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Civil Unions and Democratic Party Wedge Issues

I’m in sympathy with Norman Pollack’s article recently published in Counterpunch, Gay Marriage: A Contrarian’s View, but feel Pollack’s reasoning could be improved on. And, by the way, I agree with Pollack that, in the abstract, divorced from the real political context of these horrible times, marriage equality would be a great thing for a society to have.

As a way of contextualizing things … I recall reading a year or two ago, probably in the Chicago Reader, that a local gay politico had triumphantly returned from Springfield in 2010 or 2011 after passage of its civil unions act. “At its essence,” the Chicago Tribune described the law, “the bill says that two people who have entered into a civil union are entitled to the same legal treatment under Illinois law that is presently given to spouses.” So, all was great, I’m sure he thought, for gay marriage rights, except the word marriage could not officially be used to describe those rights. But instead of being greeted as the returning conqueror of Springfield, said politico was met by his activist group with anger that he just “didn’t get it” and worse. He was ousted for another leader who understood that civil unions weren’t enough, and that the only acceptable stance was gay marriage or bust.

The story struck me as of course emblematic of the Democratic Party and its divide-and-rule politics. The problem for the party was that gay civil unions, which bypass objections by religious conservatives to gay marriage, were rapidly solving the practical problems of gays and their right to marriage. And once gays could get ‘married’ in all but name, what use would the Democratic Party be to them? Put simply, the party saw an opportunity for a permanent wedge issue and had to take it. So much for the opportunity to solve a social problem in a nuanced manner that would satisfy the main concerns of everyone.

Not that the Republicans didn’t, of course, react with glee at the Democrats’ transforming the civil unions near non-issue into the gay marriage permanent super wedge. They live on this b.s. as much as the Democrats do. (Although it is a much more difficult issue to compromise on, abortion is a similar super wedge that works voter turnout wonders for both of the tired corporate slave parties.)

But what about the fact that the best interests of the Democratic Party are directly opposed to the popular interest? Specifically, what if the gay marriage issue were rapidly being solved by the civil union movement back in 2011? Would we be talking a bit more (i.e., a bit more than not at all) about the main and closely inter-related issues of our time: austerity, unemployment, income inequality, the overwhelming power of big finance, torture, Bradley Manning writ large, corporate globalization, U.S. imperialism?

The brutal worldwide austerity crusade, which only grows worse since we are doing NOTHING to resist it, demands a massive response. And the class war that must emerge, by all of us in the working class (we in fact make up 75% or more of U.S. society), doesn’t just need, it _requires_ unity across religious backgrounds as well as across race and ethnicity. Identity politics wedge issues are obstacles put in the way of that unity.

So, with respect we need a compromise here, and civil unions (granting all of the rights of marriage) were and still are that compromise.

P.S. Also at pffugeecamp, where there are (also?) comments.

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