Skip to content

Let’s Be Civil: Gay Marriage Isn’t The End of the Rainbow

by Mark Simpson (A shorter version originally appeared on Guardian CIF November 2, 2008)

“It’s better to marry than burn with passion,” declared St Paul. But now marriage itself seems to have become a burning issue – or at least, gay marriage.

The re-banning of gay marriage in California earlier this month with the passage of Proposition 8 has been presented by gay marriage advocates as a vicious body-blow for gay rights. Angry gay people and their allies have protested across the US, some reportedly even rioting. The timely release of the Gus Van Sant movie Milk, about the murder in 1977 of Harvey Milk, the US’s first out elected official, has fuelled the sense of gay outrage and defiance. Surely only a hateful bigot like the one that gunned down Harvey would be opposed to gay marriage?

Gay marriage is the touchstone of gay equality, apparently. Settling for anything less is a form of Jim Crow style gay segregation and second-class citizenship.

But not all gays agree. This one for instance sees gay marriage not so much as a touchstone as a fetish. A largely symbolic and emotional issue that in the US threatens to undermine real, non-symbolic same-sex couple protection: civil unions bestow in effect the same legal status as marriage in several US states – including California. As a result of the religious right’s mobilisation against gay marriage, civil unions have been rolled back in several US states.

Perhaps the lesson of Proposition 8 is not that most straight people think gay people should sit at the back of the bus, but that if you take on religion and tradition on its hallowed turf – and that is what marriage effectively is – you’re highly likely to lose.  Even in liberal California.

Maybe I shouldn’t carp, living as I do in the UK, where civil partnerships with equal legal status to marriage have been nationally recognised since 2004. But part of the reason that civil partnerships were successfully introduced here was because they are civil partnerships not “marriages” (the UK is a much more secular country than the US, and somewhat more gay-friendly too – but even here gay marriage would almost certainly not have passed).

At this point I’d like to hide behind the, erm, formidable figure of Sir Elton John, who also expressed doubts recently about the fixation of US gay campaigners on the word ‘marriage’, and declared he was happy to be in a civil partnership with the Canadian David Furnish and did not want to get married. Needless to say, Mr John wasn’t exactly thanked for speaking his mind by gay marriage advocates.

But amidst all the gay gnashing of teeth about the inequality of Proposition 8 it’s worth asking: when did marriage have anything to do with equality? Respectability, certainly. Normality, possibly. Stability, hopefully. Very hopefully. But equality?

First of all, there’s something gay people and their friends need to admit to the world: gay and straight long-term relationships are generally not the same. How many heterosexual marriages are open, for example? In my experience, many if not most long term male-male relationships are very open indeed. Similarly, sex is not quite so likely to be turned into reproduction when your genitals are the same shape. Yes, some gay couples may want to have children, by adoption or other means, and that’s fine and dandy of course, but children are not a consequence of gay conjugation. Which has always been part of the appeal for some.

More fundamentally who is the “man” and who is the “wife” in a gay marriage? Unlike cross-sex couples, same-sex partnerships are partnerships between nominal equals without any biologically, divinely or even culturally determined reproductive/domestic roles. Who is to be “given away”? Or as Elton John, put it: “I don’t wanna be anyone’s wife”.

It’s increasingly unclear even to heterosexuals who is the “man” and who is the “wife”, who should cleave to the other’s will and who should bring home the bacon. That’s why so many today introduce their husband or wife as “my partner”. The famous exception to this of course was Guy Ritchie and his missus, Madonna – and look what happened to them. Pre-nuptial agreements, very popular with celebs (though not, apparently, with Guy and Madonna), represent the very realistic step of divorcing before you get married – like plastic surgery, this is a hard-faced celeb habit that’s going mainstream.

If Christians and traditionalists want to preserve the “sanctity” of marriage as something between a man and a woman, with all the mumbo jumbo that entails, let them. They only hasten the collapse of marriage. Instead of demanding gay marriage, in effect trying to modernise an increasingly moribund institution, maybe lesbian and gay people should push for civil partnerships to be opened to everyone, as they are in France – where they have proved very popular.

I suspect civil partnerships, new, secular, literally down-to-earth contracts between two equals, relatively free of the baggage of tradition, ritual and unrealistic expectations, would also prove very popular with cross-sex couples in the Anglo world at a time when the institution of marriage is the most unpopular it’s ever been among people who aren’t actually gay. Yes, cross-sex couples can have civil marriage ceremonies, but they’re still marriages, not partnerships. If made open to everyone, civil partnerships might eventually not just be an alternative to marriage. Marriage might end up being something left to Mormons.

