By writers for The Spark
On Thursday the 19th of July, at radical social centre 128 Abel Smith Street, Wellington group The Queer Avengers held a discussion on queer activism and marriage. With two MPs’ bills in the parliamentary ballot box, the Queer Avengers decided it was time to take a stance on the question of marriage equality.
Until recently the Queer Avengers have largely abstained from the marriage discussion, with views ranging from a full endorsement of marriage equality to rejecting the institution of marriage altogether. The group had concluded that while members have a range of views on marriage, there should be no legal distinction between same sex and different sex couples. This discussion meeting aimed to flesh that position out.
Broad campaign: Unity & diversity
Realising the need to build a broad campaign, marriage equality group Legalise Love have set out to develop closer links with various community groups. This included attending the Queer Avengers discussion on the topic of marriage equality.
With the President of Legalise Love in attendance, questions were raised as to how groups with similar but different aims could campaign together on the issue. Of a particular concern was how the movement should relate to organisations like the Queer Avengers which place a priority on wider social transformation.
Often in campaigns fighting for a single reform, marginal or challenging issues can become sacrificed for the sake of ‘unity.’ This problem becomes all the more salient in a community as historically fractured and diverse as there are letters in the alphabet.
With this in mind, the Queer Avengers urged that the campaign for marriage equality be a broad campaign where all constituencies and organisations in support of the bill have a place at the table, where their concerns, desires and voices not be sacrificed in the name of ‘unity.’
Enemies & Allies
Taking a leaf out of Legalise Love’s book, the Queer Avengers discussed the importance of outreach in building the campaign for marriage equality. Particularly addressed was the lack of Māori and other oppressed voices in many queer organisations.
A number of Avengers argued that we should be aiming to win the Mana movement over to the campaign as it is an organisation working to represent oppressed people fighting for liberation.
It was also argued that we should aim to involve all progressive religious congregations in the fight for marriage equality. This would not only grow the campaign for equality but further isolate conservative churches which have in the past been the main force mobilising against social reforms, such as in civil unions and ‘anti-smacking’ campaigns.
The tactics of social change
While the meeting generally agreed that it was only a matter of time before marriage equality was legally achieved, it questioned the degree to which marriage equality would change the broader culture of homophobia and transphobia.
Changing the culture of homophobia and transphobia requires more than a vote in parliament; it requires a campaign which ‘comes out’ with fresh stories of what it means to be queer and trans* today.
As a group which has aimed-up on high-profile bigots in the past with handfuls of glitter, the meeting discussed how the Queer Avengers has been able to introduce these stories into the mainstream by carrying out original, fun and confrontational forms of direct action.
The Queer Avengers also addressed the question of how to develop a critical discussion of marriage itself. It was argued that criticism should focus on the impact of power structures, rather than on any one particular form of relationship.
Instead of using terms like ‘heteronormative’ or ‘assimilationist’, the Queer Avengers should focus on how the state uses marriage and adoption laws to structure access to resources.
As an example of this, the meeting discussed the negative impacts of the Relationships Act—the Act which extended marriage laws to de facto couples. While this act was an important victory for many women in de-facto relationships, it also gave the state the power to impose its definition of a ‘relationship in the nature of marriage’ onto people without regard for the way in which they actually negotiated their intimate life.
Giving the state more power to regulate our intimate lives has led to the perverse situation where WINZ, Immigration and other state agencies deny marginalised groups access to financial support and other important public services, regardless of whether or not they and their partner(s) are actually in a ‘relationship in the nature of marriage.’ Some couples are forced to deny their relationship in order to access support.
One person noted that these stories of marginalisation are excluded from the dominant “gay rights” narrative.
The Queer Avengers also discussed polyamory, whangai adoption and other kinship structures, and how these types of relationship remain excluded by the proposed marriage equality legislation.
There was general approval for the idea of starting a project to tell these stories, under the slogan “beyond marriage.”