I am a gay right advocate. I have many gay & lesbian friends. Great people. I love them dearly. Not long ago a group of them asked me to speak at a rally for LGBT rights, and I gladly agreed. I believe LGBT rights are the civil rights issues of our time. To my happy surprise, my friends gave me an award, an acknowledgment of my advocacy for them. They announced that I’d earned the status of “Honorary Fag.” I’ve yet to receive the T-shirt, but I’m proud of the distinction, nonetheless.
So why in the name of Harvey Milk would I scribble a piece advising against marriage for my LGBT friends? This has been painful for me. But I simply must make the case that, at least for now, my dear LGBT friends should reconsider their demand for equal marriage rights. I may never get my Honorary Fag T-shirt, but I believe gays and lesbians should not marry.
Several months ago a dear friend, who happens to be a gay man, told me a sad, deflating tale. This fellow, I’ll call him Ken, and his partner, I’ll call him Pete, had been together for thirty years. They’d lived for much of that time in San Francisco. Ken was active in local politics, and Pete pursued his artistic ambitions. The two men were crazy about each other. They’d met in their early thirties, and they bonded like Super Glue™. They met life’s storms together, clinging to each other through the usual vicissitudes of birthdays and anniversaries of friends and family, kids (the world’s most expensive hobby), deaths, illnesses, career advances and setbacks, geographic dislocations, and on and on. They’d attended numerous weddings. After Ken’s life-threatening diagnosis and recovery, then Pete’s own brush with death, the two men moved to a small town in southern Ohio. There, Pete lived out the last years of his life. He died in 2009. As you might imagine, Ken was bereft. Thirty years is a long time. Indeed, it’s a lot longer time together than most straight couples stay connected these days.
I never met Pete. Wish I had, but it never happened. He’d been gone for a year when I met Ken. But I got to know Ken pretty well through my LGBT rights advocacy, and we’ve shared many invigorating conversations about this and that. It was inevitable that Ken and I would discuss civil marriage equality. What was not predictable was the unique perspective Ken gave me on the issue, thus my contrarian manifesto.
Ken and Pete lived in San Francisco in 2004, when Mayor Gavin Newsom opened the city to marriage for all. Ken and Pete talked about getting married. A lot of their friends were getting hitched. Though it seemed more a political act than a romantic foray at the time, more than 4,000 gays and lesbians tied the knot.
So, I asked him, why didn’t you and Pete? His response was completely objective, just like his style in all things, but quite sad as well. We decided that we didn’t want to marry, Ken claimed, because straights had made such a mess of it. We didn’t want to participate in an institution that’s become characterized by infidelity, conflict and harsh confrontation. “I loved Pete too much,” Ken said. “…so we didn’t get married. It’s that simple.”
Holy matrimony! He loved his partner too much to drag him to the altar? Loved each other too much to partake of society’s fundamental institution? I ask you: is that sad or what?
Let’s summarize where we stand today on the issue of so-called same-sex marriage.
First off, I never liked the term. Calling it anything but “marriage” gives it an immediate qualifier, a niche status if you will. It’s not “school,” it’s “reform school.” Not “religion,” but “obscure religion.” On the bus, yes, but in the back of the bus. You wouldn’t mind riding in the back of the bus, would you? Of course not. You’re on the bus, get over yourself. This is wrong. I call it marriage. Period.
Second, as I look at the various objections to LGBT marriage rights, I see a landscape littered with hypocrisies and dissimulations. Preserving the sanctity of marriage? Ken’s right: marriage in American society today is anything but sacred. The 50% divorce rate figure may be apocryphal, but straight people, in many cases, do in fact slip in and out of marriage like changing socks. Let’s face it, when a young married (straight) couple hits their first speed bump, the first thing our self-enamored, self-absorbed society tells them is that they deserve to be happy. No one should stay in an unhappy relationship, so get out! There’s little discussion these days of giving time a chance to heal things, or taking a step back and rediscovering each other. And who gets marriage counseling these days? People on Medicare? People in Nebraska?
Third, the Bible. Oh, please. How many times do we have to recite this time-tattered liturgy–the purposeful skewing of Leviticus, the biblical injunctions against men lying with men, the book-pounding diatribes of those Sunday morning pickpockets on their pedestals exhorting their congregations to root out every homosexual they can find and bring them to the peace and joy of God’s (straight) path? Here’s the truth of it. For the last time, the bible (note lower case) has nothing to do with civil marriage. Nothing. Nada. Zip. Zero. Must we in these United States of 21st Century America bring a bible downtown to get a building permit? A driver’s license? To register to vote or sign up to run for public office? To pay our taxes? Let’s leave our bibles in church, and pay more attention to the sacred text of our civic life, the U.S. Constitution. Amendment Fourteen is interesting; it says we Americans are entitled to equal protection of the laws. All of us. Doesn’t mention sexual orientation. Good place to start, ya think? Here’s a final note on this: forty percent of Americans don’t get married in a church. You can look it up.
Third, if we straights are truly interested in preserving the special status of marriage, let’s all work to make it the truly special, nurturing, gratifying, fulfilling thing it is. Let’s see those NOM fanatics harassing divorced people. Let’s see legislation criminalizing spouse abuse. Marriage is, as Joseph Barth said, “…our last, best chance to grow up.” At the risk of condescension, I believe it’s time Americans grew up about this marriage issue.
Thus my opposition to civil marriage equality for my LGBT friends. I think too much of them to see them dive into the current morass that constitutes American marriage. I hate to see them branded with the various negative labels and the collaring, limiting messages modern marriage conveys. I hate to see them subjected to the “ball and chain” analogies, the “better half” mantra that degrades exactly half the couple. Hate to see them wonder if their marriage will turn out like several other sad, tedious connections they see in the straight world.
This is a self-contradictory essay, I admit. Civil marriage offers far too many benefits and protections to deny it to anyone. At last count there were more than 1,138 separate legal protections and benefits for married couples. I don’t understand the weight given to biblical proscriptions, the ink given to right-wing nut cases drowning in homophobia, or hoping to hear a cash register ching when their latest homophobic hate-zine sells.
But I understand Ken and Pete’s decision. I hear them talking, two life partners going over the pros and cons of marrying. Two adults talking over a serious consideration of an important event. I get that. Marriage isn’t an easy decision, not something entered into lightly. Ken and Pete decided to forego it.
It’s a sad state of affairs, no pun intended, when two people decide not to marry because they love each other too much.