Perhaps my scepticism about gay marriage and marriage in general is down to the fact that I’m terminally single. Perhaps it’s all just sour grapes. Or maybe I prefer to burn with passion than marry. After all, St Paul’s violently ascetic world-view which regarded marriage as a poor runner-up to chastity, also ensured that the Christian Church would burn sodomites like kindling for centuries.

Either way, I think it needs to be mentioned amidst all this shouting about gay domesticity that, important as it is to see lesbian and gay couples recognised and given legal protection, probably most gay men (though probably not most lesbians) are single and probably will be single for most of their lives. With or without civil partnerships/unions.

Or even the magical, symbolic power of gay marriage.

Postscript: The Voice of Gay America responds – loudly.

Become a patron at Patreon!

38 thoughts on “Let’s Be Civil: Gay Marriage Isn’t The End of the Rainbow”

  1. Dear Konrad,

    I can understand your frustration, buddy. Yes, it must be difficult to have all these churches speaking out their opinions. How dare they have opinions about anything!

    Sarcasm aside, you sound like one of those rabid gay secularists who can’t get over their ‘Me, me, me’ sentiments long enough to actually think. It’s gays like you that are really harming the movement. Wanna cause a nice long backlash to gay rights? If so, just keep on doing what you’re doing.

    And while we’re at it, let’s see some evidence to back up those wild claims of yours.

  2. Except that sexuality is not the innate attribute that “race” is (although biologically we can all interbreed – even for us gays breeding progeny is the latest fashion accessory). So attempts to reduce gay relationships as equal to racial relationships falls flat. One thing (ok, one of many things) that the gay marriage proponents ignore is those troublesome bisexuals – if some of us are genetically straight, and some of us genetically homo, then yes, we deserve the same rights. But how can one be genetically bi? Or even if one is genetically bisexual, do we then have to force them into picking one gender in order to get married? Seems a bit unfair. But then, the gay and lesbian communities have never been all that great with those bothersome bisexuals.

    And ultimately, where is the equality in treating couples as a more worthy social unit that a single person? In my country (Australia), married couples get tax benefits, greater welfare, cheaper insurance, cheaper hotel rooms, better discount deals on travel (don’t get me started on single supplements, we’ll be here all day).

    People should not be discriminated against due to their relationships, I agree. But also, people should not be discriminated against because of their lack of relationships. As Mark’s thread on Respectability Is the New Closet touches upon, this “need” for acceptance as being solely defined as equality with heterosexuals is mindless and limited.

    Oh, the grand old days of post-Stonewall gay liberation when we were actually about equality, not respectability.

  3. The UK discriminates against gay people by the high level decision: if your an opposite sex couple and you want legal recognition then you can get married, if your a same sex couple then you can get a civil partnership.

    If you can’t see the discrimination then replace the terms ‘opposite sex’ with ‘irish couple’ or ‘asian couple’ and hopefully you can see it.

    It does matter as this division will be present in peoples minds and attitudes towards gay people. This will foster in peoples attitudes and behaviours towards gay people. This can be experienced in very subtle ways to the more obvious.

    I feel it is completely irrevelant that ‘marriage’ is considered outdated or irrelevant today. Let’s progress down that road when we can all do it together, and gays and straights can request a more modern legal recognition of relationships at some point in the future

    That is discrimination in it’s most clear form. This

  4. Andrea S. showed himself to be a real hypocrite when he was found to have a barebacking ad on the net! But who noticed!

  5. Mark is right on in asserting that the marriage movement is distinctly a byproduct of the attempt by semicloseted ‘assimilationists’ who want gays tucked inconspicuously amongst the respectable suburban hererosexuals.
    The trend started with the publication by right wing Andrew Sullivan’s “end of gay liberation” & Bruce Bauwers,’ “A Place at the Table” attempts to closet us amongst straight people. What more like Straight people could we be than to assume the formidable legitimacy of a “Godly’ marriage, or the appearance of such?

  6. Separate is not equal.

    I believe in the right to sit at the front of a bus, though I don’t take the bus.

    I believe in religious freedom, even if God is only a theory.

    I believe in freedom of speech, though I don’t have much to say.

