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Back to Section One | Back to Arts & Entertainment
posted Friday, April 1, 2011 - Volume 39 Issue 13
'Equality' beyond marriage - An interview with activist Ryan Conrad
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'Equality' beyond marriage - An interview with activist Ryan Conrad

by Rahul K. Gairola - SGN Contributing Writer

Less than five years ago, in July 2006, Justice Barbara Madsen (now chief justice) of the WA Supreme Court wrote the infamous 5/4 decision to uphold the state's ban on Gay marriage. At the time, Madsen followed the lead of the state of New York, thus making Washington state the second in the nation to strike down Gay marriage. In writing the amicus curiae brief, Madsen claimed: 'DOMA is constitutional because the legislature was entitled to believe that limiting marriage to opposite-sex couples furthers procreation, essential to survival of the human race, and furthers the wellbeing of children by encouraging families where children are reared in homes headed by the children's biological parents.'

At the time, Madsen's brief suggested that marriage cannot be extended to Gay couples because, in a nutshell, same-sex couples cannot constitute valid families. She moreover gestured towards the fallacy that the key to raising children responsibly depends on the availability of both 'biological parents.' While many Gay advocate groups rightly questioned the rationale that misguided Madsen's assessment of raising children, many other activists have questioned what marriage has to do with families and children at all.

In fact, Queer activists like Ryan Conrad critically question what marriage has to do with intimate relationships between people at all. Conrad is the editor of Against Equality: Queer Critiques of Gay Marriage, a handbook of essays that challenges mainstream views that marriage offers equality to any person.

Conrad's petite collection of essays features contributions by some of the most important Queer advocates of our time, and can be carried in one's pocket like a weapon against liberal, Gay assumptions that stake claims at the cost of true social justice for all. Writers include the likes of Yasmin Nair, Kate Bornstein, Dean Spade, Kenyon Farrow, John D'Emilio, and others who are allied together as The Against Equality Collective.

'The Against Equality Collective is a very loose affiliation of radical Queer activist friends, lovers, and co-conspirators,' says Conrad. 'We are not an organization, we do not have an office, we do not have a budget, and we operate on an ad hoc volunteer basis. Against Equality is this extra thing that some of us do on the side because we think it is important in their communities, whether it be prison abolition, Queer youth work, anti-poverty work, etc.'

Given the non-profit and volunteer nature of The Against Equality Collective and its digital archive, one cannot help but be impressed by the breadth of contributers and critiques of so-called marriage equality. Recognizable big-hitters are mixed with emerging voices of resistance, thus destabilizing the dominance of name-brand activists and/or topics. According to Conrad, 'We generally tried to select a handful of different perspectives from within our digital archive to put into book form. When we went about contacting contributors, we did not have to do any sort of serious solicitation since our network is based largely on established friendships and political affinities.'

Aside from laying down the historical foundations of resistance to Gay marriage, the collection pushes into interlinked topics of identity politics that have often been ignored by bourgeois, white, Gay culture. These topics include race, class, gender, nationality, ability, age, ethnicity, etc. 'Critiques of marriage have come from many methods of theorizing,' says Conrad. 'Feminist, anti-racist, and class-based critiques have been around for centuries and our work is built upon that framework - from the early work of Emma Goldman and Voltairine de Cleyre to present-day contributors like Kenyon Farrow and Yasmin Nair.' In a bid to also de-center literacy as the privileged site to resistance against 'marriage equality,' the Against Equality Collective includes a set of postcards designed by Chris Vargas, Buzz Slutzky, and Liz Kinnamon in the book. 'There is a huge lack of visual culture reflecting more radical Queer politics these days,' says Conrad. 'So we thought we could help generate more through our digital archival project. How many times have you seen those vapid, pro-Gay marriage logos proliferating online and on social networking sites? We wanted to counter these.'

Perhaps the most pressing question on the minds of pro-marriage advocates is why this work is important. According to Conrad and many others, marriage is not about equality at all. In fact, in the misguided search for 'equality,' new paradigms of inequity are institutionalized. 'This work is important because poor, Queer, and Trans folks are being wholesale lied to by the pro-Gay marriage non-profits that run these 'equality' campaigns. They frame this as the last 'step' to 'full equality,' which cannot be further than the truth. Poor Queers without health insurance at either of their multiple jobs still won't have health insurance to share when they marry. Non-status folks marrying other non-status folks will still be deprived of citizenship. These are but a few of many other reasons.'

The argument has also been made that such 'equality' campaigns for Gay people are similar to the Civil Rights movement to end segregation in the U.S. Such a comparison couldn't be based on more fallacious terms. On the most obvious level, the histories and visual registers of race and sexuality bigotry are infinitely different. According to contributor Kenyon Farrow, this 'hijacking of Rosa Parks' to make the analogy between black and Gay civil rights tried to obscure the presence of Queer-phobia in Gay white communities at the same time it mystifies real class differences between the haves and the have-nots. Farrow succinctly writes, 'America is first built on the privilege of whiteness, and as long as you have white skin, you have a level of agency and access above and beyond people of color, period. White women and white non-heteros included.'

Despite death threats directed towards him and Nair, Conrad says the Against Equality Collective will be working on new literary and art projects in the future. 'My personal hope is that this project will open up space for critically thinking about the direction the Gay rights mainstream is marching. & Some folks are working on our next anthology, which focuses on critiquing the ludicrous effort to repeal DADT, but the work we are doing in our local communities has always taken precedence,' says Conrad. Given this innovative political activism that seeks to spread equality in the most equitable manner possible, it may be just a matter of time before Chief Justice Madsen finds herself supporting 'marriage equality' for the bigotry that is inherent in it.

Ryan Conrad speaks on 'Against Equality: Queer Challenges to the Politics of Inclusion' on Friday, April 1, at the Notions Building Lecture Hall (1000 Lenora St.), Cornish College of the Arts, at 2 p.m., and will also co-host an event called 'Radical Queer History + Arts' at Hollow Earth Radio (2018 E. Union St.) from 2-6 p.m. on Saturday, April 2.

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