by Andrew Walden (Originally posted June 25, 2010)
Do you think that gay marriage advocates just want ‘equality’--they just want to have same-sex marriages made legally equivalent to traditional marriage?
According to the activists themselves, you’re wrong.
Beyond Marriage, a widely supported 2006 “strategic vision” statement by leaders of the LGBT movement, academics, journalists and leaders of the religious left, sets the goal of establishing legally recognized polyamorous “families” founded on relationships which include, “households in which there is more than one conjugal partner” and “Queer couples who decide to jointly create and raise a child with another queer person or couple, in two households”.
HB444—which opens marriage-equivalent civil unions to both same-sex and opposite-sex two-person couples is a further step “beyond marriage”—a process which began with Hawaii’s Reciprocal Beneficiaries law.
As the signers explain:
It follows in the best tradition of the progressive LGBT movement, which invented alternative legal statuses such as domestic partnership and reciprocal beneficiary. We seek to build on these historic accomplishments by continuing to diversify and democratize partnership and household recognition. We advocate the expansion of existing legal statuses, social services and benefits to support the needs of all our households.
We call on colleagues working in various social justice movements and campaigns to read the full-text of our statement “Beyond Same-Sex Marriage: A New Strategic Vision,” and to join us in our call for government support of all our households.
Hawaii-related signers include Robin Nussbaum (now relocated to SUNY Oneonta), a close associate of transsexual Hawaii Board of Education member Kim Coco Iwamoto. Nussbaum was the Gay Liberation Program Coordinator for the Hawaii AFSC and facilitator of the “Rainbow Revolutionaries Youth Group”. Together with Iwamoto, Nussbaum worked to win BoE support for mandated Gay-Straight Alliance clubs in Hawaii High Schools and attempted to drive out the military. Mr Iwamoto is a foster parent of ‘transgender children’ who have been taken from their ‘transphobic’ parents.
Another signer is Abbie Illenberger, national Political Director of hotel workers’ union UNITE HERE! UNITE HERE! Local 5 was instrumental in electing Iwamoto to the BoE and this year marched along with Gubernatorial candidate Neil Abercrombie and convicted thief Mike Golujuch (aka “BitchBearHawaii”) in the June 6 Waikiki Gay Pride Parade. Unite Here Local 5 members carried signs reading “Sleep with the right people”—the slogan of UNITE HERE’s national alliance with homosexual activists.
A third signer with a Hawaii connection is Kenneth R. Haslam MD of Maryland, who is “Founding member, Unitarian Universalists for Polyamory Awareness.” (Polyamory = multiple sex partners.) The Honolulu First Unitarian church, where Barack Obama once attended Sunday school, is home to twice-monthly meetings of sixty-member polyamory group “Pali Paths” (a play on Poly Paths). The World Polyamory Association unites polyamory activists who meet monthly in 270 US cities and calls Pali Paths “One of the most active groups in the country.”
Honolulu First Unitarian is a central organizing hub for Hawaii atheists and gay marriage advocates pushing HB444. It is also the church at which Barack Obama attended Sunday school in the late 1970s.
Here is Stanley Kurtz’ 2006 examination of the issue….
The Confession: Have same-sex-marriage advocates said too much?
by Stanley Kurtz, National Review October 31, 2006
Suppose a large group of same-sex-marriage activists came together and made the following confession to a group of same-sex-marriage skeptics:
“Look, we’re going to level with you in a way that we haven’t up to now. We all support same-sex marriage, but for many — even most — of us, gay marriage isn’t an end in itself. It’s a way-station on the path to a post-marriage society. We want a wide range of diverse families — even ‘polyamorous’ groupings of three or more partners — to have the same recognition, rights, and benefits as heterosexual married couples. In short, your worst fears are justified. The radical redefinition of marriage you’ve been worried about for so long is exactly what we want.
“Oh sure, some of us are more radical than others. But even the most committed and prominent mainstream advocates of same-sex marriage largely support a radical family agenda. A few advocates who back a ‘conservative’ interpretation of same-sex marriage may regularly engage you in debate, yet their views carry relatively little weight within the gay community. Some of these ‘conservative’ supporters of same-sex marriage have claimed that there is no significant political constituency for polygamy-polyamory, or for a general legal deconstruction of marriage. That’s just wrong. As gay marriage gains acceptance, we’re going to have a polygamy-polyamory debate in this country. And among those sponsoring that debate will be many of the very same people and groups who’ve already pushed for same-sex marriage.
