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Republicans and Democrats preach "family values" hypocrisy
Behind the attack on gay marriage

March 12, 2004 | Page 8

DAVID THURSTON and SHARON SMITH explain the roots of the right wing's offensive against the right of gays and lesbians to marry.

"AMONG THE likeliest effects of gay marriage is to take us down the slope to legalized polygamy," wrote Stanley Kurtz in the conservative Weekly Standard. Antigay demonstrations have featured prominent Christian fundamentalists who quote the Old Testament like it was written yesterday.

Using demonstrations, e-mail campaigns and more, Christian Right forces have mobilized pressure on Republicans who were hesitant to take a stand for an antigay marriage amendment. But this "family values" crusade--which hides behind slogans like "Let the People Decide" in Massachusetts--has a clear ideological agenda: stoking homophobia and other forms of bigotry.

This agenda has given confidence to even more dangerous right-wing forces. In Houston, a grand dragon of the Ku Klux Klan was photographed with his hood off at a protest against gays seeking marriage licenses. He wore a sign that read: "Gay: Got Aids Yet?"

By promoting a constitutional ban on gay marriage, George W. Bush hopes to firm up his Christian Right voting base to reverse his falling poll ratings. As New York's Gay City News put it, Bush is "Bashing for Votes."

But John Kerry and most Democrats also promote a brand of "family values." Kerry has emphasized his opposition to gay marriage on the campaign trail, while supporting gay civil unions to keep gay voters behind him.

What's behind this commitment to so-called family values, shared by both the Republican and Democratic parties? Clearly, the politicians don't practice what they preach. For example, former House Speaker Newt Gingrich--one of the most self-righteous proponents of the "sanctity of marriage"--is now well into his third, after divorcing his first two wives.

Politicians' promotion of "family values" is often couched in pious phrases, but they have material, not moral, reasons for their crusade. They are trying to uphold the nuclear family as an institution that is central to capitalist society.

From birth, we are all told that the only "normal" way to live is in a nuclear family: a household with two married parents, one male and one female, with multiple children. But few households fit that picture today.

As author and academic Lisa Duggan put it in The Nation magazine: "Marriage is less stable and central to the organization of American life than ever. There are now more unmarried households than married ones, and a variety of formal and informal, permanent and transient...partnership and kinship relationships have displaced any singular, static model of domestic life."

This deterioration of the traditional nuclear family has alarmed conservatives, who want to turn back the clock and resurrect the ideal of the male breadwinner and the woman who sees her main role in life as a wife and mother. For this reason, Bush has proposed a $1.5 billion program to promote marriage among the poor.

Preserving the institution of the nuclear family, particularly among working-class people, is of material benefit to capitalism. Karl Marx used the phrase "privatized reproduction" to describe the role of the family in providing a plentiful supply of cheap labor to capitalists.

Instead of society taking collective responsibility for feeding and caring for its members, the burdens of raising children, cooking and housework are pushed onto the shoulders of working-class families. At no cost to business owners, the nuclear family "reproduces labor"--both in terms of replenishing the current labor force each day, and by raising children, the future generation of workers, to adulthood.

Preserving the institution of heterosexual marriage is a crucial part of maintaining the ideal of the nuclear family as part of the "natural" human order. Both the women's and gay liberation movements of the 1960s threatened to undermine the institution of the nuclear family.

The women's movement, which won legal abortion and promoted an Equal Rights Amendment to make women the equals of men in society, opposed the notion that women have a duty to perform unpaid labor within the family as their main goal in life. The gay liberation movement fought to legitimize gay sexuality, directly confronting the idea that human beings are naturally heterosexual and destined to live in a traditional family.

The New Right, which has since become known as the Christian Right, rose in response to these movements, using "family values" rhetoric to assault the gains of the social movements of the 1960s. As a coalition made up of a variety of organizations--ranging from Rev. Jerry Falwell's Moral Majority to the National Conservative Caucus--the New Right's virulent opposition to abortion rights and women's liberation was matched by its hostility to affirmative action and gay rights.

The New Right launched an ambitious campaign that shifted the political climate rightward during the 1980s and 1990s--affecting not only the Republican Party, but the Democratic Party as well. It was no accident that Bill Clinton signed the anti-gay Defense of Marriage Act and promoted teen abstinence while president. He was attempting to appease the Christian Right.

The fight for gay marriage has become the focal point for a new discussion about the role of the family under capitalism. Politicians faced with the demand for gay marriage today are recycling their tired rhetoric about the family.

Bush's proposal on marriage education for the poor is typical, blaming single mothers for "irresponsibly" raising children alone and claiming that their poor "marriage skills" cause rising poverty and crime. We should be putting the blame for poverty where it belongs--on the shoulders of corporations and politicians who have systematically gutted working-class living standards.

We can win the fight for gay marriage by explaining that this is an issue of civil rights--and that denying gay marriage is discrimination. We are better able to make those arguments today because the traditional model of the nuclear family no longer fits the reality of most working-class people, straight or gay.

Socialists are for the full liberation of women and gays. Full sexual freedom is a precondition for genuine human liberation. The fight for gay marriage should be linked to the fight for national health care and abortion rights, against racism--and ultimately, the struggle for socialism and a world where human need would be the first priority.

Consequences of bigotry

-- Only 13 states prohibit employment discrimination based on sexual orientation.

-- Thirty-eight states have passed laws specifically banning same-sex marriage.

-- A national survey by the Gay, Lesbian and Straight Education Network found that more than four-fifths of gays, lesbian and transgender youths experienced verbal harassment over the period of a year; and 42 percent experienced physical harassment or violence.

-- A 1997 Iowa study found that, on average, high school students heard 25 antigay remarks a day.

-- As of February 15, 2000, over the previous 12 months, the Servicemembers Legal Defense Network documented 968 incidents of anti-gay harassment, including a murder, assaults, death threats and verbal gay bashing--up 142 percent from a record 400 violations the preceding year.

The group also found that reports of military authorities investigating service members' sexuality--supposedly prohibited by the military's "don't ask, don't tell" policy--increased 30 percent in the same period. The Pentagon discharged people for being gay, lesbian or bisexual at a rate of three per day in 1999.

-- A 2002 study estimated that 35 percent of homeless youth were gay, lesbian, bisexual or transgender.

-- According to a study released last year by the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force Policy Institute, more than one in three gay undergraduate students had experienced antigay harassment in the past year. Almost a fifth of respondents feared for their physical safety, and 51 percent concealed their sexual orientation or gender identity to avoid intimidation.

-- Sixty-four percent of transgender people in San Francisco made less than $25,000 a year, more than 40 percent did not have health insurance, and one in five didn't have stable housing, according to a study by the Transgender Law Center and National Center for Lesbian Rights.

-- Thirty-four percent of gay people have been turned away from renting or buying a home because of their sexual orientation--or know someone who has experienced this--according to a 2001 nationwide survey commissioned by the Kaiser Family Foundation.

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