Queer: March 2004 Archives

On page 3 of today's Washington Post the paper's New York Bureau Chief, Michael Powell, does a great job covering those within the lesbian and gay community who are sceptical of or even seriously opposed to the campaign for same-sex marriage.

If we had gotten reportage of this quality, this prominently and this timely when the AIDS epidemic first appeared 23 years ago the entire world would look very different today.

Not incidently, because so many of its most creative and energetic minds and bodies would have survived, queer activism would have created a different playing field by now, and Michael Powell's piece would itself be very different - if not unnecessary.

Today's reality however is that many of us are clamoring for equal marriage rights. But not everyone is interested in marriage, and its privileges should not be exclusive. We could instead be building new forms of relationships for everyone, and ensuring that society offer to all of its members, regardless of the nature or even the existence of affectional ties, the benefits they are due.

Powell did his homework, and the list of those he spoke to is pretty impressive. Somehow I was included [damn, you never get the quote you wanted], but I'm sure it was only because of a post I made three weeks ago.

One of the most thoughtful statements is that from Alisa Solomon.

"It's the tension between the liberationists and the assimilationists," said Alisa Solomon, a professor at New York's Baruch College and writer for the Village Voice. "Our side made it possible for more conservative gays to come out of the closet, and when they did they brought a more conservative politics and culture to our movement."

Solomon, like many gay rights activists, argues for redefining all marriages -- homosexual, heterosexual -- as civil unions. This would provide the legal protections that come with marriage, from health care to taxes to adoption, without the emotional and cultural freight. "The queer marriage movement needs a divestment campaign," Solomon wrote in the Village Voice. "The only way we will win is if the state's authority to pronounce is stripped from the ministers, rabbis, imams and priests."

And jumping back to the ghosts of dead activists - and some of their heirs, überactivist Bill Dobbs has the last word in Powell's article.
He leafed through the photos of the gay marriages these past weeks. There wasn't a nose-pierced, pink-haired, breast-tattooed transgressive transgender queen to be seen. He has a nightmare vision of what the future holds.

"We're going to just put the photo of our spouse on our desk at the law firm and represent some Fortune 500 corporation," Dobbs said. "We're not going to threaten to rearrange your finances or change your world in any way. That's not my gay movement."


In a column which appears in the print edition of The Nation this week and also on his own website Alexander Coburn tries to introduce nuance into the discussion of same-sex marriage. Like me, he's against it.

I'm for anything that terrifies Democrats, outrages Republicans, upsets the applecart. But exultation about the gay marriages cemented in San Francisco, counties in Oregon and New Mexico and some cities in New York is misplaced.

Why rejoice when state and church extend their grip, which is what marriage is all about. Assimilation is not liberation, and the invocation of "equality" as the great attainment of these gay marriages should be challenged. Peter Tatchell, the British gay leader, put it well a couple of years ago: "Equality is a good start, but it is not sufficient. Equality for queers inevitably means equal rights on straight terms, since they are the ones who dominate and determine the existing legal framework. We conform -- albeit equally -- with their screwed up system. That is not liberation. It is capitulation."

The major media outlets can't seem to find them, being so incapable of recognizing nuance, but there are apparently plenty of very queer voices out there questioning the current marriage frenzy, and Cockburn airs three of them:
"The pursuit of marriage in the name of equality", says Bill Dobbs, radical gay organizer, "shows how the gay imagination is shrivelling." Judith Butler, professor at UC Berkeley, exhibited kindred disquiet in a quote she gave the New York Times last week. "It's very hard to speak freely right now, but many gay people are uncomfortable with all this, because they feel their sense of an alternative movement is dying. Sexual politics was supposed to be about finding alternatives to marriage."

As Jim Eigo, a writer and activist whose thinking was very influential in the early days of ACT UP put it a while back, what's the use of being queer if you can't be different? "Why are current mainstream gay organizations working to strike a bargain with straight society that will make some queers less equal than others? Under its terms, gays who are willing to mimic heterosexual relations and enter into a legally-enforced lifetime sexual bond with one other person will be granted special benefits and status to be withheld from those who refuse such domestication...Marriage has no more place in efforts to achieve equality than slavery or the divine right of kings. At this juncture in history, wouldn't it make more sense for us to try to figure out how to relieve heterosexuals of the outdated shackles of matrimony?"

