Tag Archives: defense of marriage act

Bloody Kansas

TW: racism, nativism, heterosexism

In the past few months, the southern Great Plains have become something of a flashpoint in US politics, although not with the level of violence seen prior to the US Civil War. Recently, the issue hasn’t been whether Kansas should enter the union as a free or slave state, but rather over whether the validity of indigenous governments and populations in Kansas and Oklahoma supersedes or is subject to the (White-dominated) Kansas and Oklahoma state governments.

In Oklahoma, the issue has come to light as a result of the Cheyenne and Arapaho tribes’ joint government choosing to recognize same-gender marriages, leading to three widely reported marriage. Through the sovereign tribal government, the members of those marriages are entitled to federal marital benefits. At least, they should be, but Oklahoma State Representative Sally Kern has insisted otherwise, arguing that it is “sad” that the Cheyenne and Arapaho tribes’ laws don’t “recognize what 75 percent of the voters of Oklahoma declared” which conveniently missing the point that as a sovereign tribe, Oklahoman law is moot. Technically speaking those tribes are “domestic dependent nations” which are only subject to regulation by the federal government – as a sort of quasi-vassal to the United States, not Oklahoma or any other US state.

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(The most recent couple to marry under the auspices of the tribe, Jason Pickel [L] and Darren Black Bear [R], from the above link.)

In an odd way, the quarrel isn’t actually about marriage law, since Oklahoma is not (and neither is Kansas) a state that is among those refusing to recognize the repeal of the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA). That granted same-gender couples federally-guaranteed marriage rights and at least within US military contexts full-faith-and-credit, meaning that their marriage under (say) Massachusetts law will be recognized in federal offices across the country. Oklahoma is not behaving in the manner seemingly reserved for states that previously attempted to secede (and, Indiana, the odd one out). The matter that Kern is working with to further her heterosexist opinion is her (inaccurate) belief that Oklahoman law should at least to some degree determine the laws of sovereign indigenous governments within the territory of Oklahoma.

This past Spring, something similar rocked Kansas, where Kansas State Representative Ponka-We Victors, an indigenous woman, responded to anti-immigrant rhetoric by stating that she saw the Whites who dominate Kansas state politics as “illegal immigrants” who had jeopardized the way of life for indigenous people across the continent. In short, she flipped the script and challenged the White, Kansan Secretary of State to prove his validity as a state official within the context of him using devaluing language, like “illegal”.

In the southern Great Plains, it seems that over the course of the past year many prominent political figures have begun challenging the unusual legal status of indigenous governments – both from the perspective that they may be more valid governments than the states set up by (primarily White) settlers as part of American expansionism and from those who view those state governments as more valid than tribal ones. Things may be changing in that corner of the United States in a way that might force all residents of the US to rethink the odd legal status of indigenous peoples and their political rights within our borders.

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How we still talk about Islam without talking about Islam

TW: islamophobia, sexism, heterosexism

In case you missed it, part of the response to the on-going anti-abortion legislative shenanigans in Texas was one protester searching to find a visual vocabulary for how the new policies in Texas impacted her, and dressing herself like this:


(A protester dressed in a burqa while holding the accessories of a beauty contest winner, from here.)

In a word, she donned a mock burqa. Another protester held up a sign conflating these new measures with Islamic sharia law, apparently unaware that sharia law permits abortion in many cases and is typically interpreted as merely disapproving of (not banning) abortion in other cases. That sharia and burqas were the first words that protesters grasped in trying to describe the violence that Texas’ SB5 and subsequent bills enacted on the people of Texas shouldn’t come as much of a surprise – that’s become a common part of political language in the United States.

Less than two weeks previously, former NOM spokesperson Maggie Gallagher discussed the fact that Justice Kennedy found arguments against striking down the Defense of Marriage Act unconvincing as a “fatwa” against supporters of it. A fatwa is a declared opinion from an Islamic scholar, which in systems of sharia law may be legally binding. For Kennedy’s legally relevant decision to support the liberal justices’ opinion to be considered a “fatwa”, you must technically consider him to be as much as moral and religious figure as a political one, and at that an Islamic one.

More or less, this is an established part of how people in the United States conduct their political trash talk – by inflating or explaining the gravity of an act or decision by their opposition in specifically Islamic terms. Often, these are even radically misapplied concepts, but they’re still a part of the vernacular. This is particularly common in discussing actions that are, or a person wants to be considered to be, violent. It’s become positively colloquial to refer to centers of fanatic reverence for any particular idea or person as “Meccas”, showing how these more political uses are built on and reinforce popular ideas of what Islam is like.

Again, it’s always an image of Muslims that frames them as unjust, unreasonable, and even openly hostile. This sort of language, common in discussions that have nothing to actually do with Islam, is rooted in islamophobic ideals. In short, an immovable part of how many people in the US think about themselves and their society is based in opposition to their understanding of who Muslims are and what they believe. It’s become an essential part of our cultural conception of ourselves, as an antithesis to Islam.

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The apotheosis of straight allyship

TW: sexism, heterosexism

Freddie DeBoer has become a problem.

His most recent post which caught the blogosphere ablaze with contentious argument, was about the saccharine but ultimately irrelevant depiction of Sesame Street’s Bert and Ernie as a same-gender couple having a moment after the announcement of the US Supreme Court’s decisions in Hollingsworth v Perry and United States v Windsor (which overturned California’s Proposition 8 and section 3 of the Defense of Marriage Act, respectively).


