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Gay marriage advocates, as it turns out, are complicit with the people who want to privatize Social Security.

This is no nefarious scheme, but rather the consequences of buying in to a certain kind of political logic that has become the standard language of politics in the United States.

Though David Roediger discusses in his 1991 book The Wages of Whiteness: Race and the Making of the American Working Class, discourses circulating at the time of the American Revolution that “thoroughly conflated opportunity to accumulate and secure productive property with the ‘pursuit of happiness’” and taxation with slavery and therefore unfreedom (p. 28), in the era typically known as neoliberalism this equation of economic with political liberty has become orthodox—and in the mainstream at least it is verging on becoming unquestionable doxa.

It is this (strange) unquestionability of the equation of property and freedom that animates contemporary activism around gay marriage. That is, though in 2003 Wendy Brown pointed out in Neo-liberalism and the End of Liberal Democracy  points out that political liberalism can “lean more in the direction of maximizing liberty (its politically ‘conservative’ tilt) or maximizing equality (its politically ‘liberal’ tilt)” (sec. 6), and the demand for equality of marriage rights from the state is clearly the latter, the ways in which the demand for state recognition for one’s marriage is about inequality with respect to things like inheritance and taxes indicates that this “tilting” is within a relatively narrow orbit of economic laissez-faire liberalism.

Kevin Floyd‘s 2009 book The Reification of Desire: Toward a Queer Marxism makes this argument quite explicitly, arguing that “neoliberal efforts to limit the horizon of struggles against ‘homophobia’ to the right to get married and own property” function “to assimilate homosexual practices not only to a heteronormative model of monogamy and ‘commitment’ but to a related, uncritical identification of privacy with property” (p. 68).

This contention is also implicit in Mary Gray’s description in her 2009 book Out in the Country: Youth, Media, and Queer Visibility in Rural America of the successful framing of gay rights as “special rights” in Kentucky—“rural voters who reject recognition of LGBT rights,” she argues, “telegraph their own feelings of economic vulnerability, lack of access to social-welfare benefits, and reliance on the material more than symbolic preciousness of marriage to span the gaps in a woefully threadbare social safety net” (p. 179).

“Guarantee us the right to accumulate property with and bequeath property to whomever we choose,” the activist attention to marriage seems to say, but it’s only a segment of the population (gay or straight) who can take advantage of those benefits of marriage.

The idea, then, that “my ability to get married is my property and I should be able to do with it what I want” points right back to the logic that “my Social Security contributions should go into an account for me, and yours should be for you, and if you don’t have enough when you retire then tough.”

Most gay rights activists would be horrified at the latter statement, so why is the former their organizing principle?

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