Although I confess I just read it now for the first time, several weeks ago Alisa Solomon wrote in The Village Voice on these same issues, emphasizing the church/state thing, and concluding:
There's a wider advantage to promoting civil unions for all [and not marriage] as the simplest and most constitutionally sound solution to the vexations over queer vows. Once queer folks' emotional need to see their love recognized is separated from the practical need for various economic and legal benefits (especially revolving around children), the community can look more clearly at what the state proffers to those civilly united—and why. Should a home with an amorous relationship at its center be any more deserving of the option to file taxes jointly than, say, a couple of single friends who have decided to set up a household together? Sure, I'd like to be rid of those extra income taxes, but I'd rather see our movement fighting for universal health care so nobody's coverage depended on having a spouse with a job with insurance benefits.

As we win this the right way—and help lead America away from establishing fundamentalism as the law of the land by getting the state out of the business of holy matrimony—we can pick up the many issues that have been the bridesmaid for almost a decade now: the rising epidemic of violence against transgender youth and the homophobia faced by LGBT elders, to cite only two. Andrew Sullivan has infamously said that once gay marriage is won, the movement can pack up and go home. On the contrary.

[image from Voyager Virtual Season Project]

but a party is a different thing altogether

I hope I have to say it only one more time.

I have no interest in getting married. I'm uncomfortable with the idea of official marriage of any kind.

A letter in the Village Voice this week expressed a reader's disgust that "gay people" now want to get married, after " . . . thousands of years of crafting the finest true alternative/outlaw society this planet has ever known, with all the deaths, suffering, joys, and triumphs that were so hard fought . . . . "

Yeah, "Gay", it's not just about settling down and making babies anymore, you know!

Barry and I have been together for twelve years. It goes without saying that as born-again atheists we certainly don't need any corporate religious cult to sign on to our commitment, but we also don't need any goverment, or any other group or individual, to interfere with what we are perfectly capable of handling ourselves, our commitment to each other.

That being said, in this very imperfect society, government does get involved in the commitments people make as couples, up to now by unjustly declaring who is entitled to the benefits it grants only to such couples. More fundamentally, governments, and especially the U.S. government, refuse, except through the conservative and archaic device of marital contracts, to provide the simple health and financial tools which individuals, couples and families need.

Yes, I'd like to be able to visit my partner in a emergency or hospital room, to be able to make medical choices for him if he is unable to do so himself, to be his heir should he pre-decease me, and to share title to our home. Someone has enumerated almost 1500 other benefits which attach to the status of legal marriage, but these do not make marriage sacred. In fact they only show how absurd and fundamentally unjust the concept is in the first place.

The solution for the crises of marriage [and there appear to be many crises] lies in its replacement by intelligent and equitable laws which can protect everyone in society equally. Marriage would become irrelevant in that best of all possible worlds. Of course there's no reason why people who chose to do so couldn't have their commitments celebrated in some religious ceremony, but the state should have no interest in those arrangements, something like its indifference to confirmations and mitzvahs right now.

Unfortunately this isn't going to happen here soon. What is happening right now is that some people want the very real civil advantages which are available only through marriage and these are being denied them discriminately. Under these circumstances of course I want to support their right to civil recognition, but I recognize the disturbing irony of a movement which may seem progressive, but whose objective is extraordinarily conservative.

It's the conservative part that still really bothers me, and doubly so because it's not likely to stop the issue of same-sex marriage from mucking-up the election even though its opponents call themselves conservative.

How did we get into this mess just months before what many think will be a referendum on the future of the planet?

[image, Bruegels's "wedding banquet", in the Prado, from Web Gallery of Art]

Peter Maxwell Davies

The great British composer Sir Peter Maxwell Davies has been appointed Master of the Queen's Music.

The Guardian site begins its report thus:

Buckingham Palace yesterday admitted that the Queen has chosen Sir Peter Maxwell Davies, a gay, self-styled "old-fashioned socialist" and republican, as the Master of her Music.