(A comic originally published here, about how many queer activist spaces like pride have become increasingly inhabited by only certain types of queer people and straight people.)

DeBoer’s argument should be immediately suspect since he is speaking on the issue of how queer people should be national represented while being straight (and cisgender) himself. He has a track record for actually silencing marginalized and oppressed groups of which he’s not a member as a means of actually proclaiming himself to be the only true advocate for the rights of the people he’s speaking over.

The form that often takes is one in which he declares someone or something else to not be serious, and consequently unable to represent a group or issue effectively, and while that’s not central to this argument, there’s an implication of it. He charges that the presentation of Bert and Ernie as a (closeted?) queer couple works with “liberal” stereotypes of queer people as (among other things) “childish” and “silly”. I’ll admit that I’m sympathetic to this view point, but DeBoer’s argument here seems to be that presentations of queer people as either of those attributes are to be struggled against.

His problem isn’t the pigeonholing of queer people – it’s pigeonholing them “wrongly”. As he argues, “I don’t think that a group that has for decades labored against a brutally oppressive regime that humiliated them, assaulted them, and systematically denied them equal rights should be analogized to imaginary characters that have been built out of felt for the edutainment of children”. This is, of course, deeply ironic coming from someone who until recently wasn’t very interested in the whole “marriage” thing since that’s assimilationist, but of course, DeBoer might be willing to talk out of both sides of his mouth at the same time. One side will be fallacious arguments about “assimilation” while another centers the struggles of queer people exclusively around marriage rights. That’s another issue, but that he can so easily switch between these supposedly antagonistic perspectives says something both about DeBoer’s queer-positive activism and the nature of those positions.

In any case, DeBoer’s whole argument seems very much like a straight guy trying to speak to queer issues like queer people do without acknowledging his own ignorance on them. The New Yorker was making a flawed statement, sure, but it was one that treated the “triviality” of a fan interpretation of Bert and Ernie’s relationship as a serious issue. Granting marriage reforms the status of “important” is something even queer individuals often have trouble doing, declaring it irrelevant compared to either other queer issues or other systemic discrimination or patterns of violence. If we want DeBoer’s support we have to remain “serious”.

Similarly frustrating, the major thrust of DeBoer’s argument was that Bert and Ernie are sexless in a way that real queer people aren’t. Sure, but the presentation of queer people (by both queer and straight people) as defined through their sex lives is something many queer people find upsetting, damaging, and even triggering. There is a discussion to be had about how popular acceptance of queer people often corresponds to the perception of them as sexual, but arguing that every presentation of queer people should push those limits polices the representation of queer people too. That’s beyond fighting fire with fire, but an example of another straight person privileging his opinions about how we should be represented in the media, just with slightly unusual opinions.

In effect, this isn’t being an ally, but co-opting a liberation movement. This isn’t about modifying the public representations of queer people so that queer people decide how they want to be viewed, but fitting the depictions of queer people to DeBoer’s (non-standard) expectations. This isn’t a thoughtful evaluation of queer people’s issues that avoids clichés of “assimilation” or “marriage before all”, but rather the mixing and matching of those two tired and inadequate perspectives.

Freddie DeBoer isn’t calling out the problem – he is the problem.

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The lack of space for queerness

Something quite terrible is going on within the struggle for queer liberation. That’s not a new idea. In 2011, Bell Hooks famously said that marriage equality was primarily rooted in expanding the number of couples that could share resources, access to healthcare, and other economic privileges, rather than actively fixing the problem that anyone lacks those resources or the ability to fully access them.

Spurred by the recent court cases in the US involving marriage laws, similar points have come up a few times. A popular response to the cissexist Human Rights Campaign’s campaign on Facebook explained that “marriage is often touted as important because it grants access to immigration, healthcare, etc. but … we really need immigration reform, universal healthcare” rather than a minimal expansion of access. In a similar vein, pictures from older protests have been shared anew which presented mutually exclusive options of legally recognizing queer marriages or dismantling the prison industrial complex.

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(“Now that I can’t plan my wedding I guess I’ll just destroy the prison industrial complex.”)

I agree that these are vital points to make about the limitations of marriage equality. Much like the enfranchisement of male-female marriages, it assists very few people immigrate, access healthcare, or avoid unreasonable incarceration. But when the right of couples to “traditionally” marry (in a romantic sense that’s not much more than a century old) is raised, it’s seldom framed as a solution to systemic injustice with dimensions related to racial, economic, and other hierarchies. Rather, marriage is in part a means of regulating custodial rights, a person’s next of kin, and ceding right of attorney in cases of medical or other emergencies.

It seems necessary to ask why the recognition of (some) queer families needs to be justified by the solution of other broad, discriminatory policies that primarily relate to what we might call other modes of oppression. Should the Civil Rights Act have had to prove that it would have positively impacted queer and genderqueer communities? Should the Equal Rights Amendment have been expected to crack down on extralegal yet widely tolerated police brutality against people of color? The need for policies to acknowledge and examine intersectionality – that is, how a person can simultaneously be genderqueer, queer, of color, and female – is obvious, and policies should be criticized and avoided that reduce inequality in one of those fields but with extreme affects in others. It’s a few degrees removed from that, however, to expect improvements in one of those territories to actively resolve historied and systemic problems in another.

And again: what has created that expectation that legally recognizing same-sex and same-gender marriages is a remotely acceptable replacement for healthcare, immigration, and public safety reforms?

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