    Equality is in its access.

    Whether you wanna fuck around forever in/out of marriage, is irrelevant.

  7. Yes. That is what respectability means. Being able to despise those who aren’t.

    But also it means lying rather a lot. Respectability is closetted. It’s about maintaining a conventional front.

    And this is what ‘gay activism’ in the US has come to.

  8. And even if they are bucking that trend and 50%, or 75% or even 95% of gay men are becoming couples, what does that matter?

    What does it say when the monolithic “gay community” promotes one type of relationship as being “better” or more “worthy” of recognition than others? Because this is what is happening with this unhealthy push for same-sex “marriage” – only some gay relationships (the supposedly committed to-death-do-us-part we-are-the-same-as heteros-gay couples) are seen as worthy of recognition.

    The queer communities aspired to be the vanguard of individuality and self expression, yet the only point to which we have progressed is to want to have the same rights as heterosexual couples?

    Whatever happened to celebrating our lives, our relationships, our differences rather than assimilating into one kind of “acceptable” relationship? Because that is what we will come to – once we have the same “right” of heterosexual marriage, we will ALL be expected to fit into this… or be pitied for not being “normal” or “socially accepted”.

  9. You leave out a rather important qualifying ‘probably’ at the beginning of that quote:

    ‘…probably most gay men (though probably not most lesbians) are single and probably will be single for most of their lives. With or without civil partnerships/unions.’

    As I say, I’m guessing. Like everyone else when it comes to statements about non-heterosexual lifestyles. But some guesses are more believable than others.

    I don’t live in London. I live in North Yorkshire, about as far away from metropolitan centres as you can get in England without going to Cornwall – and almost every homo I know here is single. Though that may well be a more a reflection of me than of North Yorks.

    Singleness, love it or loathe it, is increasingly ‘normal’. According to The Daily Telegraph, most people over the age of 16 today are either single, divorced or widowed:

    I doubt that gay men are bucking that trend.

  10. Do you have evidence for the line “most gay men are single and probably will be single for most of their lives” or is this just a London-scene perspective?

    Here in the remote Thames Valley, I seem to be surrounded by long-standing gay couples. I think that there’s a social change going on and more want their gay partnerships recognised publicly.

    As you say, whether are a Christian marriage is the right template for this is quite another matter.

  11. The Founding Fathers were not atheists (God forbid!), they were deists.
    If Voltaire had been the first president of the United States – or better – the War of Independence had been lost by the colonists, imagine the European-style secular democracy Americans might have enjoyed today.

  12. Uroskin, the United States and its constitution enshrining religious tolerance is perhaps the most conspicuous product of the European Enlightenment. For the most part, this nation was founded by a pack of atheists; atheists, skeptics, and non-conformists who, separated from the state-established religions of Europe by 3,000 miles of unruly North Atlantic, were far more at liberty to speak their minds than, say, Voltaire, who thought it necessary to dismiss the servants prior to a discussing atheism.

    The ‘problem’ with the US is the dogged persistence of Christian Fundamentalism, which is at least as malignant as its Islamic counterparts in Iran and Saudi Arabia/Al Queada, and in fact may have contributed to the rise of these.

    I think Harvard naturalist E.O. Wilson was correct when he observed that the U.S. remains a ‘frontier nation’. When the original settlers took off into the wilderness they usually had only one book, the Bible. As there was no clergy to direct them in their reading, they became biblical literalists of necessity.

    This literalism gave rise to several bizarre millenialist sects at the time of the ‘Second Great Awakening’, which overtook the Appalachian frontier of the new republic in its first decades. Western New York, where both the Shakers and the Mormons arose, was referred to as the ‘burned-over region’ — burned over with religious fervor. Had there been an established church, these movements would have been declared heretical; and indeed the Mormons were in a way, there initial offense being the introduction of a new Revealed Scripture, The Book of Mormon.

    Over the 19th Century the frontier continued to be pushed westward, and the Fundamentalist streak became deeply ingrained in the American national character. Its culmination may very well be the Pentecostal movement, founded significantly in the first decade of the 20th Century in the then small city of Los Angeles, the frontier’s terminus. I now wonder at the possible extent to which adherents of this fantastical, free-form, worship contributed to the rise of the Hollywood Dream Factories in the following decade.

