Over the past few years, same-sex marriage reforms have become central to contemporary LGBTQ movements. As a result of their mobilizations, many countries across the world have adopted same-sex marriage reforms. According to scholars, LGBTQ movements were successful in part because they used law and legal discourse, arguing that same-sex marriage flows from states’ legal obligations to protect equality and prohibit discrimination. The turn to law and the law of marriage in the local and transnational contexts may fail, however, to deliver substantive justice for all LGBTQ people. First, same-sex marriage reforms, rather than being just a translation of equality into law, is a product of ideological and legal battles in specific socioeconomic contexts. For instance, in the United States, same-sex marriage, rather than being another form of relationship recognition, became prominent because of the centrality of marriage in the country’s economic, cultural, and legal order. Second, the law of marriage is a system of governance historically shaped by different-sex couples’ needs, with specific one-size-fits-all rules that may not correspond to LGBTQ individuals’ desires, wishes, and lived experiences. Third, as queer theorists have shown, the law of marriage creates an “outside,” a space of exclusion that is inseparable from the legal regime of marriage and the cultural intelligibility of marriage. The emphasis on marriage by LGBTQ movements risks delegitimizing other forms of intimate relationships. The emphasis on marriage may also entrench neoliberalism in contexts in which the marriage, not the state, is seen as a primary safety net. Finally, in the global or transnational setting, claims for same-sex marriage may perhaps unintentionally feed into representations of civilizational conflicts, between those countries that recognize same-sex marriage and those that do not, while also erasing the variety of local practices around sexuality and gender norms.
The Politics of Same-Sex Marriage Reforms
Distributive Justice for LGBTQ People
Leading advocates for lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and queer (LGBTQ) advancement in the United States debate the central objectives of the movement as well as its proper reformist scope. On the libertarian right, gay rights proponents articulate a narrow vision, devoid of race or class consciousness and focused on obtaining formal equality through spare legal reforms—mainly access to marriage and military inclusion. On the left, advocates envision a larger cultural transformation, one that intersects with racial and economic justice and challenges the norms of powerful institutions such as family, capitalism, and the military. A review of empirical research demonstrates that the needs in the LGBTQ community are diverse and, in many cases, urgent. The most privileged, along axes of race and class, may have few concerns apart from protection against discrimination and formal exclusion from major social institutions. Once the full spectrum of LGBTQ demographics and experience are considered, however, such a constricted range of reform objectives reveals itself to be insufficient to address such obstacles as hunger, homelessness, and unemployment. A fresh approach to evaluating LGBTQ legal needs yields an equally fresh set of alternatives to the mainstream legal reform agenda. An intersectionally and distributively cognizant shift in the movement’s direction could advance the needs of the most disadvantaged members of the community, including homeless youth, transgender sex workers, and low-income parents.
Mobilizing the Invisible: Power and Marginality in the Black LGBTQ Community
Ravi K. Perry and Aaron D. Camp
Symbolic and structural inequities that seek to maintain White supremacy have sought to render Black LGBTQ Americans invisible in the body politic of powerful institutions that govern society. In the face of centuries-long oppression at the hands of the state, Black LGBTQ Americans have effectively mobilized to establish visibility on the national policymaking agenda. Members of this community have demonstrated a fierce resilience while confronting a violent anti-Black and anti-LGBTQ mainstream agenda narrative in media and politics. This sociopolitical marginalization—from members of their shared demographic, or not, is often framed in partisan or ideological terms in public discourse and in the halls of American political institutions. Secondary marginalization theory and opinion polling frame how personal identity and social experience shape the Black LGBTQ political movement’s expression of what participation in politics in the United States ought to earn them in return. Double-consciousness theory contextualizes the development of Black LGBTQ sociopolitical marginalization in the United States and the community’s responsive mobilization over time—revealing the impact of coalition building and self-identification toward establishing political visibility necessary to improve the lived conditions of the multiply oppressed.
HIV/AIDS Politics and Policy in Europe
HIV/AIDS in Europe highlights the centrality of politics at local, state, and international levels to the successes and failures in fighting transnational, global threats. Though several European states have led the international struggle against HIV/AIDS and have made great strides in treatment and prevention, others host the fastest-growing epidemics in the world. Even in states with long histories of treatment, specific subpopulations, including many LGBTQ communities, face growing epidemics. This variation matches trends in public policy, the actions of political leaders, and social structures of inequity and marginalization toward affected populations. Where leaders stigmatize people living with HIV (PLHIV) and associated groups, the virus spreads as punitive policies place everyone at increased risk of infection. Thus, this epidemic links the health of the general public to the health of the most marginalized communities. Mounting evidence shows that a human rights approach to HIV/AIDS prevention involving universal treatment of all vulnerable communities is essential to combating the spread of the virus. This approach has taken hold in much of Europe, and many European states have worked together as a political force to shape a global human rights HIV/AIDS treatment and prevention regime. Despite this leadership, challenges remain across the region. In some Eastern European states, tragic epidemics are spreading beyond vulnerable populations and rates of transmission continue to rise. The Russian case in particular shows how a punitive state response paired with the stigmatization of PLHIV can lead to a health crisis for the entire country. While scholars have shed light upon the strategies of political legitimization likely driving the scapegoating and stigmatization of PLHIV and related groups, there is an immediate need for greater research in transnational social mobilization to pressure for policies that combat these backward political steps. As financial austerity and defiant illiberalism spread across Europe, key values of universal treatment and inclusion have come into the crosshairs along with the European project more generally. Researchers and policymakers must therefore be vigilant as continued progress in the region is anything but certain. With biomedical advances and the advent of the “age of treatment,” widespread alleviation from the suffering of HIV/AIDS is a real possibility. Realizing this potential will, however, require addressing widespread political, social, and economic challenges. This in turn calls for continued interdisciplinary, intersectional research and advocacy.
The American South and LGBT Politics
The cultural distinctiveness of the South led to a backlash in the region in the years following the rise of a national LGBTQ movement. In the decades that followed, political science research showed that the South remained fundamentally different than elsewhere in the nation in terms of attitudes regarding LGBTQ individuals and policies, both regarding overall views and Southerners’ imperviousness to personal contact with queer individuals in terms of reshaping attitudes. In electoral politics, explicit group-based appeals regarding LGBTQ individuals were often employed. And, policy divergence between the South and non-South was stark. While unambiguous shifts have occurred in the South in a more pro-LGBTQ rights direction, the region remains distinctively conservative when it comes to LGBTQ politics. Particularly striking are Southern attitudes toward transgender individuals and policies. That said, “two Souths” have begun to cement on LGBTQ politics as urbanized and suburbanized areas have diverged. Moreover, within the region’s Republican Party, a factional divide has begun to show itself across the South. The South remains consequential in gauging whether backpedaling on the dramatic progress made on LGBTQ rights is occurring in the United States.