Prop 8 - gay marriage, gender oppression and political confusion
For communists, the gay marriage issue is a no brainer, but not really useful. Opposing oppression means we oppose restricting marriage and the rights that go along with it to certain groups of people. But it's not an issue communists will focus on to organize around as a reform for the petit-bourgeoisie. However, we do want to talk to people about this struggle because the pro-gay rights movement is not effectively attacking gender oppression, while the most oppressed have largely opposed the movement, often for the wrong reasons. A discussion is useful to win over those radicals who are in the gay-rights movement for the right reasons, while discouraging incorrect reactions by the oppressed.
Proposition 8, the ballot initiative in California that amended the state constitution to ban same sex marriage this year, is a fundamentally reactionary initiative that takes away rights from a group of people based on gender. While we can clearly say that Prop 8 is wrong, we did not spend time campaigning against it because our priorities right now are around fighting for rights for the oppressed, and as a group overall we do not count queer Amerikans as part of the world's oppressed. And the campaign against Prop 8 was so focused on what is necessary to rally a majority of Amerikan citizens against this proposition, they avoided useful education about gender oppression (because that is what was necessary to win over as many Amerikans as possible). We are pleased to see so many people without much previous political experience taking to the streets and the churches to protest passage of Proposition 8, as it is good to have people getting involved in political actions, speaking out against mis-education, and learning from this activism. As an exposure of religious anti-science and religious influence on politics, Prop 8 has been serving a good educational purpose for the public.
MIM has long talked about sexuality as a part of gender, and oppression against people based on sexual orientation as a part of gender oppression. But we are also clear that in imperialist countries, citizens enjoy gender privilege relative to the rest of the world. This is partly because gender is so tied up with class and nation privilege, and partly because of the gender strand of oppression that grants First World men and wimmin things like access to contraceptive devices tested on Third World men and wimmin, among other privileges. Further, marriage is not a matter of life or death for most people. The exception is for immigrants seeking legal residence in the U.$., ironically the one of only two rights associated with marriage that state-sanctioned civil unions can not offer (the other is the ability to file federal taxes jointly). Since marriage is not a question of economics or survival for most people, this is more about shuffling around rights within the labor aristocracy and petit-bourgeoisie.
The attention that Proposition 8 has received across the country relative to other propositions is telling. While marriage rights are not a matter of life and death, or even a significant quality of life question for most people, there were two ballot initiatives in California related to prisons that are far more immediate to the freedom and rights of the oppressed in the state. Proposition 5 would have provided expanded and improved drug treatment for people convicted of drug offenses, reducing the prison population and helping people with drug problems. It failed overwhelmingly. This proposition was demonstrably cheaper and healthier for people than prisons. But there has been no public outcry against its failure. Conversely, Proposition 9 passed, taking away prisoners rights to parole hearings and decreasing opportunities for early release. Again, an expensive proposition for the state, and demonstrably bad for the people as longer prison terms do not result in better citizens on the streets.
The prison initiatives have an impact on national oppression while the marriage ban impacts gender. It is important that we not ignore gender oppression when focusing on national oppression. But we do need to recognize that national oppression is the principal contradiction in the U.$. And the effects of this oppression are much more pressing than marriage. They relate to family livelihood, education, and fundamental freedom as more and more Blacks and Latinos are locked up in prison.
Our criticism of the No-on-8 campaign comes back to their goal. Right now the vast majority of Amerikans oppose gay marriage. So by focusing on this one reform within the imperialist system, the No-on-8 people had to pander to this majority by avoiding discussion of real issues of gender oppression or making any connections to national oppression. A campaign that provided people with more correct and useful educational material might have had an even lesser chance of winning, but at least it would have been a progressive use of the millions of dollars spent on this campaign.
Religion is anti-science
Prop 8 does give us the opportunity to point out clearly why it is not always good to be on the side of the majority. As with the case of the economic interests of Amerikan citizens, currently the gender interests of Amerikan citizens related to gay marriage are reactionary for the majority. In fact, California is unusually progressive on this issue - virtually every other state except Massachusetts would have passed this ballot initiative without a fight. And other states did pass even more restrictive bans on gay people without the public backlash now being seen in California. This means that we don't currently have the majority on the right side of this question. For an issue like this that is about rights within the petit-bourgeoisie we expect that in the long term it will be resolved correctly. But this issue does clearly demonstrate some problems with political education under imperialism, most notably the role played by religion in promoting mysticism and anti-science.
Religion plays a big role in why Amerikans care so much about gay marriage. The Mormon church convinced its members to donate millions of dollars to the campaign for Prop 8. Other churches joined the alliance for Prop 8 and also worked hard to get it passed. It is the irrationality of religion that pushes ridiculous political positions like teaching creationism in schools, condemning gay people to hell and denying them the ability to get married, and continuing assertions about the supremacy of white people, men, and just about any religion but Islam.
