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Who guards the borders of ’gay’? : an examination of the implications of the extension of ’spousal’ status to queer people who experience multiple oppression Van der Meide, Wayne

Abstract

In this thesis I explore the implications of the extension of 'spousal' status to samesex couples from the perspective of queer people who experience intersectional or complex oppression. This study is grounded in a rejection of the necessity or efficacy of attempting to understanding the oppressions facing queer people from only one perspective. I reject the notion that such a simplistic approach to understanding oppression is conceptually honest. Put simply, I argue that what is often characterised as a purely 'gay and lesbian' approach to reform—namely, the consideration of only oppression related to 'sexual orientation' or 'heterosexism'—is in reality the prioritisation of the limited perspective of those who only experience systemic disadvantage related to their race. These people are a small minority of queer people. Unlike many other academics and activists, I do not conclude with a 'yes' or 'no' response to the question of whether same-sex spousal status should be sought. The analysis presented in this thesis does not permit such a final conclusion for three reasons. First, I argue that the implications of the extension of spousal status vary depending on the institutional context; in other words, the extension of spousal status is very different in the context of social assistance law as compared to the provision of employment-related benefits. Secondly, I argue that the extension of spousal status also varies among queer people; for example, the implications of the extension of spousal status to poor queers are vastly different from those who are wealthy. Thirdly, I argue that the decision to support the extension of spousal status to same-sex couples is inherently political; this decision cannot be immunised from political challenge on the basis that it is derived from some allegedly objective legal or socio-scientific calculus. Although I have endeavoured adopt a inter-disciplinary approach, this thesis does focus on legal rights discourse. To my mind, this focus is appropriate given the emphasis on 'rights talk' and the assumed benefits of formal equality within the community of academics and activists working on queer issues. In various parts of this thesis, I focus on the approaches of activists, academics, judges and legislators to the issue of the rights of queer people and the nature of equality. Ultimately, I conclude that until we begin to appreciate the complexity of the oppressions facing queer people, and avoid the false prioritisation of a 'purely gay and lesbian oppression' perspective, we will be unable to work in coalition or to effect progressive social change.

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