Canadian queers can marry! Now queer politics can move on

Bill C-38, which extends marriage rights to gays and lesbians passed today by considerable margin in favour (158 to 133 votes). While I tend to agree with radical critiques of gay and lesbian marriage (I agree with radical critiques of heterosexual marriage), this is a victory for gay and lesbian rights in Canada. Queer critics of gay marriage, like Jean Bobby Noble, caution that the struggle for gay and lesbian marriage actually re-entrenches heteronormative conceptions of "love" and "community" that support capitalism, not to mention domesticating transgressive sexuality:

"This inclusion of same-sex spouses could be construed as a way to attempt to stabilize this socially constructed notion of the family, not just as a supposedly emotional centre but also as one of the success stories of capitalism.” (Noble, quoted by Susan Thomson in "The queer argument against marriage" in rabble news, February 13, 2004).

The push to extend state recognition to queer unions hardly seems a fitting conclusion to the gay liberation movement -- which at its best politicized the transmission of AIDS in the gay community as a function of homophobia; resisted heteronormativity and theorized lesbian existence as a space in which to imagine women's lives as productive and independent of men's; and revealed the contingency of gender relations based on the heterosexual contract. What might queer theory after gay and lesbian marriage look like? What might queer politics after gay and lesbian marriage look like?

Well...oddly, liberated. Liberated from the yoke of what has been the "flagship cause" of most mainstream gay organizations: namely, the struggle for gay and lesbian marriage. Now that this right, considered basic by the state, has been duly extended, queer politics might well (and really should) turn its attention to other issues: like resisting the feminization of poverty, which affects lesbians, especially racialized lesbians; like drawing connections between the homophobia that allowed HIV-AIDS to rage through the gay community (and named this so-called "gay plague" an act of god) and the racism and neocolonial interests that allow the AIDS epidemic to ravage Africa; like mobilizing with the trans community for access to sex-reassignment surgeries, and for improved, safer, technologies of self-transformation, for the de-segregation of gendered public spaces, like bathrooms; and like just generally kicking heteronormative ass (conservative party leader, Stephen Harper's ass is most prominently overdue for a good kicking).

I believe in the universal and full recognition of all human beings as human beings: I just don't think the capitalist state can ever achieve this; it is not in its design. As long as the capitalist state exists, so too will an excluded population exist, within or outside its borders; so too will there persist material inequality and class exploitation; so too will informal and formal relations of "race" and gender oppression continue to structure our lives. That doesn't mean I oppose gay marriage (at least no more than I oppose heterosexual marriage, and actually, far less) -- I'm just happy this battle for state recognition has been won (Liberal prime minister Paul Martin's self-congratulatory smirk notwithstanding) so that queer politics can move on, hopefully in more radical directions. I don't want to spoil the celebrations, but I do want to strike a note of caution: queers should not be lulled into complacency or into a false-sense of security by this show of state "tolerance". We need a materialist queer critique of this victory for queer politics -- but that can wait until after the party.


Anonymous toni lawson said...

i feel bad for the queers!!!

1:07 p.m.  

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