The fact that Maxwell Davies is also perhaps the pre-eminent British composer of the day appears not to have been a handicap for a job which has seen some previous musical talents overlooked in favour of justly obscure nonentities.

Although previous incumbents have included Sir Edward Elgar and Arnold Bax, the 380 year-old post inaugurated by King Charles I has also been held by the likes of Nicholas Staggins and Maurice Greene, chosen instead of Henry Purcell and George Frederick Handel.

Perhaps understandably, there is little in the Guardian article about his musical production. We have just about every recording of his music ever available in the U.S., so for us at least the music needs no introduction. The paper also neglects describing just how beautiful a man Davies is [very], but it seems to have missed little else in composing a report that succeds in being exquisitely provocative.
The composer made clear at the weekend that had the job been offered by the government he would not have accepted because of his opposition to Tony Blair and the Iraq war, which he described as the worst foreign policy decision since the crusades.

The Sunday Times quoted him as saying: "I voted for Blair twice, but never again. He has betrayed the principles of the Labour party, not just on Iraq, but on tuition fees and foundation hospitals. Yes, I'm an old-fashioned socialist and I feel utterly let-down."

His principles did not prevent him accepting a knighthood in 1987, as an honour for music, though he threatened to send it back seven years later because of plans to amalgamate London's orchestras.

He has accepted the job for 10 years, rather than for life, on the basis that it may be used to promote music, rather than for the composition of anthems and other ceremonial music for royal occasions.

A palace spokeswoman said tactfully yesterday that the post, which carries with it a small stipend, placed no obligations on its holder.

. . . .

His works have been performed all over the world and are said to be becoming more accessible to general audiences, which may come as a relief to a royal family of generally limited musical interests - the Queen paid her first visit to the Proms for 50 years last summer.

She may be relieved to know that Maxwell Davies has been known to write compositions to mark propitious events, including a lullaby for the first baby born on the Orcadian Island of Hoy for 25 years. She may be less impressed that his previously best-known work about royalty, Eight Songs for a Mad King, was a meditation on the insanity of George III.

This is also the man who composed the extraordinary opera of the Antichrist, "Resurrection", described in these excerpts from an amazing review in the NYTimes [byline uncredited]:
Begun in the early 1960s but not performed until 1987, Resurrection, with music and libretto by Mr. Davies, is one of the fiercest works of social criticism ever to come from the pen of a classical composer.

. . . .

The savage parody could easily turn preachy and heavy-handed, and it is to Mr. Davies's credit that he, like Weill, knows how to handle such material with an irreverent, comic touch. The libretto is witty, often ingenious and viciously anticlerical. (A minister sings: "For we can make the Book mean just anything we please,/And use it as a weapon to bring you to your knees,/With the promise of salvation shining on your steadfast face,/By the word of God, this Book, we can keep you in your place.")

The composer helpfully describes in clinical detail the transformation he has in mind during the metamorphosis of the patient into the Antichrist: "Despite the lack of testes, which the Surgeons removed, the Patient's penis slowly becomes erect - a huge submachine gun, directed over the audience."

. . . .

It is also a protest against the sexual conformity demanded in a Thatcherite England and a Reaganite America. A recurring theme of Resurrection is the homophobia spouted by the hypocritcal political and religious establishments. In one particularly memorable scene, three of society's supposed moral guardians - a Policeman, a Judge and a Bishop - have an unscheduled meeting in a stall of a public lavatory.

. . . .

It is impossible to listen to the opera without finding it chillingly timely. The message of Resurrection could easily be transplanted to the United States, circa 1996. But it is doubtful that it could be staged in the present [January 1996] political climate. Somehow, one imagines that Federal, state and corporate support would not be forthcoming.'

Ain't opera grand?

[image from MaxOpus]

Phil Reed, Chris Quinn, their colleagues and all kinds of friends, in front of microphones and cameras this morning at City Hall

A number of New York City Council Members today called on Mayor Bloomberg to state his position on the issue of same-sex marriages, with Council Member Chris Quinn leading the challenge:

"When Mike Bloomberg ran for office, he said he was going to be leader and not hide behind politics. Today, 793 days into his mayoral administration, we still don't know the Mayor's position on this critical civil rights issue."
Among the speakers at a press conference outside City Hall this morning were Alisa Surkis and Colleen Gillespie with their child Ella, but rivalling their profound impact were the words delivered by Council Member Phil Reed, who described how he first found out that his parents had had to go to Mexico for their mixed-race marriage. If more people understood that marriage didn't have to be described by superstition and prejudice the institution would be more popular than ever - or in the best of all possible worlds it would simply cease to exist as a legal contract, its important practical ends served better by the application of principles of equity.