  13. What most comments really show is the difference between American and non-American approach to the issue: what the USA really needs is an Enlightemnent period where church and state will be separated and your chosen church will be solidly ensconsed in the lifestyle part of your life. In the meantime, we don’t want your stinking culture wars (or any other one) but we will continue laughing at the medieval mindset of the USA and agreeing with Victor “I don’t believe it!” Meldrew.

  14. Back to the matter at hand:

    “So basically, because Mark Simpon’s friends are a bunch of sluts who can’t keep up a monogamous relationship, we don’t really need gay marriage.”

    Well, so too are most of mine, and many of these are four-square, stand-up guys into the bargain.

    Seriously, I take exception the article’s characterisation of those of us who prefer variety as ‘sluts’. Isn’t the freedom to choose either to commit or to ‘spread the love’ what the Sexual Revolution was all about?

    ” . . . the very fact that having these relationships are relegated to second-class status by the state may have something to do with why they aren’t enduring.”

    Methinks this observation speaks to the furtive nature of ‘the love that dare not speak its name’ assignations in general. Only 40 years have passed since the advent of the ‘gay rights’ movement. It will likely take several generations for homosexuals to disavow behaviours acquired during nearly two millenia of Judeo-Christian repression — that is if they are in need of repudiation, and I honestly don’t think they are. I certainly hope not: “To have the same law for the lion & the ox is oppression”, as Blake said.

    This statement also falsely presupposes that heterosexual relationships are paradigms of commitment, and that this stability is derived in large measure from the parties having said ‘I do’. I hear Joni Mitchell singing “we don’t need no piece of paper from the city hall, keepin’ us tried and true.”

    Oh, and just who is ‘Mark Simpon’?

  15. Non-sequitar: in the article linked too above, Camile Paglia uses the neologism ‘celebutard’ to describe ‘divas’ like Britney, Beyonce, et al in the context of true Divas like Renata Tebaldi (Brava Camille! Brava Diva!) Mark, is this one of yours? I thought it was Denis Leary.

    Perhaps the worst tragedy of HIV was the demise of the Opera Queen.

  16. Hey Tina, you got it backwards. You say “It’s like not paying your taxes but insisting your government meet your needs anyway.”

    Actually, I am paying my taxes–a disproportionate share as matter of fact–and getting half of privileges and benefits.

    You confuse “paying” with the sacrifices of monogamy for a “sacred marriage”, with paying actual dollars to a government that implicitly and explicitly continues to tell me that I am a second-class citizen.

    You forget that there are plenty of straight, married couples who fuck around on each other. The government does not come in and declare their marriages void. If you are so concerned about the sanctity of marriage, why don’t you climb off your pious high horse and start a movement to make heterosexual infidelity a felony. You’d have my vote.

    All marriages are “de facto” civil unions. Perhaps you recall that the preacher says “by the power vested in me by the State of _____, I now pronounce you husband and wife.” The State, not the church, legally joins two individuals. It’s why you go to the courthouse and not the church to get a divorce (which is where half of these blessed, monogamous unions will end up).

    Oh, this “from the dawn of time” argument is a farce. Marriage has constantly evolved. It wasn’t that long ago that your “marriage” meant that you were the property of your husband. In many cultures it still is. Polygamy was the norm in the old testament and is still common in many cultures, including the Mormons who never really gave it up. So stop spreading these lies of a “universal definition of human marriage.”

    And you wonder why we continue fight when the people of California have voted TWICE on this?

    Let me explain this to you. Since when are basic human rights up for a popular vote?

    Let me ask you this? What part of your life may I vote on?

    Can I vote to ban your chosen religion (which IS a choice, unlike my sexuality)? Can I vote to exclude your ethnic group from receiving government benefits? How about a constitutional amendment to ban women from driving? Can I vote to ban your favorite music?

    Which fundamental part of your being are you willing to put up for a popularity contest? None, I am sure. That’s why you are a hypocritical coward.

  17. As an American gay man:
    I’m for separation of church and state, and I admire the European separation of “marriage” by the religious institution of your choice from the civil union that entails all the legal ramifications. That’s what we should have in the U.S. and I’m sorry we don’t.
    The obsession of gays (including many close friends, though oddly enough not the ones who have been in unions for thirty or forty years) and many straight friends with the word “marriage” ignores the practicalities and the prejudices. Should any religion be OBLIGED to recognize unions it does not wish to permit? (e.g., must the Catholics recognize marriages if those vowed to priesthood make them, or must Jews recognize marriages of those forbidden to do so by esoteric doctrine? must the Catholic church marry those who have secularly divorced Catholic spouses?) Obviously not. They shouldn’t have to marry same-sex couples if they do not wish (or even cross-racial couples). All these groups have other options, including civil unions or just going to another church. (I’m opposed to theocratic powers in nominally democratic governments, including those of Israel, Iran and Utah.)

