Over the last decade the campaign for same sex marriage rights has taken centre stage in the struggle to end LGBTIQ oppression. There remains a major disconnect between the major parties and popular opinion, and the issue is seen by many as a legal barrier to social progress.
At the moment it seems the movement for LGBTIQ rights is treading water, waiting for one of the major parties to do an about-turn and lift the ban on same-sex marriage. It is likely that one of the major parties will eventually adopt the issue as their own in a bid to win favour with voters.
We have already seen this happen with governments overseas, as well as locally with a significant section of the corporate world. In the same way that big business has exploited public sentiment about environmental sustainability through “greenwashing”, so too has business attempted ride the popularity of same-sex marriage with “pinkwashing”. By co-opting symbols of popular movements, like the rainbow flag of the LGBTIQ movement, these businesses hope to generate a positive image that can cloak other exploitative and unethical practices.
The positive side of this is that it is the product of the decades of work by LGBTIQ activists in winning a majority of people to support the movement for LGBTIQ rights. If it wasn’t popular, big business wouldn’t be trying to get in on the action.
But it must be remembered that during the Stonewall riots, or the early years of the Sydney Mardi Gras, or when it was still common for police to brutally raid gay clubs, big business was not entering floats into gay pride parades or running full-page advertisements in support of the victims of homophobic police violence.
It’s often the case that when a radical idea or demand becomes accepted and adopted by the mainstream, the radicalism that brought the issue to the fore is forgotten.
Throughout the years the message of ending police violence against those who don’t conform to societal norms, of demanding the government not interfere with people’s personal affairs, and of challenging the centrality of the nuclear family structure and traditional gender roles have been replaced with inane notions about ‘love conquering all’ and the promotion of marriage itself as the pinnacle of LGBTIQ liberation.
While we must keep fighting to win marriage rights, winning will not end the oppression of LGBTIQ people. It will not magically redefine family structures and gender norms, and it will not hold to account those institutions that have intruded upon and committed violence against LGBTIQ individuals.
Whether married or not, LGBTIQ people will still find themselves stuck in a brutally unequal society. The effects of the global financial crisis have led business to demand austerity policies from government. This has meant cuts to wages and cuts to public spending on social services that working class people rely upon.
While many LGBTIQ people around the world have, for the first time, the choice to marry, they are also losing access to affordable housing, decent education and public healthcare.
The narrow-focus on personal choices like marriage, rather than structural inequalities that exacerbate people’s experience of racism, sexism and homophobia, actually suits those in power. At the end of the day, both major parties can tolerate same-sex marriage. In fact, it is likely that legalising same sex marriage in Australia would boost some parts of the economy. It would also take some pressure off elites in a time when the population is becoming increasingly angered by budget cuts and eroding democratic rights.
The co-option of the marriage equality campaign has coincided with the dropping of radical demands needed to materially improve the lives of LGBTIQ people. There is a class divide between those that want marriage equality because it is the only thing denied to them, and those who see it as an important symbol of a broader, everyday oppression they face.
As socialists, we need to continue to raise the many ways capitalism oppresses LGBTIQ and other working class people in order to maintain an increasingly unequal system. These oppressions are both universal and systemic, and the fight for genuine LGBTIQ liberation will only be strengthened by increasing the scope of what we are fighting for.
By Toby Dite