How the Religious Right Made Same-Sex Marriage a Gay Rights Crusade
THE ENGAGEMENT: America’s Quarter-Century Struggle Over Same-Sex Marriage By Sasha Issenberg
Money itself, especially the importance of “gay economic might,” also takes center stage in Issenberg’s book. “A galaxy of covert donors orbiting around Denver software millionaire Tim Gill remade the gay-rights movement in their own image,” he writes, “ideologically conservative and strategically radical.” Gay marriage activists, modeling themselves on corporate PACs, successfully transformed into a lobbying force one likened to a “Gay Pfizer,” using the carrot of political contributions and the stick of funding one’s opponents. The strategy worked: In 2011, three Democrats in the New York Legislature reversed their earlier positions on gay marriage after witnessing gay organizations’ ability to end political careers. In 2012, after President Obama announced his support of gay marriage, according to one campaign staffer, “You could literally hear the gay money pouring in.”
…Through Issenberg’s illumination of the donors, activists and attorneys on both sides of the saga, another aspect of the battle for marriage equality becomes starkly clear: its whiteness. Obama plays an important role, certainly, but nearly all of the individuals at the core of the narrative — dozens of them — are white. Issenberg doesn’t shy away from examining the role of race in electoral politics (the loss of the Black vote against Proposition 8, he concludes, was merely the symptom of a more widespread messaging problem), but we don’t learn why, exactly, queer Black activists were such a rarity in the upper echelons of the marriage fight.
They have long told us the reasons: In addition to broader racism and transphobia within the mainstream gay rights movement, marriage was always primarily a white, cisgender issue. “Gay marriage? Please,” wrote Jasmyne Cannick, a Los Angeles-based political strategist and journalist, after the passage of Proposition 8. “The white gay community is banging its head against the glass ceiling of a room called equality, believing that a breakthrough on marriage will bestow on it parity with heterosexuals. But the right to marry does nothing to address the problems faced by both Black gays and Black straights. Does someone who is homeless or suffering from H.I.V. but has no health care, or newly out of prison and unemployed, really benefit from the right to marry someone of the same sex?”
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