class front. And it’s not as though the issues that gay people face can be met until this hurdle has been passed. Once the playing field has been levelled to the bounds of rights then we can move to the more important matters of immiseration, dispossession and exploitation.

This article was originally posted on The Third Estate on July 2nd 2013.

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