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Chicago activists argue the future of the gay marriage fight

Tuesday, March 16, 2010 Written by Matt Simonette - Gay Chicago Magazine - LINK

GLN permalink 3-16-2010

CHICAGO – With frustrating setbacks in Maine and California, among others, GLBT activists have been questioning the time and money the community has invested in same-sex marriage equality.

The direction that battle will now take was the subject of a lively debate at Columbia College March 13. The talk between Yasmin Nair, a member of Gender JUST and a number of other organizations, and Andy Thayer, a co-founder of Gay Liberation Network, was part of the Equality Across America conference held March 12-14.

At the beginning of the discussion, Nair said it was about time the topic was actually debated among activists on the Left. “This was a conversation that should have taken place in 2000,” she said, later asserting that the same-sex marriage fight was usurping the energy, time and money of the community. Nair pointed to last year’s referendum in Maine for an example. Concerned organizations and individuals poured millions into trying to prevent the state’s marriage law from being repealed. They failed, and that money, Nair argued, could likely have been better spent elsewhere in Maine, which has long been ridden with poverty that has surely affected its GLBT citizens.

According to Nair, a number of activists, herself included, “have had the experience of being told by organizations, ‘you will not get the money if you don’t focus on gay marriage.’”

Thayer countered that many in the community believe that marriage equality is a matter of self-determination.

“As a street activist, I’m interested in the people power of this issue,” he said.

“These are people who thought that, for their material needs, they needed to do this.”

He pointed out that so much of the activism stemmed from the community’s opponents in the religious right going on the offensive against any prospect of legal equality for gays.

“This was a battle that was chosen for us, like it or not,” Thayer said. He added that this discrimination by the government further perpetuated and justified anti-GLBT violence.

“If government and churches say it’s okay to discriminate, other people will discriminate with a baseball bat,” Thayer said.

Nair later countered, however, that the community has all too often let its agenda be set by opposing forces from the Right. “Can we stop being defined by what the Right is doing?” she asked. “Every time Fred Phelps shows up, we just need to ignore him.”

During the talk, each commented on the oft-repeated slogan used by marriage activists, “If you don’t like gay marriage, don’t get one.”

For Nair, the prospect of gay marriage diminishes possibilities of individual choice. She mentioned Connecticut and Massachusetts, where she said many unmarried partner benefits had been eliminated by businesses once gay marriage became available.

“If you live in Connecticut or Massachusetts, you have to get married,” Nair said.

But to Thayer, the slogan only serves to reinforce an individual’s right to have all options available to them.

“I would hope that we would want people to determine for themselves whether they want (marriage) or not,” he said.


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