I’m perennially sickened by people who distort the relationship between AIDS and the fight for state-recognized partnerships (gay marriage/civil unions/etc.). It’s not that AIDS and the backlash made people get “”socially conservative”” or “”homonormative”” or whatever the buzzwords are; it’s that the AIDS crisis illustrated how vulnerable our communities are without protections for our relationships. You can argue all you want that we shouldn’t need legal protections to be safe, but please understand that terminally ill gay men were evicted from their apartments immediately after watching their partners die horribly because they couldn’t inherit the lease or the property (or couldn’t do so without paying heavy taxes). Gay men were unable to attend the funerals of their long-term partners because homophobic parents had custody of the remains.
This still happens, in states without gay marriage; a woman in Indiana was told that she was an “unrelated third party” when she tried to arrange her wife’s cremation. Reducing this real suffering to “you want marriage rights because you want to prove you’re just like straight people” is horrible, and I don’t know how that argument ever left someone’s typing hands without them realizing that they were absolute garbage.
and i responded, at length:
this post has stuck with me for a long enough that i’m gonna be the killjoy old queen here again, and point out a few things, mostly because i’m old enough to have been around for some of them, and have tended to hang out with older queers and trans folks since i was quite young. everything i’m going to say is about the u.s.; i don’t know how this shit played out elsewhere (especially in the european social democracies), so in other contexts the story may be quite different.
brief theoryhead moment
i’m going to go long on this because OP’s argument is, to me, exactly what walter benjamin means when he says “even the dead will not be safe if this enemy is victorious, and the enemy continues to be victorious”. over the last five or ten years, all kinds of folks have been using the dead bodies of the folks who died in the pre-96 period of the epidemic as props for arguments against left and progressive queer and trans politics – to say that white gay men should be (re?!)centered in our cultural and organizing work (as if trans women and black/latinx folks wren’t the hardest hit), to say that tearooms and other public sex institutions should be highly policed, to push for extremely restricted issue-and-campaign efforts on a (deeply anti-intersectional) identity basis. i could go on about this for quite some time, but i’ll spare you, and talk about marriage, since it’s been a prime example of this kind of thing for a few years now.
the problem at the heart of the original post is the conflation of the push for marriage with other kinds of organizing for (strategic) state recognition of relationships. in gay & lesbian politics, those have never been the same – in fact, they’ve generally been in direct opposition to each other. up to the mid-1990s, the (generally mixed between left and progressive) mainstream of the movement worked for flexible, non-identity-based structures that involved state recognition of the actual structures of folks’ actual relationships, and aimed to allow as little state control and surveillance over our relationships as possible. the push for marriage, which began in the mid-1990s, was not only directly opposed to that project, it worked to undo the victories that had been won up to that point and undermine the coalitions that had been built through that organizing.Continue reading on marriage, hiv/aids, & liberation