Hovering over the speakers this morning were two sets of signs I had hurriedly made on Saturday night and again last night in the hope of clearing the air of the religious fanaticism which so obscures the subject of marriage in this country. [yeah, as if . . . .] One reading, "IT'S A RIGHT", was to the left of its partner which continued, "NOT A RITE". The other pleaded, "KEEP MARRIAGE CIVIL". [Barry came up with the language of the second sign. I really like its gentle alternate entreaty] Some of the questions reporters directed to the Council Members after they delivered their initial statements suggested that there might be the beginnings of an understanding that the discussion of marriage is dominated by religious cant.

Unfortunately we have a lot of work cut out for us on every issue, since in this country every discussion is dominated by religious cant.

People working for the recognition of same-sex marriage in New York will be back at the northeast corner of City Hall tomorrow, this time for a demonstration from 8am until 9:30. They will be supporting the dozens of couples who are expected to enter the Marriage Bureau in the Municipal Building across the street to ask the City Clerk for marriage licenses.

For more information see New York Marriage Now.

The media is keeping Jay Blotcher very busy these days.

He calls the New Palz area his home, and he married his boyfriend in the Village last week. That same week saw the braking of the story of his being fired as a stringer for the NYTimes [they found he had once been part of ACT UP, and I guess that's somehow a big bad].

Jay hardly ever misses a thing. Jay is a writer. Jay now has a website [set up by bloggy], and anyone interested in these stories will enjoy a visit.

[we've only been together for 12 or 13 years]

But definitely not a requirement. Marriage. Not for every couple, but it must be their choice only.

The two quickly-improvised signs pictured above were those we held while we were standing behind speakers at a press conference held below the steps of New York City Hall early yesterday afternoon. We were there along with, I guess, almost 300 others [the maximum number of the non-sports-fan public "allowed" to get anywhere near our seat of government at one time, as it turned out*] attesting to the right of all Americans to enter into marriage contracts certified by the state.

Specifically, we were challenging the mayor of the City of New York to tell the City Clerk to issue licenses to any couple requesting them. We maintain, with excellent legal opinion to support us, that the state's constitution does not restrict marriage to opposite-sex couples.

It seems that victory is inevitable. What is in doubt is when it will happen, and the manner and degree to which individual politicians will shame or honor themselves in the interim.

the media setting up before the speakers arrived

Council Speaker Miller and, starting counterclockwise from his left, Councilmembers Chris Quinn, David Yassky, Tom Duane and Phil Reed

what looked like a group of hundreds of supporters was kept from entering the grounds surrounding City Hall, but they maintained a chorus of protest in the background

* Even long before September 11 Mayor Giuliani had effectively removed the public, and in particular any public with an opinion likely to be opposed to his own, from access to the area around City Hall. Fallout from the World Trade Center disaster and a murder of a City Councilmember in chambers further compromised people's right of access to their representatives, but something of a compromise has since been worked out under the current, Bloomberg administration. Today's Newsday story on the Gifford Miller's press conference made an exceptional reference to this issue.

City Hall's security detail turned away about 100 supporters, enforcing a rule that allows a maximum of 300 people to attend a news conference. The event was peaceful and there were no arrests, although some who were standing on the street or in City Hall Park, shouted, "Let us in!"

smile addendum
Overheard while we waited for the proceedings to begin: [Two young men behind us were animatedly discussing the Judy Garland biography of films shown on television recently, but their enthusiasm was quickly redirected when they spied a certain great, breezy, white-haired activist as she approached the steps] "Oh, there's Ann Northrup! Love her!"

Well, she is a star.

This page is an archive of entries in the Queer category from March 2004.

previous archive: Queer: February 2004

next archiveQueer: April 2004