In two similar posts about gay rights today, Andrew Sullivan tries to explain how great the free market is at encouraging equality. The first, about the news that all 100 companies on Forbes’ list of Top 100 Companies to Work For now include sexual orientation in their non-discrimination policies explains that this “is because they are serving their shareholders by employing the absolutely best people for the jobs they have and do not want to miss someone’s talents because of something irrelevant like sexual orientation. Hence capitalism enables equality. And the last entity to get with the program is the government.”
The second, about Nike and Microsoft rallying behind Washington State’s push for marriage equality claims that “capitalism is a forceful engine behind inclusive social change”
I think these claims are, frankly, bullshit, for several reasons. For one thing, various state governments got with the program far earlier than the private sector. Here in Massachusetts, we’ve had same-sex marriage for eight years or so. And it was a lawsuit by GLAD, an LGBT rights organization, decided by the Supreme Judicial Court of Massachusetts that got it. And a whole bunch of lobbying and protesting and political maneuvering to get the legislature to keep it from even getting to a ballot question. And sexual orientation has been added to several (if still too few) states non-discrimination laws over the years. So 100 big companies that pride themselves on being worker-friendly have policies which are legally mandated in over 20 states. Don’t twist your arm patting yourselves on the back, glibertarians.
As one of my favorite leftist bloggers out there, Corey Robin, likes to point out, “the levers of political power that ordinary citizens can use here are so diffuse.” Like all struggles for equality, the fight for LGBT marriage rights and non-discrimination laws is difficult due to the design of our political system. There are all sorts of ways to preserve the status quo at the federal, state, and local levels, all sorts of ways for a concerted minority to sway the indifferent to keep things the same, or even to further entrench current laws. If we win in the courts, they scream about about separation of powers. If we win in the legislature, they demand a ballot petition. They scream about the will of the people being trampled, while using the filibuster to prevent majority rule. They write laws into the state constitutions to make today’s prejudices tomorrow’s laws.
But really, what most annoys me about this position of Andrew’s is that he’s completely blind to the white male privilege that this conception of things requires. When he says that “capitalism is a forceful engine behind inclusive social change” he doesn’t realize that to the extent that that’s true, it’s not true for everyone. Gay white males with money who want to get married aren’t exactly a threat to the social order. Not to minimize their (our) struggle, but it’s the sort of struggle most amenable to capitalist pressure. What’s capitalism going to do to eliminate schoolyard bullying? What’s it going to do for gay youth getting kicked out of the home when their parents find out they’re gay? How’s it going to address transwomen who get forced to bunk with the men in homeless shelters? Capitalism can push for the bourgeoisie to share more fully in bourgeois values, but beyond that I’m pretty fucking skeptical.
I remember back when same-sex marriage first started to be a real issue. I’m a bit young to have followed the arguments between the “gay left” and people like Andrew Sullivan over whether gay people should even want to get married. But it hadn’t been too far in the past, and there was still some fading disagreement over the issue. I’m still not about to oppose the right of same-sex couples to marry, but I’m definitely seeing what they were worried about. I’ve usually rolled my eyes when Andrew’s written about how same-sex marriage is truly a conservative ideal, but maybe he’s got a point after. Problem is, conservative ideals tend to suck.