    One privilege all adults ought to have in any society that claims to be free is to decide who is and is not in one’s family (once obligations to one’s children and aged parents are discharged). You should be allowed to decide who can visit your hospital room and make life-and-death decisions you cannot make; you should be allowed to whom your property goes. But why must this be called marriage?

  18. I got tired halfway through reading this. Marriage is not the same as civil unions in terms of rights, but if it is different in the UK so be it…

    “Who’s the man, and who’s the wife?” There’s a lot wrong with that statement–we are still men and women–no-one is asking us to take on roles that don’t apply.

    But most of all–PLEASE. Can we get rid of the term, “gay marriage”? Why does “marriage” need an adjective? If a man marries a woman, it is a “marriage,” but if I marry my male partner, it is a “gay marriage”? Now, follow the logic of that–if we then buy a house, do we buy “gay housing”? Do I need to apply for a “gay mortgage”? Do we pay “gay taxes” on the house?

    Let’s stop buying into a phrase the religious right is so happy we have adopted. Marriage is marriage. Period. If citizens who are granted equal access to our laws and civil liberties can marry, then it follows that means ALL citizens should be able to, or the prejudices of some mar the ideals of equality for a nation.

  19. the author is deluded if he thinks that his chosen lifestyle is at its core what being gay is about and striving for social integration and cultural equality is a fetishistic impulse…I cannot find enough invective to heap on his article and half way through I realized it was not worth finishing and was raising my blood pressure to read the rapprochements of a snotty petit-bourgeois moron.

    i stopped reading at :First of all, there’s something gay people and their friends need to admit to the world: gay and straight long-term relationships are generally not the same. How many heterosexual marriages are open, for example? In my experience, many if not most long term male-male relationships are very open indeed. Similarly, sex is not quite so likely to be turned into reproduction when your genitals are the same shape. Yes, some gay couples may want to have children, by adoption or other means, and that’s fine and dandy of course, but children are not a consequence of gay conjugation. Which has always been part of the appeal for some.

    What a myopic, delimited and jaundiced view he has, probably a result of many bouts of neurosyphilis …

    To hell with him, I will fight for my gay marriage in the streets while he sits on the sidelines rooting for the enemy.

  20. Aron said: “its about getting rid of a known social and unspoken political fear of gays. gay marriage is only the fight of today. tomorrow the fight is for universal acceptance”

    Aron, that’s actually the problem.

    I’m 42, and have grown out of my demanding-universal-acceptance stage of life, and I gotta tell you… universal acceptance of *anything* is never going to happen, no matter how loudly any community yells for it. Especially if they are perceived as throwing tantrums for it.

    Martin Luther King, Jr. knew that, and he appealed to the rationality of imperfect humans to address the laws of the land. He left the hearts of others to God.

    The trouble with the demand for universal acceptance is that people… other people… all of them… are human. It isn’t possible to be universally accepted.

    That’s why we humans need faith of some sort, I think. Our religious impulses, however they are expressed, are partly there, I believe, to give us a reason to go on when the world seems to be against us. And we all feel a lack of acceptance in our lives. Even straight white males do. The best we can do is make sure that everyone is treated equally under the law.

    Start by creating civil unions for everyone, as mentioned here, and giving marriage back to the churches.

    In other words, shifting the debate to the legal front through the exploration and expansion of civil unions, would be much more effective than demanding that the conscience and values of others line up with what amounts to some other group’s preference.

    If we spend all our time fighting for others to accept us, we will never have peace within ourselves. It’s really that simple.

    It might be better to spend our time not tilting at windmills, but instead living our lives chasing our fullest potential. Or “pursuing happiness” as it were. Happiness, from the beginning of time, has not been something that comes from the blessing and acceptance of others. It comes from a life well-lived.

  21. I spit my tea and laughed reading Tina’s “comments.”

    Or, should I write, “Tina’s Guide to Living a Closeted Tolerant Heterosexual Lifestyle”?

