We have witnessed the DUP quash the third attempt to legalise queer marriage, bigoted ‘Christian’ bakers refusing to follow through with a service they advertised because it went against their “deeply held beliefs” (not to mention all the other services they provide that do go against their beliefs). This was followed by the the DUP attempting to bring in a 'Conscience Clause' to legalize and institutionalize homophobia; to make it legal to refuse service to someone because of their sexuality. The above examples are only a few of the homophobic incidents that have taken place recently.
The resistance and the fightback from these incidents must be queer-led and supported by our straight allies. Moreover, it should be noted that incidents like the above push us into a defensive stance; as opposed to an offensive one.
In times of relative quietness you would think that homophobia would be minimal here, but that’s not the case. Society views us as “other”, “abnormal” and ultimately as a group of people less-deserving. These views are cultural norms, and if they did not exist we would not have attacks such as those from bigoted bakers, and the DUP would not dare to utter a word about any 'conscience clause'.
In our society we are fed certain narratives by the media and given ideas of what “normal” is. Normal is a family with a married mother and father, a man in a position of power, white people in a higher class than non-white people, able-bodied people, straight people etc., the list is non-exhaustive. What we have as a result, is a society that genuinely believes these things that are perceived to be normal are “right” and “just” and therefore will not tolerate any deviation from the norm.
There is a comfort (for some, perhaps even most people) in “being normal”, and what we have in mainstream queer politics is LGBTQ+ people wanting to “normalise” their own circumstances and to assimilate into this oppressive society. This is done through a movement for marriage equality, and the calling to sweep homophobic attacks under the rug and make them illegal (rather than tackling the issue of attacks – physical or other – head on)
Marriage is a reinforcement of the nuclear family. Anarcha-feminism (or queer anarcha-feminism as it is often labelled) views the nuclear family as the basis of all oppressive authoritarian systems. The message that the child learns from their father (who is generally seen as the disciplinarian), from their teacher, to their boss, is to obey and not to question.
Many rightly view marriage as a bourgeois and patriarchal tradition designed to trap women and to concentrate wealth, power and privilege through family lines and therefore through inheritance. While marriage has gotten better for the wife in the sense that the husband is less seen as her master and she his slave who can be raped by him with impunity, the fundamental character of marriage remains nonetheless unchanged. It is a tool of regulation; regulation of labour supply, maintaining a class society, and its boundaries (as most people marry within their socio-economic class).
As opposed to fundamentally changing marriage and what it stands for, gay marriage will merely reinforce it, and concentrate more wealth into the family ties of the already privileged queer couples who simply wish to be like their hetero counter-parts.
The Third World Gay Liberation Manifesto says it best however when it says that:
“We want the abolition of the institution of the bourgeois nuclear family. We believe that the bourgeois nuclear family perpetuates the false categories of homosexuality and heterosexuality by creating sex roles, sex definitions and sexual exploitation. The bourgeois nuclear family as the basic unit of capitalism creates oppressive roles of homosexuality and heterosexuality ... It is every child’s right to develop in a non-sexist, non-racist, non-possessive atmosphere which is the responsibility of all people, including gays, to create.”
While the fight for queer marriage is on, however, many activists will fight for it and not vote against it, because its absence hurts members of our community and their families. Some of us resent doing this as we feel our energy should be spent tackling the problems and injustices that our society propagates against the oppressed instead of fighting for the right to enter into an oppressive institution.
Let’s return to the case of Ashers and the problems with equality legislation. Laws are ineffective at preventing crime by jailing people and letting the root of the problem fester. In the case of Ashers specifically, the equality legislation did not make an appearance until after the damage was done, and by that point it was too late, and its existence has not caused the McArthurs (the family who own Ashers) to change their stance; they still remain unrepentant bigots.
Whether or not Ashers get away with picking and choosing who can avail of their services (which are advertised to all with no restrictions or conditions attached) and deciding which parts of the Bible they would like to adhere to we have got to stop depending on their laws to protect us. We should not want their laws – which can turn on us at a drop of a hat – to include us in their flawed code of ethics, the same code of ethics that allows for countless injustices to take place every day.
Participation by those who do not fit the criteria of straight, white, able-bodied, wealthy, male, etc, in the same old and rotten institutions that have worked against us and to our detriment, will not lead to true liberation or equality but will actually ensure further oppression and exploitation - despite any benefits for some.
However in the south we find ourselves facing a imminent referendum on marriage equality, which the hardline religious right are opposing as part of their program of maintaining multiple oppressions. A no vote in that context would be disastrous, serving only to entrench homophobia. Therefore despite the profound reservations expressed here we are campaigning for a Yes to Marrage Equality vote.
Assimilation is boring and it is not liberating. We should not be begging for crumbs at the table - we should tear the table apart, and use it for kindling while we fight for a better world; a world in which all are free, not simply those who can pay for it.
Words: Fionnghuala Nic Roibeaird