“So why haven’t we told you all this before? Simple. We’ve been censoring ourselves for fear of scaring away public support for same-sex marriage. You see, it’s all about timing. Our plan is to establish same-sex marriage first, and then, as our next step, to demand that the rights and benefits of marriage be accorded to all types of families. After all, when the call for yet another radical redefinition of marriage comes from married same-sex couples, it’s going to be that much more persuasive. Up to now, truth to tell, if any same-sex marriage backers pushed this radical agenda in public, we pressured them to keep silent. But now we’re telling you the truth.
“You see, despite what you’ve heard about the ‘conservative case’ for same-sex marriage, the more radical argument that ‘love makes a family’ has played a huge role in the success of the drive for same-sex marriage. And the ‘love makes a family’ idea requires recognition, not only for gay couples, but also for polygamous and polyamorous families.
“And consider the complex families created when three or even four gay men and lesbians combine through, say, artificial insemination, to bear and raise children. We want recognition for these sorts of unconventional families too, even — or especially — if such recognition leads to legalized polyamory. Pretending that certain aspects of the gay community don’t exist only weakens our diverse families. The way we live is the way we live. Up to now, we’ve tried to hide it. But at last we’re ready to own up to reality, and to push for legal recognition for all types of families, even if that expands the definition of marriage until the very idea of marriage itself is stripped of meaning.”
Beyond Same-Sex Marriage
For all practical purposes, this confession has already been offered. A good part of the substance of the above message was conveyed this past July, when hundreds of self-described lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) and allied activists, scholars, educators, writers, artists, lawyers, journalists, and community organizers released a manifesto entitled, “Beyond Same-Sex Marriage.” Among other things, that statement called for recognition of “committed, loving households in which there is more than one conjugal partner.”
That hundreds of gay-marriage supporters, including big names like Gloria Steinem, Cornel West, Rabbi Michael Lerner (of Tikkun Magazine), and Barbara Ehrenreich have signed onto a statement openly demanding recognition for polyamorous families is important enough. But the really big news is what’s been happening in the months since the release of the Beyond Same-Sex Marriage statement. The ongoing discussion of that manifesto on popular blogs, and particularly in the gay community’s own press, confirms that even many prominent mainstream advocates of same-sex marriage support a radical family agenda — and plan to push it when the time is right. In other words, a careful look at the Beyond Same-Sex Marriage statement — and especially at its public reception — indicates that the above “confession” does in fact represent the plans and convictions of the greater part of the movement for same-sex marriage.
The Beyond Same-Sex Marriage statement is nothing if not radical. It calls for extending government recognition beyond traditional married couples to groups of senior citizens living together, extended immigrant households, single parent households, “queer couples who decide to jointly create and raise a child with another queer person or couple in two households,” unmarried domestic partners, polygamous/polyamorous households, and many other diverse family forms.
And although the statement advocates moving “beyond” same-sex marriage, it also clearly endorses gay marriage itself. The argument on offer is that same-sex marriage is, and ought to be, only one part of a larger effort to redefine our idea of the family. So in contrast to the “conservative” argument, which holds that gay marriage will strengthen the unique appeal of marriage itself, the Beyond Same-Sex Marriage statement claims that gay marriage is a critical step in a larger evolution away from the preference for any specific family form. In other words, the sponsors of Beyond Same-Sex Marriage hope to dissolve marriage, not through formal abolition, but by gradually extending the hitherto unique notion of marriage to every conceivable family type.
The Beyond Same-Sex Marriage statement has attracted hundreds of signatures from a wide array of prominent figures. In addition to national liberals like Steinem, West, Lerner, and Ehrenreich, over 90 professors have signed on, a great many from top schools like Harvard, Yale, Princeton, the University of Chicago, Columbia, Georgetown, Brown, Cornell, Williams, Smith, Bryn Mawr, Barnard, the University of Pennsylvania, NYU, Dartmouth, and U.C. Berkeley. Quite a few of these schools had more than one faculty member sign on. Popular writers like Terrence McNally, Armistead Maupin, and Susie Bright joined big-name academics like Judith Stacey and Judith Butler on the Beyond Same-Sex Marriage lists. Quite a few professors from top law schools (e.g., Yale, Columbia, Georgetown) also endorsed the statement. So we are not talking about fringe figures here. The Beyond Same-Sex Marriage manifesto was put forward by a large and prestigious slice of activists, artists, and intellectuals on the cultural Left.
