Perpetual scold Larry Kramer, the award-winning playwright and co-founder of New York's Gay Men's Health Crisis, tells Chris Geidner
that he feels his disparagement of the hoopla surrounding New York's marriage equality victory has been misunderstood. He gives Chris the complete statement he submitted to NYT
. Here is a portion:
The historic and cultural significance of this moment is that once again the gay population of this country continues to accept second best. These marriages, in whichever state, are what I call 'feel-good marriages.' They convey little in the way of benefits (and in some instances they are even financially punishing to those who embark on them). Compared to the benefits heterosexual marriages convey, gay marriages are an embarrassment - that we should accept so little, and with so much hoopla of excitement and self-congratulation.
Most straight people who are congratulating us so effusively don't understand that these marriages share none of their federal benefits and entitlements, the right to inherit without punishing taxation, the right for our joint incomes not to be taxed so hideously high, the right to share insurances -- there are over one thousand benefits worth money that the federal government bestows on heterosexual marriages and which our state marriages don't. So why do we continue to get so excited when so few worthless crumbs are thrown our way?
... When are we going to recognize that until the Supreme Court blesses our union, we continue to be worthless and powerless, which is the way our enemies wish us to remain. When will we face up to the fact that no sooner does a state grant us marriage, than our enemies immediately tie up the courts in endless litigations to disallow them, as in the monstrous mess that has become California.... I do not disparage any gay couple's desire to wed in New York, or anywhere else, and in so doing feel and take joy from this act. But let us all recognize that beyond this euphoria, these marriages are hardly worth the paper they are printed on.
And once again, I can only raise the cry: how long are we as a people going to accept such shabby and unequal treatment?
I am sorry, but this is willfully obtuse and insulting. Setting aside what most straight people understand (we can deal with communication and messaging deficiencies in another discussion), it is simply false to say that marriage equality activists "accept second best." The fact that we can't get everything we want in one fell swoop doesn't mean we're settling for a "few worthless crumbs," as Kramer falsely characterizes the real and significant legal protections now available at the state level to same-sex couples in New York. He must be aware of the ongoing struggle on multiple fronts for marriage equality at the national level. So why does he insist on claiming that we're settling for less? None of us thinks that we're done. What would it cost him to say, "Hooray now we press on for full equality, not just state by state, but at the federal level."
Kramer also says that "until the Supreme Court blesses our union, we continue to be worthless and powerless...." He has been spouting this sort of dire hyperbole for his entire career, and it JUST AIN'T SO. Just because we have not reached the goal, just because we have much more yet to achieve, does not make it remotely reasonable to say that in the meantime we are "worthless and powerless." As Frank Kameny said firmly to Kramer years ago during an appearance Kramer made to D.C.'s late and lamented Lambda Rising bookstore, we have made enormous progress for gay equality over the decades. It's asinine to deny this. Just a scan of GLAA's online archive at www.glaa.org, which only deals with local stuff here in D.C., shows how wrong Kramer is on this.
What pisses people off about Kramer, I think, is not that they imagine he has insulted their marriages much less their love for each other, but that his Cassandra complex makes him unwilling ever to pause to celebrate anything we collectively achieve. It is extremely tiresome. He may have some superhuman drive to propel him, but most of us need these moments of celebration. Those celebrations are not a sign of self-delusion. We are not the fools he takes us for.
As to a marriage that is not recognized at the federal level being financially punishing for some couples, it is certainly smart for people to consult a tax attorney before taking the leap. But that is a choice for each couple to make. Kramer may want to wait until we have won full equality, but he should know better than anyone that for many people, in the words of the song "Love Don't Need a Reason" that Michael Callen co-wrote for The Normal Heart, "What we don't have is time."
I am 21 years younger than Kramer, but at 55 I do not see the future stretching out endlessly before me. The reason I have not yet married my Patrick, despite the tenth anniversary of our first night together approaching next month, is that as a binational couple there are legal considerations that get in our way. But I intend to take what I can get when I can get it, even as we press on toward the goal of equality.
As Dr. King said on December 5, 1955 as he launched the Montgomery Bus Boycott in Alabama: "And we are determined, here in Montgomery, to work and fight until justice rolls down like water, and righteousness like a mighty stream."
In short, Mr. Kramer, you are not the only person in our community who gets it, who is angered by injustice, or who is committed for the long haul. Your persistent habit of talking as if the rest of us are fucking idiots got old a long time ago.