A book I co-edited with Jeff Sparrow, Left Turn, is about to launch.
One of the contributors, Rodney Croome, a strong advocate of gay marriage, has written a powerful piece in ABC’s The Drum about this issue:
The American civil rights movement was a colourful but hollow distraction from the far more important issue of America’s war in Vietnam, and that is why presidents Kennedy and Johnson supported it.
If you find this statement trite, offensive and wrong then you may react the same way when you read John Pilger’s analysis of Barack Obama’s support for same-sex marriage.
Pilger believes the Obama administration is attempting to divert attention from wars abroad and wealth disparity at home, and raise more money from Hollywood, by endorsing marriage equality.
He has no evidence for these links. His analysis also doesn’t explain why Obama took so long to “evolve” on the issue and seems to have been moved to act by an unscripted endorsement of the issue by Joe Biden.
Nor does Pilger allow for the fact that a cause can be right even if the motives of some of its supporters are less than pure, or just not the same as his.
Pilger would probably respond by saying my comparison between black civil rights and same-sex marriage is unfair because, in his words, the latter is about “lifestyle liberalism”.
Such a casual dismissal of marriage equality is not just because Pilger doesn’t believe marriage matters much. He believes marriage is part of the problem: “The rights historically associated with marriage are those of property: capitalism itself,” he writes.
“Bourgeois acceptability is not yet a human right.”
Pilger’s same-sex marriage blind spot is not uncommon among left-wingers his age. Many older lefties retain an outdated view of marriage as an instrument of male domination over women, the middle class’s domination over workers, and God’s domination over us all.
They refuse to see that the institution has been reformed, at least in the West, so that women, workers and non-believers now have much more autonomy to decide how, when and if they wed, how they conduct their marriage (including whether or not they have kids), and if and when their marriage will end.
They refuse to acknowledge that it is precisely this change which has made same-sex marriage an issue: now that marriage is a choice for the majority, it makes sense to ask why it isn’t a choice for the minority.
Why can’t John Pilger see any of this? Is it just his distaste for marriage?
In his use of the phrases like “lifestyle liberalism” and “bourgeois acceptability”, I hear echoes of the old left’s suspicion of homosexuals. To those who held this suspicion, gays were too prone to being flippant sentimentalists, fawning courtiers, and fascist closet-cases. We were too soft, too easily co-opted or just too different to be part of a movement that demanded solidarity.
Suspicion of gays paralleled a similar, older suspicion of Jews, and it saw members of both groups being accepted within the Left only if they showed extraordinary commitment (Pilger’s WikiLeaking hero, Bradley Manning, being a case in point).
Rodney Croome AM is the campaign director of Australian Marriage Equality and the co-author of Why v Why: gay marriage. He has contributed an essay on the Left and marriage equality to ‘Left Turn: Political Essays for the New Left’, edited by Antony Loewenstein and Jeff Sparrow (MUP), out June 1.