Marriage Equality – End Goal or Own Goal?

CW: Sexual assault, homophobia, transphobia, genital mutilation

The national postal survey on marriage equality delivered a 62 per cent ‘yes’ vote after a rough two months of homophobic and transphobic smear campaigns from the conservative right wing of politics. For the many gay couples with rings now on their fingers, it means legal recognition, freedom to marry and equal treatment from their government. But marriage equality is also being celebrated as if it is the end of the fight for queer rights. This would be a dramatic misstep—and one I have seen play out.

In my home country of New Zealand, since same-sex marriage was passed four years ago, inertia has set in. Pride parades reflect nostalgically on the Gay Marriage WinTM, giving no space for further campaigning. Underlying this complacency is the assumption that discrimination and stigma are private issues, and the state is already doing everything possible to address them—that, fundamentally, the state and its institutions both work for queer people, and that queer liberation simply needs them expanded.

This is a blatantly false assumption. Beyond marriage, the state continues violence against its queer subjects in widespread and indiscriminate ways. The state licenses everyone’s gender and name at birth, and charges transgender people to change them—taxing them for being trans.

Self-defence against violent queerphobes is mostly illegal, leaving the queers solely dependent on cops—themselves known for systemic discrimination—for their protection.

Queer sex and gender education is limited in public schools and under attack. The anti-bullying Safe Schools program has been relentlessly under threat from Liberal Party hard liners, who baselessly claim it is a cover for paedophilia and communist conspiracy, while queer youth suicide reaches epidemic levels in rural towns.

In prison, trans and intersex people are invasively strip- searched, and sorted into prisons according to their coercively- assigned sex, where LGBTQI prisoners face a higher possibility of being raped. If assaulted, they are placed in solitary confinement—a practice progressively recognised as torture— ‘for their protection’.

Queer refugees are detained indefinitely in Papua New Guinea, where homosexuality attracts a 17-year prison sentence, while facing the triple threat of violence from other detainees, local New Guineans and security guards. As this happens, governmental secrecy and anti-whistleblower laws strip these survivors of legal recourse.

Trans people have little access to quality healthcare and face high, bureaucratic barriers to hormone therapy. In Victoria, legally autonomous adults need to attend numbers of state-mandated sessions with therapists, who sometimes have never met a trans person, to access medicines they already know they critically need.

And, in nearly every country, intersex people face ‘corrective surgery’ in hospitals after birth, where doctors operate on the genitalia of intersex people to make them resemble ‘normal’ penises or vaginas. These acts of genital mutilation can cause trauma in puberty, severe depression and irreversible infertility.

When queers are more likely to be unemployed, homeless, assaulted or murdered, governments everywhere are falling far short on queer issues.

Yet, because these problems need a radical, libertarian alternative (away from bureaucracies, the border-industrial complex and the prison state), and the reorienting of power within the LGBTQIA community (away from gay, cisgender men), these oppressions won’t be eradicated any time soon. The focus of mainstream queer rights is not radical self-determination; instead, it is assimilation into a palatable status quo.

Malcolm Turnbull exemplifies this status quo: the ‘yes’-voting PM who thinks that “families are the foundation of our society”. The push for marriage expands this family model and its obligations to the rainbow community. It accords gay people the right to live ‘normally’ and ‘properly’, while members of the community simply want to live.

The bitter truth is that liberation and revolution are not politically palatable. The most violent oppressions demand we resist the powers that be, not universalise them. They demand we scrutinise the discipline and control of the state, and question ‘the norm’.

The marriage equality campaign granted long-deserved freedoms to queers. But it cannot be liberative, for it does nothing to highlight institutional queerphobia; instead, it deepens these institutions’ reach. Marriage equality cannot be the end for queer rights. We need a critical, radical movement that shrinks the state, rather than reaffirming it.


This article was published in the 2018 first edition of Farrago Magazine, the University of Melbourne Student Union’s magazine.

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