The Beyond Same-Sex Marriage statement evoked swift and diametrically opposed responses from opponents and supporters of same-sex marriage. Princeton philosopher and social conservative Robert P. George said the statement had “let the cat out of the bag” by revealing that “what lies ‘beyond gay marriage’ are multiple sex partners.” The same day, Jonathan Rauch, the leading exponent of the “conservative case” for same-sex marriage, answered George: “...there’s nothing new here. Left-wing family radicals have been saying all this stuff for years.” So which is it? Is this public endorsement of multiple-partner marriage by hundreds of prominent same-sex marriage supporters an important new revelation, or just irrelevant old hat?
It’s true, as Rauch claims, that left-wing family radicals have been calling for both polyamory and a broader deconstruction of marriage for years. Yet Rauch’s dismissal neatly glosses over some key historical shifts. When the same-sex-marriage issue became a topic of public debate, in the first half of the 1990s, the gay community was deeply split. Despite support for same-sex marriage from a few prominent gay conservatives, the gay community’s powerful phalanx of cultural radicals disdained same-sex marriage as a misguided attempt to ape an oppressive and outdated heterosexual institution. By the time the Defense of Marriage Act was debated by Congress in 1996, however, the mood in the gay community had shifted. Although many gays continued to view marriage itself as outmoded and patriarchal, same-sex marriage came to be seen as a pathway to public acceptance, and as the opening item on a much larger and more radical menu of family changes to come.
So from the mid-Nineties on, the gay community suppressed its divisions and united behind the public battle for same-sex marriage. Radicals in the academy laid their plans for both polyamory and a more general deconstruction of marriage, yet for the most part the radicals avoided floating such controversial proposals before the public. The mainstream media (itself part of the broader movement for same-sex marriage) cooperated by largely ignoring the many legal and academic advocates of polyamory and family radicalism. Instead, the media focused on gay couples who were as close to traditional heterosexual families as possible.
Having passed through a period of skeptical division on the marriage issue, followed by a period of unity, the gay community may now be moving into a third phase, the groundwork for which was laid by the 2004 election. With President Bush endorsing the Federal Marriage Amendment, and with local marriage amendments drawing out voters in battleground states like Ohio, the public handed Republicans a victory in 2004, while dealing the gay marriage movement a significant setback. Liberals who’d once lauded the Massachusetts supreme court for its courage now excoriated it’s justices for handing the election to the Republicans. Over the following two years, judges who had once felt free to impose same-sex marriage on an unwilling public grew hesitant. Surprise decisions against same-sex marriage by liberal state supreme courts in New York and the state of Washington in 2006 seemed to confirm that the movement for gay marriage had been stymied. (For a take on this history by a signer of Beyond Same-Sex Marriage, go here.)
In this new atmosphere, the radicals had far less reason to hide their long-term plans behind a facade of unity. Politically, there was little left to lose. A good decade after the beginning of the movement for same-sex marriage, it was increasingly obvious that the fight could continue for yet another ten years. Rebelling against the thought of 20 years of self-censorship, the radicals began to speak up. The March, 2006, debut of HBO’s polygamy television serial, Big Love (created by a two pro-same-sex marriage radicals), was merely a sign of things to come. Meeting in April of 2006 to draw up their manifesto, just as Big Love was sparking a public debate about polygamy, the authors of the Beyond Same-Sex Marriage had reason to believe that their ship had finally come in.
So then, is the Beyond Same-Sex Marriage statement, as Rauch would have it, just irrelevant old hat? Not at all. Calls for polyamory and other forms of family radicalism may be nothing new to those already familiar with the history of the gay community’s internal debates, or with the quiet plans of legal academics. Yet a collective and very public declaration of the family-radical platform, endorsed by scores of prominent scholars and other nationally known figures, signals a new phase in the struggle. Once again, as in the early 1990s, the radicals are out in the open, unwilling to silence themselves for the sake of a united front.
