Workers Vanguard No. 925
21 November 2008
Reactionary Ban on Same-Sex Marriage Passes in California
Full Democratic Rights for Gays!
OAKLAND, November 15—Tens of thousands took to the streets in cities across the country today to protest the passage of Proposition 8, which overturned the legalization of same-sex marriage in California. The Spartacist League and Spartacus Youth Clubs joined in these and other protests with placards demanding: “Down with Prop 8! For the Right of Gay Marriage...and Divorce!”, “State, Church and Family: Holy Trinity of Women’s Oppression!” and “Don’t Crawl for the Democrats—Build a Workers Party!” As fighters for the socialist liberation of humanity, we are committed to full democratic rights for gays, lesbians and transgenders and support any legal advances that can be wrested from this cruelly bigoted society, including the right to marry. Since the November 4 elections, there have already been several legal challenges filed against Proposition 8, but the question still remains if the 18,000 same-sex marriages in California carried out in the last few months will be nullified.
Ballot initiatives banning same-sex marriage were also passed in Florida and Arizona on November 4, and more than 40 states now have bans on same-sex marriage. But California, where the state Supreme Court had legalized gay marriage last May, and which is seen as a modern-day Sodom and Gomorrah by anti-gay bigots, was the central target in this offensive against gay rights. An unholy alliance of the Mormons, the Catholic church and evangelical Christians went on a rampage to get Proposition 8 passed.
An article in the Salt Lake Tribune (26 October) reported that Mormon church leaders “tapped every resource, including the church’s built-in phone trees, e-mail lists and members’ willingness to volunteer and donate money. Many California members consider it a directive from God and have pressured others to participate.” Millions of dollars were poured into television and radio ads proclaiming that if Prop. 8 failed, homosexuality would be taught in schools, and churches would be forced to carry out gay marriages. Recognizing that with Barack Obama’s candidacy black voters would turn out at the polls in record numbers, a big push was made to find allies among conservative black Baptist preachers. A full-page ad in the Los Angeles Sentinel, the city’s major black newspaper, urged a yes vote on Proposition 8 to restore “the sanctity of marriage.”
But perhaps the most effective campaign tool to boost Proposition 8 was making “robocalls” to people’s cell phones with recordings of Obama addressing a crowd with the declaration: “I believe marriage is a union between a man and a woman. Now, for me as a Christian, it is also a sacred union.” While proclaiming that he did not support Proposition 8 because it was “unnecessary,” Obama’s opposition to gay marriage is a direct echo of Bush and other fundamentalist Republican yahoos. This is hardly a first for the Democrats. Bill Clinton signed the 1996 Defense of Marriage Act that pronounced, “The word ‘marriage’ means only a legal union between one man and one woman as husband and wife.” In the same year, he signed the “Personal Responsibility and Work Opportunity Reconciliation Act,” part of his ending “welfare as we know it” and consigning millions of impoverished women to the scrap heap.
Bigotry against gays flows from the repressive institution of the family, the root of the patriarchal subjugation of women that ensures both the “rightful” inheritance of property for the bourgeoisie and the raising of the next generation of wage slaves. The family is a key prop for the maintenance of capitalist rule, instilling conservative obedience to the “values” of bourgeois morality. Homosexuality is deemed “sinful” because it challenges the strictures of the monogamous, heterosexual family.
As communists, we fight for every possible democratic right, every form of social and political equality, including the right of gays to marry. At the same time, we recognize that gay marriage will not end the deadly prejudice and violence against gays, lesbians, bisexuals and transgenders in this deeply homophobic and bigoted society. We fight for a society in which no one is forced into a legal straitjacket in order to get medical benefits, visitation rights, custody of children, immigration rights or any of the other privileges this capitalist society grants to those who are embedded in the traditional “one man on one woman for life” legal mold.
While organizers of the protests against Proposition 8 spoke of a revival of the 1969 Stonewall Rebellion, that generation’s calls for “free love” have now been replaced by Democratic and Republican Party fund-raisers, PTA meetings and weddings. This shift toward “holy matrimony” doesn’t sit well with everybody. As the great American writer Gore Vidal commented, “Since heterosexual marriage is such a disaster, why on earth would anybody want to imitate it?”
In the quest for bourgeois “respectability,” Gay Pride Day organizers have welcomed contingents of gay cops who spend a good part of their time busting “sex offenders.” These organizers have banned the North American Man/Boy Love Association (NAMBLA) from their marches, helping to promote the “anti-pedophilia” hysteria that targets all gays (as well as anyone else who engages in intergenerational sex). Today the protests against Proposition 8 came wrapped in red-white-and-blue appeals to “family values,” presenting same-sex marriage as just another take on such inane and insipid Americana as Leave It to Beaver or The Donna Reed Show.
