When States Attack

by Shaker Sarah in Chicago

In all the joyous celebration happening in California regarding the brief appearance of reality, a certain degree of privilege was being evidenced to me.

Don't get me wrong ... when the news popped up on my phone as friend and I were shopping our way for summer clothes down State Street here in Chicago, and we both whooped and high-fived, grinning broadly and laughing. There's not much on earth that feels as wonderful as having your basic rights be granted to you. Kinda sad to have to write that, but it's still true.

The images that we've seen come out of California since have been incredible ... just the basic and overwhelming joy and beauty of people so used to being denigrated and dehumanised, being told that they are recognised in their own country as worthy of what everyone-else takes for granted.

And therein lies the privilege. Because despite our celebrations that embarrassed us in that store on State Street, there is one fundamental difference between my friend and I; she's an American citizen. I'm not.

But back to California.

Not long after the decision came down to rapturous acclaim, Ellen Degeneris announced that she was marrying her long-time girlfriend, Portia de Rossi (otherwise known as Hotty McHot). Ellen teared and choked up making the announcement, and her girlfriend was moved to, with I think tears down her cheeks. It was an amazing and perfect cap to such a wonderful decision.

And then Republican presidential candidate John McCain came onto her show some days later, and Ellen (to my surprise given her history of avoiding LGBT politics in general, but to her credit) brought up the CA decision, and her own pending marriage to Portia (McHot). McCain, being the mealy-mouthed piece of shit he is, managed to basically say that he thought Ellen and Portia were less than he was, AND that he expected to be respected for his bigotry. All with a smile on his face.

'Straight Talk' indeed.

McCain has always said that he opposes same-sex marriage, but that he also opposes the federal anti-gay "marriage" amendment (which, of course, has nothing to do with marriage, and everything to do with ensuring that us uppity queers don't think we deserve to not be stoned to death or anything crazy like that), in saying we should "leave it up to the states" (which, ironically enough, is what California is doing, but we all know the aversion wingnuts have to things like logic and consistency). This, admittedly, is a better position than that of the current occupier of the big swivelly chair in the Oval Office ... but that's like saying fresh shit is better than week-old shit because it hasn't decomposed quite as much.

The thing is, the "leave it up to the states" thing is also effectively the position of both Obama and Clinton as well. Sure, they support civil unions and/or partnership recognition of some sort for us pinkos, but they've shied away from federal recognition like it's a bloody third rail. Which, I suppose it is, politically at least.

I've noticed that when a lot of straight people talk about same-sex marriage in places like California and Massachusetts, or Civil Unions in New Jersey and Vermont, they just assume that such things are exactly the same as their own unions in such states. But the thing is, they're not. One can have all the equality that is humanly possible within a state when it comes to marriage, one can hold a big huge state-equality party, we can throw state-equality around like it's bloody confetti, but it doesn't matter one iota when it comes to federal recognition. Thanks to the federal DOMA (Defence Of Marriage Act) a state can stamp its feet all it wants, but Washington is a closed door to us queers, and it reads "Breeders Only" (and you can be damn skippy it's not a nice colour-coordinated door either).

And a lot of people have said "Okay, well, we'll get a critical mass of states together, and then, eventually, we'll get it on the national stage." And this seems like a perfectly rational and reasonable long-term strategy. Doesn't it? Slow and steady, after all. Don't want to piss off the straights; they get all pissy and nervous when you aggravate them, and while our riots may be fabulous (I mean, drag queens throwing stilettos? Hello?) straights seem to have downright NASTY riots.

But there's one problem with this strategy (well, there's more than one, but I'll focus on one at the moment ... hey, I have a syllabus and a dissertation proposal to write here!) and that gets back to my friend and I dancing around an Urban Outfitters (hey, SHE wanted to be in there, NOT me!). While she marrying her girlfriend (and they are VERY cute together I have to say, and I should know, I used to date my friend ... yeah, yeah, I know, I'm sooooo a lesbian) would actually mean something substantial to them, if I were to find some American woman insane enough to not only date me but want to marry me, said substance would very quickly drain down the hole that is immigration recognition.

No matter how much I may love said hypothetical insane woman, and she hypothetically me, for all extents and purposes, our wonderfully equal state marriage would be so much packing-paper in me not being able to stay in the country to be with her. The fundamental privilege of the "leave it to the states" approach is that it is one that only citizens can access; it leaves non-citizens out in the cold.

Not that straight federal partnership recognition is a box of cookies. Ask 'Liss and Mr Shakes about the hoops of varying colour, size, shape, etc that they've had to jump through. There's even a section on the form to specify the detailed type of arse-kissing you're particularly proficient in.

But that's still a country mile ahead of where us queers are (do country people travel slower or something? Are there bumpkin-measures? Never got that particular idiom).

I personally don't know if once I've finished my seemingly endless doctoral studies that I'll stay in the US or not, and given that I now actually can reasonably see the end, it is something I am thinking about. But there's one thing I am definitely certain of; if I do, it won't be because of the woman I may have hypothetically fallen in love with. Because to the US federal government, that love might as well not exist; WE don't exist. She's just her, and I'm just me, the alien; there is no we.

So, as wonderful, incredible and groundbreaking as the California decision was, and is, it's always going to also be a tad bittersweet. There exists, at the federal level, legislation called the 'Uniting American Families Act', which is in both houses of Congress, which would provide immigration rights to same-sex couples regardless of federal recognition of marriage. But none of the three presidential candidates have co-sponsored the bill in their senatorial capacities, and it's been largely ignored by both the (straight) immigrant-rights and gay rights communities.

Bi-national same-sex couples may celebrate alongside everyone else at the California recognition of our inherent humanity, but it's a hollow celebration, as it does nothing for us in reality.

I know we talk a lot about privilege recognition on this blog, and a lot of you here may react "oh dammit, not ANOTHER privilege?!" but the thing is, citizenship IS a privilege, as any immigrant will tell you, gay or straight. The thing is, being a gay foreigner in this country you realise that even in this, you're still on the border, knocking on the fence.

They just don't need to patrol this one.

[Here's some more info on partnership immigration.]


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