Take Michael Bronski, a radical academic, popular New England columnist, and long-time proponent of same-sex marriage. Bronski favors same-sex marriage for its potential to destabilize the traditional organizing principles of Western culture. In a piece explaining why he’d signed the Beyond Gay Marriage manifesto, Bronski said that he and his fellow family radicals were tired of being treated like “skunks at a garden party” for honestly owning up to their radical reasons for supporting gay marriage. Bronski then told the story of a radio appearance in which his conservative opponent had claimed that gay marriage would “change society as we know it.” Instead of denying it, Bronski agreed with this family traditionalist that gay marriage would indeed provoke a broader cultural transformation, adding that this was a good thing. “That afternoon,” Bronski recalled, “I received a barrage of e-mails from marriage equality supporters complaining that I had committed a major faux pas and should not do media on the issue of marriage again unless I was willing to state the ‘official’ marriage equality line, which is that gay marriage is about nothing more than equal rights for couples who love one another.”
In the aftermath of the Beyond Same-Sex Marriage statement, it was easy to see that the “‘official’ marriage equality line” has served to disguise the views of many same-sex marriage supporters. Numerous reports in the mainstream media, and in the gay community’s own press, described the censorship and self-censorship that has kept the reality of marriage radicalism out of the public eye. The New York Times reported that gay family radicals “say they have muffled their own voice by censoring themselves.” Yet now, said the Times, these radicals “increasingly feel that they have nothing to lose [by speaking out] given ‘that there has been defeat after political defeat.’”
Meanwhile, Geoffrey Kors, a leading California gay-marriage activist, noted that the movement’s silence on polyamory is not necessarily a matter of actual opposition to the practice, but simply about “not allowing the right wing to steer the conversation.” Molly McKay, media director of Marriage Equality USA, spoke of the need to limit some conflicts and conversations to “internal dialogue.” Otherwise, said McKay, it could be “very confusing for non-gay allies” who support gay marriage on the assumption that the gay community wants marriage for its own sake. McKay was concerned that mainstream support for same-sex marriage could suffer if the broader public began to think that “your own community [i.e. the gay community] doesn’t support this issue.”
Having broken the taboo against a public avowal of their radical goals, the sponsors of the Beyond Same-Sex Marriage statement were soundly chastised for their strategic error by Chris Crain, former executive editor of The Washington Blade. Crain blasted the manifesto’s signatories for “diverting attention” from the sort of fairness claims that resonate with the American public: “...[the signatories’] no doubt well-intentioned effort really is the radical redefinition of marriage and family that the conservatives have been braying about for so long. Realizing the Right’s worst fears is the last thing the movement needs to do at this critical juncture.” Then Crain added a twist: “Opening up marriage to gay couples is liberation enough for most of us, at least for now.” “At this critical juncture...At least for now” — we’ll come back to those lines in Part II of this piece. What’s notable now is that Crain’s strictly pragmatic and political objections to the idea of realizing “the Right’s worst fears” amounted to a demand for continued self-censorship on the part of family radicals.
With Crain and others blasting the radicals’ new-found honesty, Joseph De Filippis, of Queers for Economic Justice, chief spokesman for the Beyond Same-Sex Marriage manifesto, tried to put out the fire. De Filippis maintained that the statement had actually been meant to “promote discussion within the LGBT community not mainstream America.” Yet having recruited nationally known allies like Steinem, West, Lerner, and Ehrenreich, that claim was hardly credible. As long-time critic of same-sex marriage Maggie Gallagher remarked, “This is quite new and quite extraordinary....I’ve debated marriage a long time without ever seeing one visible public defender of polygamy. Now we have a major statement, signed by mainstream liberal thinkers, suggesting that this is now the Left’s consolidated position.” The cat was out of the bag, all right, thereby revealing an ongoing pattern of censorship and self-censorship.
So Robert P. George was right. The Beyond Same-Sex Marriage statement means that something important and new is going on. Marriage and family radicals have cast aside years of self-censorship and are broadcasting their agenda to the world (even as an angry, strategically-based response by prominent backers of same-sex marriage has begun to put the muzzle back on).
Marginal or Mainstream?
Yet it isn’t just a question of openness versus secrecy. “Conservative” same-sex marriage advocate Jonathan Rauch had a second point to make to Robert George. According to Rauch, the folks who signed on to the Beyond Same-Sex Marriage manifesto are a bunch of unrepresentative radicals, few of them actual leaders in the movement for same-sex marriage. The radical signatories of Beyond Same-Sex Marriage “favor marriage, not as an end in itself,” said Rauch, “but as a way-station toward a post-marriage society.” “There’s no denying that they speak for a prominent element of the gay rights movement...,” Rauch admitted, “but I don’t think they’ll prevail even within the gay universe, most of which is neither radical nor ‘queer.’”
