Gay groups criticized for pursuing marriage equality when people are poor

I’d written the other day about my concern that there’s a movement growing – a fringe one, but one that’s had the support of at least one large progressive think-tank and a decently-large progressive blog – to push gay civil rights groups to drop the gay rights agenda and instead fight against poverty.

The people pushing this agenda do not want us fighting for marriage at all, or even pushing for ENDA.  They want us doing the work of traditional race and poverty groups, full time, instead of gay rights.  And that simply doesn’t make sense if you’re going to claim that you’re a gay rights organization, or a gay rights activist.

To wit: this astonishing article from Rolling Stone on July 12 of this year.  And I quote:

For years, the larger LGBT movement has received criticism for focusing on marriage equality over issues seen as more relevant to working-class people and minorities. “If you’re a waitress in Jackson, Mississippi and you’re working at a job with no healthcare and your girlfriend is working at the local Target or Wal-Mart,” asks New Orleans writer and activist Kenyon Farrow, “how is marriage going to protect you from poverty?”

Well, the same way that modern marriage laws help protect women from poverty by giving them greater property rights than they once had when the marriage dissolves.  They used to get nothing.

But let’s back up a moment.  Other minorities fought their marriage equality battle 46 years ago, culminating in the Loving v. Virginia decision of 1967.  But when we fight for ours, nearly half a century later, suddenly the marriage battle – and the civil rights battle overall (at least as it pertains to gay and trans people) is selfish and superfluous.

gay marriage prop 8 doma

Photo by ©John Aravosis.

Rolling Stone continues:

Yet Farrow and others believe there is still a real need for the LGBT community to focus more directly on bread-and-butter issues. The group Queers for Economic Justice is already doing this in New York City by fighting for rights like paid sick leave and a living wage. Working to secure the right to vote – the most basic of democratic rights – would seem clearly to fit into this category.

You’ll notice one thing missing from that new queer agenda: Anything actually queer.

We are to believe that gay rights groups should no longer fight for gay rights – and they should specifically give up on marriage equality, and probably ENDA too (ENDA isn’t going to pay your rent) – because some gay people are poor.

The thing is, if you’re poor and your civil rights aren’t a priority for you, there already exist anti-poverty organizations that are fighting an anti-poverty agenda.  It’s unclear why gay rights groups need to disband in order to fight the agenda of organizations that already exist.  How many poverty groups disbanded when Matthew Shepard was murdered? That poor young man needed a lot more than a job the night he died.

No one is saying that we won’t help the larger progressive coalition – we will, and already are.  But these folks quite literally want us to stop fighting for our civil rights, and more specifically, stop using our civil rights organizations to fight for our civil rights. They actually seem to think that we should be ashamed of the fact that we’re fighting for our civil rights.  Rights, mind you, that they already have.  (One blogger recently chastised gays for focusing so intently on the Supreme Court DOMA and Prop 8 decisions in the days immediately preceding the rulings.  We were only anticipating the greatest victory in the history of our people. How selfish of us.)

Under that logic, then why not play the same game with environment issues.  Maybe environmental groups should stop fighting the Keystone Pipeline, and more generally stop fighting global warming, because neither of those causes will help poor people get a job today. It’s time the Sierra Club and WWF gave up on the environment and devoted all of their time to poverty.

And you know what else won’t help you get a job?  Protecting a woman’s right to choose.  Or opposing the death penalty.  Or worrying about Edward Snowden and the NSA.  Or fighting to strengthen the Voting Rights Act.  Or getting guns off the street.  Or immigration reform (how is that going to help some poor lesbian couple in Appalachia find a job?)  Or being outraged over the Zimmerman verdict, for that matter – a righteous cause if there was one, but sadly one that is not going to help a minority lesbian couple pay their bills.

According to these folks, we should all give up any battle we’re fighting, and dismantle any organization fighting that battle, and redirect all of our energies to fighting poverty.

Or to put it more succinctly: Please stop working on your pet issue, so you can work on their pet issue instead.


Follow me on Twitter: @aravosis | @americablog | @americabloggay | Facebook | Instagram | Google+ | LinkedIn. John Aravosis is the Executive Editor of AMERICAblog, which he founded in 2004. He has a joint law degree (JD) and masters in Foreign Service from Georgetown; and has worked in the US Senate, World Bank, Children's Defense Fund, the United Nations Development Programme, and as a stringer for the Economist. He is a frequent TV pundit, having appeared on the O'Reilly Factor, Hardball, World News Tonight, Nightline, AM Joy & Reliable Sources, among others. John lives in Washington, DC. .

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