December 1, 2010

Gay marriage is bad for America.

I mean it; I think gay marriage is a terrible idea, and I want nothing to do with it.

Evan Wolfson, founder and director of the marriage-equality organization Freedom to Marry, argues that the term “gay marriage” suggests we’re asking for special privileges—privileges that straight married people don’t have. Me, I take the opposite view. As I see it, any adjectival or nominal qualification can only limit the idea of marriage, can only make it less than just plain marriage and all it encompasses. A menu is a menu, but a kids menu is a very particular kind of menu, sharing some but not all of the qualities of other menus. Soup can be refreshing in any clime on any day of the year; chicken soup can’t. “Marriage” is marriage, and offers a host of possibilities. “Gay marriage,” I think, offers fewer.

(If we need a noun, I offer “marriage equality.”)

If you had told me on May 4, 1993, that in a decade and a half I would be desperately researching waiting periods for marriage licenses in Connecticut and Massachusetts because otherwise my boyfriend was going to drag me to his home state of Iowa to get married (“But corn is fun!”), I would have laughed in your face. Then, if you are a boy, I would most likely have asked you out, since that’s what I spent most of my sophomore year of college doing, and you would have said no, since that’s what the boys I asked out spent most of my sophomore year of college doing, and I would have gone back to my dorm room to cry.

But the next day, the Hawai’i Supreme Court ruled that denying same-sex couples the right to marry probably violated the state constitution, and everything changed. I mean, the boys I asked out still said no, but the possibilities of what they were saying no to had been cracked wide open, so I cried much, much harder.

Seventeen years later (though, extraordinarily, I seem to have aged only five), I have at last found a boy I was able to trick into proposing to me. After getting engaged two and a half years ago, we’ve made a few attempts at planning a wedding, but none of them have come to fruition, mostly because the damn rules keep changing. “Honey, let’s go to Massachusetts and get married! Oh, wait, now we can only get married in Massachusetts if we live there. Okay, well, let’s go to California and get marri— whoops, we weren’t fast enough. Never mind California. Wait, maybe we can still go to California! Nope. Um . . . oh, crap.”

Since May 17, 2004, when a Cambridge city clerk pronounced Tanya McCloskey and Marcia Kadish married under the laws of Massachusetts, same-sex couples have followed their lead in the United States — over 150,000 all told in Massachusetts, California, Connecticut, New Hampshire, Vermont, Iowa, Washington, D.C., and the Coquille Indian Tribe (within the boundaries of Oregon).

And that’s the thing: McCloskey and Kadish, and the multitude of other married same-sex couples—theirs wasn’t a gay marriage. It was a marriage.

When Roman soldiers, forbidden in the first and second centuries A.D. to take wives, were finally allowed to wed, they weren’t military marrying; they were marrying.

When former slaves freed by the Emancipation Proclamation stood before clergymen and spoke their vows, they weren’t getting black married or freedmen and -women married; they were getting married.

When Richard Loving and Mildred Jeter said “I do”—they were the interracial couple whose victory in the Supreme Court case Loving v. Virginia made it illegal in America to prevent mixed-race couples from wedding—they didn’t get interracial married; they got married.

Same-sex couples today are in no different position. I don’t want to get gay married.

I want to get married.

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9 Responses to Gay marriage is bad for America

  1. Jeffrey says:

    OK almighty composer, I want your Sondheimesque riff entitled:
    I’m Not Getting Gay Married Today.”

  2. ssmith says:

    I take the point that marrying someone of the same gender is simply marrying. And I agree that civil marriage is an institution to which everyone should have an equal right, and thus no marriage should be any different or require any disclaimers. I recently had to (try to) explain to my mother that my impending wedding is not, in fact, a “big, public affair” as she suggested so much as it is a common adult right of passage. Specifically, that me getting married to my boyfriend is exactly the same thing my brother did with his wife in front of 200 of their closest friends and family.

    That said, I do sort of want to get gay married. It’s uncomfortable to participate in such a heteronormative institution. I kind of want to “queer the space”, if you will, but have a hard time weighing that against wanting the rights and protections that the institution offers. In other words, people talk a lot about gay people getting married, but I wonder instead how do we make marriage gay? Do we need to?

