In the time since New York has announced that it will offer same-sex marriages, I have vacillated daily in my thoughts and opinions on the subject because, well, it’s a complicated issue. A while back I wrote about how I took a day off to go campaign at my local polling station in favor of gay marriage, spending hours asking total strangers, “Excuse me, but do you support gay marriage?” I got all sorts of reactions but was pleased to spend the time actually doing something for something I believe in. Two years later, when Maine shot down the same legislation that I had done work advocating for, I was crushed. And so it was not without some cynicism that I learned of New York passing similar legislation. Additionally, since moving to California I’ve become, well, not surprisingly, more radical. I’ve met transpeople, learned about polyamory, radical inclusivity and spent more time with people outside the box, so to speak, not to mention the quality time I’ve been spending with Judith Butler’s writing. With all of these experiences changing my perception, it’s been difficult to organize my thoughts but here’s a simplified version, as quickly and painlessly as possible. Brace yourself, this could get controversial.

First off, some common ground

I love starting with data because it gives you a solid framework for looking at an issue or idea. By and large, the question facing many states is how marriage is defined and whether it should be restricted to opposite sex couples (that’s a gloss because it doesn’t deal with trans partners, but for now it’s a good starting point). The more practical aspect of the debate is the fact that benefits are often denied to members of same-sex partnerships because said partners are unable to legally marry. And it’s not just legal benefits: there are also financial incentives to marry, particularly when tax season rolls around [ex. though not always the case, it’s financially beneficial for married persons to file jointly which can result in benefits that may not apply to other (i.e. independent) filing statuses or have a lower tax than the combined independent taxes]. From a less tangible perspective, there is also the symbolic victory of recognizing gay marriage: for many people, legislation approving gay marriage i seen as both legitimizing the relationship and being symbolic of the general acceptance of being gay. Though marriage has had a storied history, it has become a predominant and weightily cultural practice; though personal experiences may vary, marriage is a significant institution within U.S. society.

Marriage VS. Domestic Partnership in NY

With the advent of gay marriage in New York, New York has become one of seven states (ok, six states and one district) that offers same-sex marriage. New York’s website breaks down some of the benefits extended to marriage but not to domestic partnership: worker’s compensation, wrongful death claims, and the right to inherit marital residence (amongst other benefits). Domestic partner benefits in NY include: visitation, bereavement, health benefits, and blind trusts (amongst other benefits). Of course, not all of the benefits and disadvantages are obvious; in some instances it is easier to add a same-sex domestic partner to an insurance policy than it is to add an opposite sex spouse. A thorough analysis of the benefits and detriments of marriage vs. domestic partnership would be a lengthy one but the overall gist is that from the perspective of benefits alone, domestic partnership makes certain things easier but by and large the advantage goes to marriage. We’ve also already noted that gay marriage can help fix the financial situation in this country and that for some queer couples, marriage is a matter of personal significance (like when our own Serena got married). In fact, getting gay married is an entire thread on Queercents (a thread that goes way more in depth on benefits, filing and money matters than I did), like DJ’s recent article on getting fabulously hitched in NY.

OK, So.

If it were just the above that were at issue, it’d be pretty easy to come down in support of gay marriage and to be out partying in the streets because New York just joined the club of states that are pretty excellent for recognizing gay couples. But I’m not convinced it’s enough. In 36 states people can still be fired for being trans. Despite the popularity of the It Gets Better campaign and the visibility of young gay characters, particularly on Glee, young queers are at higher risk of homelessness, substance abuse, depression and suicide. There’s also some serious room for improvement in the area of community and caring for aging queers. My heart was recently broken to learn of a friend who was assaulted for being who she is and has had to fight tooth and nail to gain recognition from the seemingly queer friendly San Francisco that what happened was a problem. And (despite the benefits) do we even want marriage as an institution, given its history of oppressing women? Some queers I know long for the day that their relationships are nationally recognized, where they can call their partner “husband” or “wife” without following it up with “In some states”. Others are more radical, saying that queer people don’t need marriage or should move beyond it. My initial reaction to gay marriage in New York was a flurry of all of these questions. I had hoped that thinking about it would lead me to fall on the side of enthusiasm or continued cynicism but I continue to feel caught in the middle. I’m grateful for the symbolic victory and the feeling that we’ve gained another inch in the continuing struggle for equal rights between queer people and their straight counterparts. Another part of me is continually frustrated that we are devoting so many resources in order to gain what is gradually becoming a merely symbolic victory, rather than creating dialogue and infrastructure for helping people most at risk because of their queer identity(identities). And after the disappointments of Maine and California, I’m not certain the benefits that are in place now will stick around.

How about you? What do you think? Let us know in the comments.