Saturday, March 30, 2013

Marriage equality is not a distraction

I imagine that most people who have been on Facebook at some point over the past three days have seen this image popping up in profile pictures everywhere:

Image of a pink equal sign on a red background, a recoloured version of the logo for the HRC.

The Human Rights Campaign, or HRC, asked people to us this image in place of their usual profile pictures in support of marriage equality*. The reason for this is because on Tuesday, the United states Supreme Court began hearing arguments related to California's Proposition 8, the 2008 ballot initiative that marked the end of marriage equality in that state, though same-sex marriages preformed prior to its passing remained valid. Wednesday, the SCOTUS heard arguments regarding the constitutionality of the Defense** of Marriage Act, or DOMA, which limits the federal definition of marriage to one man and one woman, and denied federal marriage benefits to same-sex couples (even those whose marriage or civil union was preformed in a state where such marriages are legally recognized). While seeing both laws stuck down would represent a best-case scenario, and represent a major victory for those who support marriage equality, it would not automatically grant same-sex couples the right to legally marry nationwide. Still, it would pave the way for future court challenges of same-sex marriage bans, and any decision made by the SCOTUS on these cases may end up being precedent-setting. It would be a big step forward, at any rate (though of course marriage is hardly the final frontier when it comes to ensuring full equality for the LGBT community; Melissa McEwan over at Shakesville has an excellent post on the subject, found here).

Now, if you're like me and you're a lefty liberal with lots of lefty liberal friends, you may have also been hearing a lot about the so-called Monsanto Protection Act over the past few days. Now, as a general rule I'm pretty cool with GMOs, though the idea that a giant company that produces them might need-- and then be granted-- specific legal protection didn't seem quite right. I didn't know a whole lot about the situation at the time, however, and opted to wait until I knew more about it before forming an opinion.

Then I saw this image posted by a friend on Facebook (which, to date, has been shared more than 11,500 times):
Image of a white woman with a dissatisfied, disgusted look on her face. Text on image reads as follows: while everyone was distracted by the gay marriage debate. Obama signed the Monsanto Protection Act no debate, no hoopla. dumb people.

I have a serious problem with this image, and not just because of the sloppy punctuation.

The framing that marriage equality is a distraction when the real issue is Monsanto and GMOs is extremely problematic, and those who agree are in serious need of a privilege check. A step towards equality for a marginalized population is quite rightly a big deal, and it's a very important issue. If people tried to take away, for example, freedom of speech, everyone would rightfully be very much up in arms about it, and court cases that seek to grant people that freedom would be watched closely. Of course, freedom of speech is a right enjoyed by all people, including those with privilege. No one would ever call such a debate a distraction; in that same vein, we should never think of equality for LGBT people a distraction. Caring about food, the environment, or whatever it is that people opposed to GMOs and Monsanto more than the struggle for equality faced by the LGBT community once again tries to push aside the concerns of marginalized people in favour of the concerns of the privileged.

As if this excessive display of privilege wasn't enough, it's not even accurate! Let's set the record straight: there is no Monsanto Protection Act. The bill signed by President Obama is one that allows the   American government to continue to pay its bills, and this act expires at the end of the fiscal year (which, for the government, is in October). The bit people are so up-in-arms about is a section that deals  with litigation as it pertains to agriculture, and allows the Secretary of Agriculture to permit farmers to continue growing crops, even if litigation has been filed concerning that crop. More information about the provision and what it means can be found here.

What's also  important to note is this bit of legislation isn't even new! It was already made law in June, 2012, as part of an Agricultural Appropriations bill. Furthermore, what passed in 2012 only sought to codify a  SCOTUS decision made in 2010. People who are concerned about the provision Obama passed just a few days ago are quite late to this particular party.

I think it's important to mention that while, yes, this provision will help giant corporations like Monsanto, that's not necessarily the intent behind it, nor are they the only ones who stand to benefit. If anything, it's individual farms that can be hurt the most if someone files a suit regarding a crop. Before, this would mean that the crop couldn't be planted until the litigation process ended, which could take years. A giant company like Monsanto can absorb those costs; they probably don't want to, because it'll cut into their bottom line, but they won't go bankrupt over it. Farmers themselves don't necessarily have that luxury, and being unable to plant a crop for years could ruin them, especially if planting had already started when the suit was filed.

So, not only does the outrage over Monsanto and GMOs and this bit of law favour the concerns of the privileged over the rights of the marginalized, it's based on a lot of bad information. Good job, kyriarchy.

Marriage equality is most definitely not a distraction. It is an important step towards equality for LGBTQ people. If anything, Monsanto and agriculture litigation laws are the distraction.

*Some, myself included, have opted not to use this image in light of some of the problematic things the HRC has done to alienate the trans* community. That's a topic for another post, though.

**On my own Facebook page, I initially referred to this act as the Defence of Marriage Act, spelled using proper Queen's English. However, as an American friend of mine pointed out, "It might be a shitty and hateful law, but it's OUR shitty and hateful law, and we get to pick the spelling." I suppose I can allow that.