How did the cultural left win the war on marriage equality, asks Kevin Donnelly at The Drum? His answer? Radical leftists completed what he claims Antonio Gramsci called “the long march through the institutions”, to control the heights of debate.
These cunning leftists apparently commanded the cultural heights, and changed the meaning of words — “discrimination” for example, from a positive thing to a negative thing — in a manner described by St George of the Orwell. Where will it end, Donnelly wails: “Same-sex marriage “raises the problem that if marriage is now to include gays and lesbians, what right do we have to exclude bisexual and transgender people?”
Um, Kevin, I don’t mean to alarm you, but bisexuals and transgender people are already allowed to marry — as long as they marry someone of the opposite sex. Transgender people already have some leeway in which gender they classify themselves in and, um, on bisexuals, do you actually know what they actually are? The simpler explanation for the success of the marriage equality campaign is that the cultural base of social life changed over the past two decades, from a vestigial Judeo-Christian one, to one where market relations and consumption — and the notions of formal equality, exchangeability that come with it — came to the centre of social life.
Attitudes have been manipulated, Kevin wails again: “To be conservative, on the basis that there are some things from the past that are worthwhile holding on to, is to be old-fashioned, out of touch and guilty of continuing past injustices.”
Indeed, and what has convinced people that conservatism is a bad thing? How about three decades of top-down economic reconstruction, in which people were told that the new economy, new technology, globalisation, cutting-edge, next gen, etc, were compulsory, and the worst things in the world were protectionism, localism, collectivism, etc. The path to marriage equality didn’t begin five years ago — it began, you might say, when Sunday trading was abolished and capital finally triumphed over the Sabbath, quashing any notion that the state should have any regard to traditional values in setting the rules.
Your problem isn’t the left, Kevin — it’s your compatriots on the Right — the Turnbulls, Kennetts and Costellos — whose vision of social life involves a world entirely composed of individual contracts between people, and no institutions to be spared ceaseless transformation. In that framework, the objection to marriage equality becomes as archaic as trying to maintain a commitment to fault-only divorce.
The “cultural left” could have redefined the whole dictionary but they wouldn’t have got anywhere much before around 2005. It’s only after a period in which capital has made all cultural barriers to individual wants into a denial of human rights that the campaign became possible — because marriage equality cuts with the cultural grain of neoliberalism. All the marriage equality movement had to do was work hard, and do its research — a wise move, if only so that one knows that it was Rudi Dutschke, not Gramsci, who advocated a “long march through the institutions”.