In reference to an apparently bold move on the part of former President Bill Clinton — declaring his support of gay marriage years after having signed both the Defense of Marriage Act and “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” into law — political strategist David Mixner told the New York Times in a March 25 article, “We created a safe place where he could change his mind.” Not only did Clinton need a “safe place,” but he’s also quoted in the article as saying that he has finally realized the errors of previous actions and came out in support of same sex marriage.
Over the past year, many powerful figures in business and politics have voiced opinions in favor of gay marriage — CEO of Goldman Sachs Lloyd Blankfein, former Utah Gov. Jon Huntsman Jr., and Republican lawyer Theodore B. Olson, to name a few. This isn’t to undercut their support of a population rhetorically reduced to “the gays.” However, as LGBT marriage rights take center stage this week with Tuesday’s hearing on Proposition 8 and an equally monumental hearing the following day concerning the DOMA, it feels especially pertinent to examine the language that the news media has chosen to adopt when discussing same-sex marriage.
Who’s left out of the equation when we create a “safe place” for Clinton? Why does he get a “safe place” when so many LGBT youth, for example, find themselves not only without a safe place, but without any place at all? I’m not just annoyed; rather, the particularity of these words presumes that we don’t need to change the quotidian lives of those who are at risk of physical violence and regularly confronted with systemic oppression. Instead, we can satisfy ourselves with the knowledge that we’ve allowed the time and space for a powerful man to come around to a better understanding of justice — easily said and done, considering that the vast majority of us don’t have to move a muscle to make that sort of change. When discussions of sexuality are often contextualized as either “in” or “out” of “the closet,” and when “coming out” is still, for some, an untenable danger, what does it mean when Clinton comes out in favor of marriage as a white, straight, cisgendered and moneyed male? The stakes aren’t the same.
The New York Times’ cooptation and reflection of queer political and moral rhetoric when considering a very privileged man is indicative of whose “problems” we’re actually solving if DOMA is struck down once and for all. The aforementioned men risked very little, if anything, to support marriage equality, but will still be told they did their good deed of the year. Meanwhile, what remains is the persistent turmoil experienced by those for whom the right to marry is absurdly fantastic, wholly irrelevant, or a single strand in our nation’s perverse web of legally sanctioned discriminatory practices. After the battle for marriage equality is won, will those powerful men in Washington D.C. direct their energies toward creating free healthcare for HIV-positive LGBTQ individuals?
This isn’t to condemn marriage equality as a goal for the gay rights movement. I’m extremely happy for the same-sex couples that might be able to realize their long-time dreams of marriage sooner than they expected. But maybe those who are privileged enough to be blind to other extant inequalities are the only ones for whom marriage equality is an indicator of ultimate justice. I’m so delighted that Clinton had a “safe place” to change his mind, but I, for one, want to keep fighting until this country is a safe place for everyone to live their lives.
Molly Baumkel is an LSA senior.