There have been massive, groundbreaking developments in the last couple of months. The right of gay people to get married has been signed, sealed through referenda, laws, and judgments of courts.
Some of the methods were questionable, for example the referendum in Ireland. What if the answer had been NO? Could the will of the people have taken away the application of a human right to a certain class of people? Also questionable was whether the amendment of the Constitution was necessary in Ireland since marriage was not defined therein as between a man and a woman but rather between two people. It was tradition that confined the definition rather than the right itself. Thankfully it had all gone well.
Other methods, i.e. seeking a judgment of the Supreme Court as it happened in the US, were also subject to criticism. Courts cannot decide on morality issues, some said. On the other hand the Supreme Court in its multi-page judgment ruled that issues relating to human rights are too important to be left to either the will of the people of the will of the legislature.
Very recently, the European Court of Human Rights ruled that Italy violated the right to private and family life by not providing the right to gay people to be married. Even though the judgment is only against Italy, it is a solid precedence about how this right is to be interpreted. At the same time, the judgment was also hugely disappointing in that it did not find a violation by Italy of the right to marry, acknowledging its limitation by tradition to that between a man and a woman. The judgment only found a violation of the right to family life because the couple in question was living in a “staple and committed relationship”. It is truly questionable how many heterosexual marriages would fulfill that test…
So, there we are. The main campaigning issue of the contemporary gay rights movement has been delivered.(the next recent campaigning issue of transgender rights will soon follow through, with gender recognition legislation popping up around the world, for example very recently Poland, traditionally a very conservative country).
The question right now is “What next”? Now the legislative equality is becoming a reality, is everything fine? Have bigotry, harassment, violence gone? Are we now satisfied? Far from it. The reality is that equality in law does not guarantee equality in society. This is evident in decades and decades of feminist struggles, where despite legislative equality, societal equality is far from becoming a reality, starting from unequal pay, domestic violence, rape and on and on.
An immediate consequence of the rise of the legal gay rights is the very visible outcry by parts of society around the world. The “actions” have caused violent “reactions”. We are witnessing people positioning themselves in a shockingly unashamed manner against gay people. The newly acquired rights somehow prompted a rise in conservatism, bigotry, machismo, religious fundamentalism around the world. Questions may arise whether this prize to pay for gay marriage was ultimately worth it.
At the core of the problem seems to be that the main joint factor affecting the equality of LGBT and women in society is that the patriarchal structures, which created such inequality, continue to exist. Such patriarchal structures basically survive on conservatism, i.e. resistance to change. And until those are challenged, it is questionable whether societal and cultural equality of gay people will ever be achieved.
And that is not to say that the rights of gay people to marry, to enjoy family life are not hugely important. They are. They are fundamental from an emotional, stability, belonging, but also practical and legal point of view. The laws, judgments, referenda of the last few months were absolutely necessary in contributing towards making equality a reality.
At the same time, we should not forget exactly that; that legal equality is only one of the contributing factors towards real equality. In this respect, it is questionable whether making legal equality the core campaigning issue in gay rights was a strategically good one. Now that it has been delivered (and transgender rights are soon to follow), what will the next main campaigning issue be? And how dare we ask for it after our “main request” has been so recently delivered?
Is the next step, therefore, to return to the original, more radical agenda of the gay movement of the 60s? One based on acceptance of difference, rather than on striving for sameness? One based on dismantling the patriarchal societal structures and end conservatism? Is there another way forward? I struggle to think of one.