  3. Jeffrey, you’ll have to wait for my show Civilly Unite Me a Little.

    ssmith, I take your point. I wonder whether the solution isn’t something about form v. content? Traditional form v. queer content, or vice versa? Not that I know what that looks like. My question is whether there’s a way to queer the space without losing dignity. I mean, one could make a marriage gay by exchanging butt plugs instead of rings, for example, but if one didn’t want to flout and comment on the tradition in such a way, what options would remain? (And then of course I’m talking about a wedding instead of a marriage.)

  4. ssmith, congratulations, by the way! I wish you joy.

  5. ssmith says:

    I was at a gay wedding recently where one of the other guests commented that there was nothing gay about the wedding except that it was two women getting married; no one mentioned it in a toast, ceremony, etc. And I suppose that’s where my question comes from–does it need to be? Is there a pink elephant in the room if the gayness of it isn’t explicitly acknowledged somehow?

    I think you’re right about it being a question of form and content. But to that extent, isn’t every wedding just individualized expressions of what the people getting married like? Take the wedding in Sex and the City 2 is one example (albeit, fictitious and dramatized, among other things) of what a gay male wedding is. But was that really about them being gay? Is having a men’s chorus, or even Liza, so much gay as it is merely an expression of their personalities and taste? And perhaps, then, it’s no different than someone who really wants a classic, by-the-book Martha Stewart wedding? Is it really about individualism more generally? Though for what it’s worth, someone else commented that every gay wedding has a reading by Walt Whitman, which has almost always been true of those I’ve attended.

  6. lee says:

    Walt Whitman readings? That does it. I can never get married now.

  7. xlibris says:

    If ever I marry my partner of 15 years (and expect a cataclysm of apocalyptic proportions to follow if such an event should take place) we will be choosing selections from David Sedaris and Frank O’Hara. “To the Film Industry in Crisis!” would be particularly apt. Our wedding will be witty and fun. Walt Whitman? How stodgy.

  8. mdmphd says:

    Years ago, I was hankering for a recognized relationship and a ring of white gold or platinum, living in the great waffle of a state that is CA when everybody was ‘doin’it’. I turned to my then partner and asked, calmly, “Shall we go up to the city? [pregnant pause]Do you want to get married now? We can have a ceremony with our friends later, bring your relatives up for a party…” I’d asked it once before on a stunted, summery balcony after a successful mimosa brunch and we giggled till we cried and coughed through his medicinal pot, but the answer was yes. We doodled lists and such for a full weekend. I saved them in the kitchen drawer, rolled and bound by rubber bands and silk ribbon from a diabetic candy box.
    Months later, with the announcement of marriages on city hall steps fresh from the Tv, he was still smoking the pot for neuropathy, but his eyes narrowed to almonds as he regarded me. His answer should have cleared more air:”It’s just a trend and it won’t last.” “Don’t you think this is a window of possibility? We could be part of something historic. We talked about it before.” “I don’t want to go up there and go through all of that just to have it overturned,” and finally,”Plus, parking will be a nightmare and my foot is killing me.”
    He had been discussing my faults and weaknesses to his relatives and friends for months. We then visited and slept in their houses for the holidays. They had all been told that I wasn’t the one and would be jettisoned after seasonal feasting and cheer was over and their wind chill factor was appropriately numbing. During farewells, I nearly panicked when his youngest teenage niece broke through their pack and hugged me too hard, tears in her eyes. She liked me despite her family’s miasma and I was so grateful for that one hug of truth. She’s the scarecrow I miss most of all.
    In retrospect, of course that was the right answer; he was 11 years older, has serious health issues, and didn’t want me to move to the City with him when a job opened up. I thought every couple, married or not, worked through problems. I still believe this. We were not the right fit. It took many years to recover and start looking again.
    That holiday of masked but intense humiliation, under the microscope of unknown family, birthed a lasting lesson: Marriage is for the committed, encompasses your shared faults and life challenges and should be a journey through life with your partner. There will be enough roadblocks and it’s best you know if your intended is a secret bricklayer.

  9. Joel Derfner says:

    lee and xlibris, if it makes you feel any better, when I finally did get married there were no readings at all.

    mdmphd, I think your last sentence is beautiful.


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