But what if Rauch is wrong? What if the newfound openness and honesty of pro-same-sex marriage radicals is more than the revelation of a prominent faction’s existence? What if a radical view of family issues has already prevailed “within the gay universe”? What if quite a few mainstream leaders of the movement for same-sex marriage, even if they may not have personally signed onto the “Beyond Same-Sex Marriage manifesto, have already expressed public agreement with all or most of that statement’s radical goals? What if the bulk of the gay community is already on board with the lion’s share of the Beyond Same-Sex Marriage agenda? And what if even Jonathan Rauch himself has come surprising close to acknowledging this?
The Confession II: “Conservative” proponents of same-sex marriage are about to overtaken by radicals
by Stanley Kurtz, National Review, November 1, 2006
In his well-received 1997 book on the AIDS crisis, Sexual Ecology, journalist Gabriel Rotello said:
The anti-marriage sentiment in the gay and lesbian political world has abated in recent years, and the legalization of same-sex marriage is now an accepted focus of gay liberation. Yet it is rarely posed as a major issue of AIDS prevention. Prevention activists generally don’t include marriage as a goal because they generally don’t include monogamy as a goal....such advocates are generally careful not to make the case for marriage, but simply for the right to marriage....This is undoubtedly good practical politics, since many if not most of the major gay and lesbian organizations who have signed on to the fight for same-sex marriage would instantly sign off at any suggestion that they were actually encouraging gay men and lesbians to marry. (pp. 256-257)
According to Rotello, then, many or most gay-marriage activists have a decidedly un-conservative view of marriage itself. But if gay-marriage advocates actually reject monogamous marriage as a family ideal, what sort of families do they favor instead?
That question was answered this past July, when hundreds of activists, artists, and academics signed on to a manifesto entitled, “Beyond Same-Sex Marriage.” That statement called for government recognition and benefits to be expanded beyond traditional marriage to cover a wide variety of family forms, from extended immigrant households, to single-parent households, to “queer couples who decide to jointly create and raise a child with another queer person or couple in two households,” to unmarried domestic partners, to polygamous/polyamorous households with three or more partners, to many other family forms.
In Part I of “The Confession,” I showed that the united political front behind same-sex marriage is sustained by a pattern of censorship and self-censorship regarding the ultimate policy preferences of the movement. Here in Part II, I show that Rotello was right. Many, if not most, of the gay and lesbian organizations which have signed on to the battle for same-sex marriage do not take marriage itself as their goal. Instead, these advocacy groups are broadly supportive of the radical family agenda announced in the Beyond Same-Sex Marriage manifesto. By following the public response of gay-marriage activists to the Beyond Same-Sex Marriage manifesto, we can see that the policy goals of family radicals are largely shared, even by most mainstream supporters of same-sex marriage.
Around the time the Beyond Same-Sex Marriage statement was released, a controversy broke out over news that the Boston Globe had told its gay employees to marry their partners or face losing their domestic-partnership benefits. That decision by the Globe (a division of the New York Times Company) was touted by pro-gay-marriage “conservatives,” like Jonathan Rauch, as evidence that same-sex marriage would bolster the social significance of marriage, at the expense of other family forms.
Yet reaction to the Globe decision within the gay community told a different story. An investigation of the Globe controversy by journalist Zak Szymanski, published in the Bay Area Reporter, made it clear that many mainstream supporters of same-sex marriage actually condemned the Globe’s decision, and promised to fight such policy shifts in the future should they multiply beyond this one “isolated incident.”
According to Szymanski, “Many national LGBT [lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender] groups, despite their large investment in securing gay marriage, agree that there is a problem with a society that values marriage over all other family forms.” For example, Matt Foreman, executive director of the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force and a major spokesman in the battle for same-sex marriage, said, “We’re deeply disappointed by the Globe’s decision, and we do not feel that benefits should flow only from marriage, because a married couple does not reflect the reality of the American family, gay or straight.” Michelle Granda, of GLAD, which Szymanski calls “the group that is widely credited with winning same-sex marriage in Massachusetts,” said, “We have always believed families are configured in many ways and that marriage is not the answer for all families.”