We oppose all laws that enable the bourgeois state to regulate consensual sexual activity, including those that allow the government to exercise social control under the guise of “protecting children.” We are against reactionary “age of consent” laws that conflate consensual sex with violent crimes. We advocate the concept of effective consent, which means that as long as both parties consent to the act, nobody, least of all the state, has any right to tell them they can’t do it. We fight for free abortion on demand; if you can get pregnant then you should be able to get an abortion without parental consent, waiting periods or any other restrictions. (It’s a good thing that Proposition 4 in California, which would have restricted access to abortion for minors, was defeated.)
Placards at a November 12 New York City protest attacked Mormons for polygamy with slogans reading, “I Don’t Need 5 Wives, Just 1 Husband.” This plays directly into the hands of the reactionary witchhunters. Mormons should be left alone to practice their religion and live their private lives however they see fit. Our position for the right of gay marriage, like the rights of Mormon polygamists, stems from our opposition to government interference with the right of individuals to effect whatever consensual relations they see fit (see “Mormon Polygamists—Leave Them Alone!” WV No. 916, 6 June).
Racism and Anti-Gay Bigotry
With exit polls showing that some 70 percent of blacks in California voted in favor of Proposition 8, the media has been saturated with discussions over a “gay-black divide.” Blacks have been accused of turning their backs on “civil rights,” while one black lesbian in a column in the Los Angeles Times (8 November) opined that “white gays could afford to be singularly focused, raising millions of dollars to fight for the luxury of same-sex marriage.” Such vicious sectoralism—pitting oppressed sectors against one another—plays right into the hands of the capitalist rulers, who use morality and religion to perpetrate the oppression of black people and gays. According to one report, the “N” word was obscenely hurled against blacks who joined a protest against Prop. 8 in Los Angeles.
Blacks in general have the fewest illusions in American “democracy,” and black workers are historically among the most militant in the proletariat. However, religiosity among blacks and the strong influence of the church also promote extremely backward and reactionary views on issues like abortion and gay marriage. In our article “For the Right to Gay Marriage!” (WV No. 821, 5 March 2004), we noted: “In its extreme, one gets the phenomenon of a black Baptist minister, the Rev. Gregory Daniels, who declared, ‘If the K.K.K. opposes gay marriage, I would ride with them’.” That would indeed be a short ride; in the U.S. black people are always a central target of the very same forces that mobilize in opposition to abortion rights, gay marriage and any expression of social liberation.
As it is with just about everything else in America, marriage law is deeply entwined with racism. For black slaves, legal marriage was out of the question, and even after the victorious Civil War freed the slaves, many states still banned black-white marriage. In 1958, Mildred Loving, a black woman, and her white husband, Richard, were sentenced to a year in prison in Virginia for the “crime” of “miscegenation.” On the 40th anniversary of the 1967 Supreme Court decision striking down Virginia’s ban on interracial marriage, Mildred Loving made a powerful statement in defense of racial and sexual equality for all:
“I believe all Americans, no matter their race, no matter their sex, no matter their sexual orientation, should have that same freedom to marry. Government has no business imposing some people’s religious beliefs over others. Especially if it denies people’s civil rights.”
The reactionary “family values” crusade behind Proposition 8, pushed from the pulpits of white and black churches, as well as by the Catholic church among Latinos, is aimed not only against gays. On the contrary, it has long been a codeword for anti-black racism among Democrats and Republicans alike, blaming “welfare mothers” and “deadbeat dads” for the horrific conditions of life for blacks in the inner cities. This was echoed by Obama in his Father’s Day speech this year, which reviled black men as absentee fathers who have undermined the family. Small wonder that so many are “missing in action” when one in three black men are either in prison, on probation or parole on any given day, many of them rounded up under the racist “war on drugs.”
Of course, there are many, and qualitative, differences between black oppression and gay oppression in this society. As we wrote in “Marriage and the Capitalist State” (WV No. 824, 16 April 2004), racial oppression, the bedrock of American capitalism, has been:
“the great fault line in American politics since the founding of the nation on the backs of black slaves. The ruling class consciously manipulates racism to weaken the proletariat. The fight for black freedom will be central to the proletarian revolution in the U.S. For that revolution to succeed, the working class, including its strategic black component, must understand its historic task is to abolish class society in order to open the road to human freedom for everyone. And that most certainly includes gays—and everyone else who, however self-defined, rebels against the straitjacket social roles imposed by the capitalist ruling class.”
Sexuality is not in itself a political question. It is the bourgeoisie which politicizes this issue, victimizing those who do not fit the norms as established by the family, church and state. We carry forward the program of Lenin and Trotsky’s Bolshevik Party, which led the working class to power in the 1917 Russian Revolution. The early Bolshevik regime did all it could to implement the promise of women’s emancipation, taking measures toward socializing the functions of the family. Among its first acts was the legalization of abortion and homosexuality. To create genuinely free and equal relations among people in all spheres, including sex, requires nothing less than the destruction of capitalist class rule and the creation of a communist world.