Same Sex Marriage Is Like Opening Up a Hornet's Nest

Timothy Patrick McCarthy is a Lecturer on History and Literature, Adjunct Lecturer on Public Policy, and Director of the Human Rights and Social Movements Program at the Carr Center for Human Rights Policy at the Harvard Kennedy School. He also teaches in the Committee on Degrees in Studies of Women, Gender, and Sexuality in the Faculty of Arts and Sciences.

A historian of social movements, Dr. McCarthy graduated with honors from Harvard College and received his Ph.D. in History from Columbia University, where he completed his dissertation under the direction of Eric Foner. Dr. McCarthy's research agenda focuses on the relationship between human rights and social movements in three main areas: race relations and civil rights; LGBT politics, policy, and advocacy; and modern-day slavery and human trafficking.

McCarthy has published two books, The Radical Reader: A Documentary History of the American Radical Tradition (New Press, 2003) and Prophets of Protest: Reconsidering the History of American Abolitionism (New Press, 2006), and his third book, Protest Nation: The Radical Roots of Modern America, is forthcoming from the New Press in 2010.

An outspoken and respected leader in the lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender community, Dr. McCarthy was a founding member of Barack Obama's National LGBT Leadership Council, serves on the Board of the Harvard Gay and Lesbian Caucus, and, in 2009, delivered Harvard's prestigious Nicholas Papadopoulos Lecture, entitled "Stonewall's Children: Life, Loss, and Love after Liberation." He lectures widely on topics ranging from history and literature to politics and human rights.

  • Transcript

TRANSCRIPT

Question: What about gay marriage?

Tim McCarthy: The issue of marriage is a very sticky one. I personally, though I relish my right to get married to my partner if I so choose in Massachusetts, and looks like that’s going to also happen in New York very soon. It certainly happened all throughout New England, with the exception of Rhode Island. I relish that right. I’m happy to have it. I’m grateful to people who struggled to earn that right in the states where we’ve earned it.

But I don’t think that the marriage issue, strategically, is the best thing to put at the forefront of our movement. And I think there has been, among some members in the LBGT movement, an over emphasis on marriage.

I think that there are two problems with that. One is that marriage is the most sacred of institutions, right? I mean, culturally speaking. In the public imagination most people, despite the fact that we have 50% divorce rate among straight married couples, we raise marriage to a pedestal that we don’t raise any other kind of relationship to. And I think there are a lot of reasons for that historically, but when you seek to become fully integrated, and have the full rights of marriage; it’s like kicking a bee’s nest or kicking a hornet’s nest--and that’s what the LGBT community has done. I’m not saying that they shouldn’t kick hornet’s nest. I think that, you know, none of us would be anywhere if we didn’t kick a few hornet’s nest. But at the end of the day, we have to understand that when you kick a hornet’s nest, there are going to be hornets, right, and you are going to get stung.

I sounded like a Southerner right now. I feel I should be on a porch somewhere drinking mead tulips.

But at the end of the day, we’re going to get stung and we have been stung and we’ve been stung in California. We haven’t been stung elsewhere. But in the end of the day and not to beat the metaphor to death too, much, at the end of the day, I think that we have asked for a fight that we have now gotten, right? And some of us are upset that that fight has resulted in some punches and some black eyes, and California is one of them.

So I think, strategically, marriage might not be the only fight we want to have. I think we want to pick some fights that we know we can win so that we can store up some energy for the big fights and marriage is definitely a big fight.

 


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