Granda went on to point out that, “when other Massachusetts companies previously announced similar intentions to drop DP [domestic partnership] coverage, marriage activists expressed their concerns and were able to reverse such changes. One employer, the Dana-Farber Cancer Center, not only reversed its decision but expanded its DP system to cover opposite-sex partners.”
Let’s pause to consider what’s happened here. A spokesperson for GLAD, the organization credited with bringing gay marriage to Massachusetts, has just boasted about undermining marriage for gays and straights alike. According to Granda, same-sex “marriage activists” objected to Dana-Farber’s restriction of benefits to married couples, and instead prompted an expansion of benefits for unmarried domestic partners, gay and straight. Marriage activists undermining marriage. Here we have a clear indication of the family radicalism that hides beneath the only apparent conservatism of same-sex marriage advocacy groups.
Szymanski goes on to quote Shannon Minter, of San Francisco’s National Center for Lesbian Rights, which has strongly backed the movement for same-sex marriage: “I don’t think same-sex marriage means we aren’t also fighting for protections for other people.” Minter went on to celebrate the way in which the movement for same-sex marriage has actually promoted legal recognition for non-marital partnerships.
While Jonathan Rauch has claimed that the adoption of formal same-sex marriage would put a stop to the creation of various forms of “marriage lite,” Szymanski quotes Molly McKay, media director of Marriage Equality USA, making the opposite claim: “McKay believes, as do many marriage activists, that redefining the family through winning same-sex marriage is one of the best ways to earn protections for families outside of marriage...[Said McKay,] ‘By allowing us to be married it will allow us to enter into a conversation, as equals, about who is next.’”
Again, let’s pause to think about what McKay has just said. Here, a “marriage activist” has actually made an open promise to use gay marriage to pull society down the slippery slope. Once we can speak as married people, McKay promises, our calls for still more radical re-definitions of marriage will have that much more authority. Marriage activists undermining marriage.
After the Beyond Same-Sex Marriage manifesto’s release, Jonathan Rauch grudgingly conceded that several of the signatories (for example, Georgetown University law professor Chai Feldblum) were prominent figures in the movement for same-sex marriage. Yet Rauch dismissed the rest of the signatories as unrepresentative anti-marriage radicals.
As responses to the Beyond Same-Sex Marriage statement poured in, however, it quickly emerged that even many prominent figures in the movement for same-sex marriage who may not have personally signed the radical manifesto nonetheless broadly endorsed the statement’s goals. Whereas Rauch condemned the Beyond Same-Sex Marriage manifesto ( “they don’t want to put gays or polygamists on the marriage pedestal; they want to knock the pedestal over.”), mainstream leaders of the movement for same-sex marriage expressed approval of the substance, if not the timing, of the statement.
Take Shannon Minter, who just a week before, in the wake of the Globe controversy, had talked to the Bay Area Reporter about marriage as part of a broader and more radical family agenda. Faced with the Beyond Same-Sex Marriage manifesto’s premature announcement of that agenda, Minter told the San Francisco Chronicle that the manifesto was “‘very poorly timed’ because equality of marriage rights must come before other forms of relationship recognition. ‘Gay legal groups already agree with them and are doing the things they recommend for the most part.’”
Commenting on Minter’s remarks, same-sex marriage critic Maggie Gallagher said, “This lawyer pushing for [same-sex marriage] sees gay marriage as a step in this [radical “family diversity”] evolution, and says it’s not helpful to point that out at the current time.” Gallagher added, “[I]t is clear that many of the same people and forces that are pushing for gay marriage support family diversity as their key value and yes, often covertly precisely because they think arguments made by people who think like [Jonathan Rauch] and [Dale Carpenter] are more helpful at this point in history.” A look at the broader response to the Beyond Same-Sex Marriage manifesto yields still more evidence in support of Gallagher’s view.