    Tina writes from such a place of ignorance and – for a woman – patrimony, her arguments would be laughable if they didn’t reflect exactly the sort of post-gay (thks. Simpson) heterosexual moralizing and entitlement queer people deal with on a daily basis.

    Meaning, while middle-class bigots such as Tina wouldn’t be caught dead using the phrase, ‘Sleazy faggots,’ (don’t want to offend the fag who does her hair, perhaps), her comments all but scream those words. Armed with what reads as an elementary school education, Tina flops around, her linguistic gymnastics failing to cloak a basic homophobia.

    Tina’s intellectual cell is on display for all to see: in the lengths to which Tina goes to outline and illustrate a life defined by a narrow set of standards (Tina’s own, naturally) – that supposedly “serve” to save people and their (adult) lives from sodomy, debauchery, and all sorts of financial and moral misdeeds.

    All that’s missing from Tina’s screed is the bullet point, “No on Cock Rings.”

    TIna’s strategy of putting forth these patriarchal “standards” is a dicey one given their transparency.

    I’m one of the “respected” homosexuals Tina references. For a moment, I’m going to put down my sex toys and reign in my “teenage libindinal urges” (I wish) and speak directly to Tina:

    Honey, anyone with a functioning sense of common sense is going to read your rant, esp. the frothing homophobia churning between the lines.

    I’m here to comfort you honey and tell you, Tina, it’s alright. You’re a homophobe. But I can’t help but feel all of this sounds so, um, familiar? Similar to the internal documents put out by the mormon “church,” cautioning explicit homophobic statements.

    Wild guess, Tina, but sweetheart I’m guessing you’re maybe a — mormon?

    Tina – correctly – characterizes Californians as having voted twice on two gay marriage initiatives, she conveniently leaves out a long list of crucial facts:

    1) the “initiative” was backed by enormous out of state contributions ($$$$$) from — SURPRISE! – Utah based mormons;

    2) that money ($$$$$) was used to create & broadcast commercials which were acknowledged (conceded to, even by the mormon corporation), as containing flat out lies and distorations about gay marriage;

    3) the U.S. is based on the separation of church (which “mormonism” has struggled to claim over the years, for well documented reasons) and state, this recent ORGY of contributions calling into question the mormon’s claim to tax exempt status afforded to religious organizations;

    4) the mormon corporation is currently under investigation for violating various campaign laws, specifically those requiring strict accountability (the sort self-righteous Tina is such a fan of) with signficant financial penalties ie., $5,000 per violation with the mormon corporation looking at hundreds of violations;

    5) the mormon corporation was founded by a polygamist who had over 37 wives, a historical fact that hypocrites such as Tina conveniently – and consistently – overlook;

    6) various contemporary mormon sects have been subject to criminal investigation – and prosecution – for the continued practice of polygamy, particularly by elderly men against underage girls i.e., RAPE;

    7) the initiative that Tina crows about Californians is egreious (for Tina, that means, stunningly WRONG), in that it put forth a change to the California State constitution, something that can’t be done exept by a majority vote of the state legislature.

    Tina, honey, whereever you tend to your tidy middle class straight (and narrow) life: please, as a courtesy to the raving degenerates, keep your patronizing, not-so-subtle insult slinging degrading bullshit to yourself, alright? The cultural war was lost. Your kids are posting pornography on-line right now and – if you’re actually American – your 401K plan is worth nothing. You have other stuff, besides this silly marriage stuff to worry about.


  22. I’m one of those rabid US gays that wants ‘equality’ and is outraged by the passage of California’s Prop 8. And for me, it’s the principle of the matter that is the source of my anger, not the result. The US federal and state governments enshrined a religious institution into law but deny a entire group of people equal access. It would be wrong to deny it to Hispanics, blonds, New Zealanders, and the elderly, too. Putting anything into law and then arbitrarily excluding a category of people is wrong.

    That said, I doubt I’ll ever get married. And that’s considering the fact that I’ve been functionally married to my male partner for over a decade. I like the symbolism of marriage, but the protections, privileges, and responsibilities defined for married couples under US law are far more important, especially as we age together. And I do want those.

    Something needs to be done, either way. And I’m with you – put marriage back in the hands of churches and let’s call the government-recognized unions civil partnerships of some sort. There is a progressive movement in this direction. Pitt-Jolie have taken a public stand along this route, albeit most likely for personal and not political reasons. And I have straight friends who prefer civil unions over marriage. For myself, I’m no fan of mixing religious concepts with law.