No one can really articulate a good reason why marriage should be reserved for only certain people. Some religious people try to tie it to procreation, but if that were really the case then we should have tests for fertility before allowing anyone to get married, and perhaps should require couples to get divorced if they don't produce children. We'd also have to deny adoptive parents access to marriage, even if they are straight. Some religious zealots claim that gay marriage will threaten their marriage, though no one seems to be able to point to any disasters for straight families in Massachusetts where gay couples have been marrying for a few years now. Fundamentally this debate about marriage is about religious people's feelings. They don't feel comfortable with gay marriage and they feel it would denigrate their marriage. Hopefully all those No-on-8 activists are seeing clearly why feelings should not be a part of politics.
It is one's subjective feelings that lead a gay amerikan to see Prop 8 as the most important issue. By putting this as their top priority, they are saying they are willing to do what it takes to win, like even go to war with a Third World country. And unfortunately, what is essentially a fight for equality, easily slides into a fight against the oppressed because of the context in which the battle is going on. While wimmins' rights has been a much more common cry of the anti-Islam movement, there are many examples of rabid pro-gay, pro-imperialist invasion propaganda.
The Mormon church is holding back progress with their mysticism, the Taliban is hacking away at imperialism with theirs and the difference is nationality. Really it is a scientific approach to organizing and military strategy that is behind the Taliban's success, but the mysticism is still there, and the gender aristocracy has been attacking it for a decade. This is why we call on the gay rights movement to take up dialectical materialism, before they do more to mobilize the already rabid anti-Islam movement in this country.
As we stated, the no-on-prop 8 movement not only got the national question wrong, but they messed up on gender too by pandering to gender aristocracy paternalism. The Prop 8 supporters ran a lot of TV ads claiming that kids were going to be taught about gay marriage in elementary school if gay marriage was not banned. This scare tactic apparently worked as polls showed public opinion shifted to support Prop 8 after the TV ads started running. Rather than counter this with ads that deny children will learn about gay marriage as the No-on-8 campaign did, we would say that it would not be a bad thing for kids to learn about gay marriage in school at least to the extent that they learn anything about marriage. Not only will the no-on-prop 8 movement sacrifice the oppressed nations in California or the Middle East, but they bolster the patriarchal systems of oppression against their own children in order to win this privilege for a small elite group.
Demographics of the majority
Another important aspect of Prop 8 and the institution of marriage is the position of President-elect Barack Obama and the Democratic Party. The Palin/Biden Vice Presidential debate saw the two candidates sharing a few moments of unity, the most notable around their shared conviction that marriage should only be between a man and a woman. In reality younger politicians like Barack Obama probably don't care about the definition of marriage, but mainstream political parties have to take positions on issues like this that a majority of Amerikans will support. And a vast majority of Amerikans oppose gay marriage.
This put a lot of Obama supporters in an awkward position when the Prop 8 campaign started robo-calling voters playing a recording of Obama stating that he believes marriage should be only between a man and a woman. Obama did come out against Prop 8 in the end, but for technical reasons, not because he supports gay marriage. All those California democrats who went for Obama clearly did not vote against Prop 8.
In fact exit poll results and studies on who voted for Proposition 8 show that some traditionally "progressive" (read: voting democrat) parts of the city of San Francisco voted for Prop 8 while some areas that are more traditionally "conservative" (read: voting republican) overwhelmingly opposed Prop 8. This should be no surprise when we realize that class and nation are far more important considerations in general in people's political views under imperialism today. Wealthy white people don't mind giving marriage rights to gay Amerikan citizens, but they are not going to let those Black drug users out of prison. The flip side of this is that oppressed nations in Amerika had a hard time seeing the importance of opposing Prop 8 and generally voted in favor of the marriage ban.
Many oppressed people even take a reactionary approach to the issue. "If rich white people are cool with this, it must just be another attempt by them to corrupt our youth." This negates the progressive character of this battle in our given context. So, while we must defend the right to marry for gays to counter this confusion among the oppressed, it is not a campaign that will make any serious blows against oppression at this time.
Gender oppression is part of imperialism
The anti-imperialist struggle involves fighting against class, nation and gender oppression. We have to pick our battles to have the greatest impact on ending oppression and avoid inadvertently promoting white nationalism or supporting causes just because they sound progressive. In the case of Proposition 8, greater gender equality under imperialism is generally a progressive goal. But it is not something that will get us closer to an end to all class, nation and gender oppression at this time.
When we fight for reforms within imperialism, like the battle to end censorship of mail we send to prisoners, we do so for two reasons: 1. Education by exposing the reactionary policies of the imperialists, and 2. gaining some room for the oppressed to survive and/or organize. Only the overthrow of imperialism and establishment of socialism under a dictatorship of the proletariat will move us significantly towards the end of class, nation and gender oppression.