Take Matt Foreman, another major figure in the battle for same-sex marriage whom we’ve already seen taking a radical line in the wake of the Globe controversy. Commenting on the Beyond Same-Sex Marriage Manifesto, Foreman said, “Of course we share its values, and I think its values and aspirations are something that gay and straight people can embrace because our nation needs to find ways to protect the reality of the American family, which is far beyond one man and one woman, or two men and two women.” Or take John Davidson, legal director of Lambda Legal, who said that “Lambda Legal did not disagree with the principles of the [Beyond Same-Sex Marriage] statement.” Or take Geoffrey Kors, executive director of Equality California, which sponsored the California gay-marriage bill recently vetoed by Governor Schwarzenegger. Responding to questions about the Beyond Same-Sex marriage statement, Kors said he could see his organization “supporting a hypothetical effort to expand statewide domestic partnerships for LGBT and straight families of all kinds.” Even Jay Smith Brown, communications strategies director for the Human Rights Campaign, a giant in the gay-marriage movement, noted that, while focused on marriage, HRC is “supportive of domestic partnership benefits in the workplace.”
One of the more interesting responses to the Beyond Same-Sex Marriage manifesto came from Evan Wolfson, surely one of the most important and influential figures in the movement for same-sex marriage. Wolfson is founder and executive director of Freedom to Marry, was co-counsel in the historic Hawaii same-sex marriage case, and is the author of Why Marriage Matters: America, Equality and Gay People’s Right to Marry. On the one hand, Wolfson clearly rejected the strategic utility of the radical, Beyond Same-Sex Marriage agenda. For example, the Beyond Same-Sex Marriage statement points to Canada as a model, since Canada has not only approved same-sex marriage, but has also eliminated most legal differences between marriage and cohabitation. “The United States is not Canada,” said Wolfson. “We have much more of an organized right-wing infrastructure,” he noted, arguing against the adoption of a radical strategy. (See previous link.)
Yet Wolfson also noted: “Ninety percent of what’s in that document could have been signed onto by virtually every person working in the gay movement today.” And like other gay-marriage advocates, Wolfson went on to credit the fight for same-sex marriage for doing more to bring about non-marital domestic partnerships and civil unions than any overtly radical strategy. So, despite Wolfson’s strategic qualms about an “alternatives to marriage agenda,” this prominent advocate of same-sex marriage seemed remarkably comfortable with the radicals’ policy preferences, even to the point of boasting that the battle for gay marriage was, in the end, the surest way to achieve more radical goals. In short, even a same-sex marriage champion like Evan Wolfson seems comfortable with the broader aspirations of a manifesto that is in fact a profound assault on the institution of marriage.
Perhaps more significant than anything said in response to the Beyond Same-Sex Marriage manifesto is what was not said. After a reasonably thorough search for Internet-accessible news and opinion pieces about the Beyond Same-Sex Marriage manifesto, I was unable to find any gay-marriage supporters publicly criticizing the radicals on “conservative” grounds. To be sure, Rauch and a few like-minded “conservative” supporters of same-sex marriage strove mightily to allay the concerns of gay-marriage critics like Robert George and Maggie Gallagher, by downplaying the manifesto’s significance.
Yet these reassurances would have been vastly more credible had “conservative” proponents of same-sex marriage addressed themselves to the gay community itself, especially to figures like Minter, Foreman, Davidson, Kors, and Wolfson. Had Rauch or his supporters publicly criticized Minter, Foreman, or Wolfson for all-but-endorsing at least portions of the “alternatives to marriage” agenda, and had large numbers of grassroots gay-marriage supporters piped up on behalf of the “conservatives,” that would have been impressive. Instead, the “conservative” understanding of same-sex marriage played little or no role in the gay community’s response to the Beyond Same-Sex Marriage manifesto.
The closest thing I could find to a “conservative” criticism of the Beyond Same-Sex Marriage manifesto was a piece by two “marriage equality activists,” Rob and Clay Calhoun. The Calhouns actually broached an objection to legalized polygamy/polyamory (just about the only such objection I was able to find), noting that multi-partner marriage would create practical difficulties in end-of life-decisions and in the allocation of insurance benefits. Yet in the main, the Calhoun’s sent the radicals the usual message: “Most of your overall goals are commendable, and we agree with most of them, but we feel that this is an ill-timed attempt.” This is about the most “conservative” direct public critique of the Beyond Same-Sex Marriage manifesto I was able to find. Yet it is an ocean away from the “conservative case” for same-sex marriage.
