By Lisa Duggan
The battle royal has now been engaged over the question of whether health care reform will include a public option, with insurance industry flacks and free market ideologues drumming up hysteria and hauling out the loonies to denounce any public option as “socialist” (I wish) and “Nazi” (say what?), while mild mannered liberals defend it for bringing “choice and competition” to the health insurance markets. It’s a hard war to watch, given that the so-called public option is a pale shadow of single payer–the approach that might provide universal quality care without siphoning buckets of money into executive salaries and profits for the health care robber barons.
But here’s my question for today: Where are the homosexuals? While all the mainstream gay groups and lgbt media and bloggers are rehashing Prop 8 and planning a march for equality in October, honey, Rome is burning right here right now. Much of the furor over marriage rights in the United States is fueled by the desire for access to health care–employment and marriage being the primary routes for insurance coverage. In countries with universal health care, the battle over same sex marriage rights has been much less intense and consequential. Gaining universal access to health care in the U.S. now would meet the widespread need that is now largely expressed in campaigns for partnership recognition. In addition, it could address the crying need for adequate health care for masses of queers who have no wish to marry. In the large balancing scale of benefits–free universal health care, or single payer, would do more for The Gays than marriage equality. So where are the gay groups and activists? Where have they been for the past decade when organizing for single payer might have helped push it onto the national political agenda, before it was so unceremoniously replaced by the “public option”? And where are they now that the public option may be replaced by the even paler, more impotent health co-op plan?
Are gay groups and activists serious about gaining concrete benefits for queer constituencies–homeless kids, transgender sex workers, lgbt populations that are unemployed, elderly, migrant or immigrant, disabled and sick? If so, then it would make a lot more sense to spend $50 million in donor funds pushing for free universal health care, than even thinking about spending that sum to redo the Prop 8 referendum next year. Should we rename the current organizations to peg them as the Gay Couples Rights Movement?
Access to health care is a national emergency, for queers folks more than most.
It’s past time for us all to mobilize on the front lines of this political battle–it matters more to more queers than marriage ever will.