A Striking Development
In late 2005, I published a piece entitled “Here Come the Brides,” about the role of bisexuality in the drive for legalized multiple-partner marriage. It’s notable that the Beyond Same-Sex Marriage manifesto justified its radical platform, in part, by lamenting the short shrift historically given to bisexuals by the broader LGBT movement. Among the signers of the Beyond Same-Sex Marriage manifesto were a number of bisexual activists. In “Here Come the Brides,” I also noted the role of Unitarian polyamory activists, and the potential role of arguments made by Yale law professor Kenji Yoshino in a pro-polyamory movement. Sure enough, the Beyond Same-Sex Marriage manifesto was signed by a number of Unitarian ministers and by professor Yoshino.
Shortly after “Here Come the Brides” appeared, Rob Anderson, a reporter-researcher at The New Republic, published a response. (I answered Anderson in “Triple Dutch Wrong.”) Like many who dismiss the “slippery slope” argument against same-sex marriage, Anderson claimed that there was no constituency for multi-partner unions: “There is no meaningful leadership, no agenda, no broad-based organizational structure, no PAC, no lobbyists, no fundraising.” Yet as is evident in the substance of and from the signatories of the Beyond Same-Sex Marriage manifesto, we now have the agenda and the leadership of an “alternatives to marriage movement.” Equally important, the overt or implicit pledges of assistance (when the time is right) from mainstream gay-marriage activists promise to supply the organizational structure, the PACs, the lobbyists, and the fundraising for yet another radical reform of marriage.
There are even indications that Rob Anderson himself might join up. This past September, Rob Anderson participated in a four-day debate with a radical supporter of the Beyond Same-Sex Marriage manifesto. It’s remarkable enough that, after pooh-poohing the very idea of taking pro-polyamory radicalism seriously, Anderson should find himself debating a full-fledged family radical. And despite his time with The New Republic (the journalistic home-base of the “conservative case” for gay marriage), Anderson took a remarkably un-conservative line in his debate, happily endorsing various forms of “marriage lite.”
Anderson ended his debate by offering a more sweeping pledge to his radical opponent: “My position boils down to this: I believe you should have the ability to lead your life as you choose, with whomever you choose. And I will fight for your right to do so. But, in return, I expect you to fight for mine.” My best reading of this is that Anderson has declared his support, in principle, not for the timing and tactics, but for the substance of the Beyond Same-Sex Marriage agenda, polyamory included. Perhaps I’m over-reading here, but it’s tough to avoid the impression that the fellow who said there was no constituency for polyamory has just promised to join that constituency himself. At a minimum, Anderson seems to have signaled a willingness to cooperate with at least a significant portion of the “alternatives to marriage agenda.”
A Political Future
Dale Carpenter, a law professor and an ally of Rauch, has acknowledged that the “love makes a family” argument for same-sex marriage “does indeed entail the recognition of many forms of relationships, including same-sex couples and polygamous/polyamorous groups.” Yet, like Anderson, Carpenter has steadfastly maintained that there is no radical constituency politically well-placed enough to cash in on the logical payoff of the “love makes a family” ideology.
Nonetheless, after extensive exchanges with Robert P. George and Maggie Gallagher on the significance of the Beyond Same-Sex Marriage manifesto, Jonathan Rauch offered some remarkably frank concessions: “I had originally hoped that the [same-sex marriage] debate would not be followed by a polygamy debate, but clearly it has been. Some [same-sex marriage] advocates maintained that there was no significant constituency for polygamy, but that’s proving to be wrong as well.” Then Rauch added: “polygamy advocates are going to try to hitch a ride with [same-sex marriage], and some or many [same-sex marriage] advocates (hardly all!) are disinclined to throw them out of the car.”
The key phrase there is “some or many,” which neatly finesses the fact that, as we’ve seen, many gay-marriage advocates are willing to give polygamy supporters a ride, while precious few are inclined to “throw them out of the car.”
This all means that in a post-gay-marriage world, the political organization of the gay community will shift. For now, “conservative” proponents of same-sex marriage are out in front, supported by a vast array of considerably less conservative activists and lobby groups. Meanwhile, the radicals are marginalized and/or intentionally keeping a low profile. In a post-gay-marriage world, this situation will flip. The radicals will step out in front, supported by largely the same coalition of activists and lobby groups who currently support same-sex marriage. At that point, the conservatives, no longer needed to run interference for the larger movement, will be quietly put out to pasture. By then we shall be well beyond same-sex marriage. Listen carefully to the words of same-sex marriage supporters, and they confess as much themselves.
— Stanley Kurtz is a senior fellow at the Ethics and Public Policy Center.