    But just try unhinging the religious concept of marriage from the federally recognized unions. If you think it’ll be tough to get Americans to accept that gays should be able to marry, just try wrenching marriage from the lawbooks. The same right wing nutjobs that shut down equal access in CA would turn out in even greater numbers to protect their precious marriage statutes.

    It’s a bit of a Catch-22.

  23. LDS’s support of 8 is very interesting. If marriage is no longer strictly defined as being between a man and a women, why not a man and several women? Same sex marriage would open a legal door to ‘Fundementalist’ Mormons like Warren Jeffs, and once again air all that polygamous dirty laundry.

  24. “Perhaps the lesson of Proposition 8 is not that most straight people think gay people should sit at the back of the bus, but that if you take on religion and tradition on its hallowed turf – and that is what marriage effectively is – you’re highly likely to lose.”

    As an ardent secularist, I see marriage as a contract between two consenting adults. Once you get passed the rice, bells, something borrowed, something blue, it is essentially two autonomous adults entering into a partnership: Billary, LLP. Need I say more? Mind you, I don’t have any problems with the Clinton’s pragmatic conjugal arrangements. Rather, I think they understand each other, as good business partners ought, though Chelsea must have some questions every time she sees a baster.

    In the US, the right to officiate marriage as a largess which the government affords churches. When those traditional church unions go asunder, which at least half of them do, it is a civil matter and referred to the courts just like any other contract under dispute.

    Gay Marriage would be a non-issue for me but for the fact that religions need to be reminded that the ‘hallowed turf’ of which you speak is something which they enjoy only at our sufferance. I would contrast this arrangement with France, where it’s the church ceremony that’s all for show — vive la revolution!

    I agree that in practice the idea of two men having a life long, monogamous relationship is preposterous. Those who pull it off only validate Blake’s observation that ‘those who restrain their desire do so because theirs is weak enough to be restrained’. However, I don’t think it is proper to extend this cynicism to women. ‘I now pronounce you Eve and Sluggo’ rings truer than Adam and Steve.

    Also Domestic Partnership as practiced in the United States is not a legal equivalent to marriage. For example, we continue to tie health care to employment, and all but a few progressive companies are willing extend benefits to a domestic partner as they would to a spouse. Also same-sex couples must jump through several legal hoops, and incur significant legal expenses, to secure for themselves the same rights and privileges which heterosexual couples accomplish simply by saying ‘I do’. Perhaps the nastiest phenomenon of the AIDS epidemic are the countess stories of estranged relatives crawling out of the woodwork to stake their claim on the estate. In cases where there was no binding will, they got it, and may succeeded in challenging wills where they existed.

  25. Thanks for the article, Mark — well-written and well thought out, though I disagreed with much of it. You jab about the “mumbo jumbo” of the joys of traditional marriage is a jab at an institution held high and esteemed by most cultures throughout the the world since the beginnings of recorded history and throughout most of the world today. Reality check: most people in the world actually want a heterosexual marriage and a family. Those of us who do aren’t freaks who simply haven’t woken up to your ultimate cultural moment. So don’t knock it: speak of it with the respect it deserves. As a heterosexual woman with gay friends and family members, I always speak about and to them with respect. So begin your stand with respect for “the other side,” ok?
    Another Biblical quote: “If you do not work, you will not eat.”
    As with economic privileges as they relate to one’s employment (i.e.: I am only entitled to a check in the bank and health benefits if I am assuming the responsibilities of holding a job), similarly marital privileges should be granted only to those who assume the resposibilities that marriage entails: to love and to cherish, and to serve the other person for a lifetime, not to “sleep with whomever I want to, when I want to — even those I can’t stand the next morning.” That’s not marriage, it’s polygamous and self-serving and is a lifestyle that does not deserve the privileges (legal, economic or religious) that marriage does (Unfortunately, millions of philandering heterosexual marrieds enjoy this kind of lifestyle, but that does not justify it). Marriage is about growing up and acting like an adult, not mating around like an animal. Grow up and you can enjoy the privileges. If not, stop whining. (Though the whining is appropos!)
    Those who want to use other people for their own satisfaction, and be used in return for the other’s, are not behaving in a way that deserves the rights and privileges of marriage — the rights deserved by those who keep their polygamous impulses in check and who understand that marriage is not about “what can I get.”
    “How can I “use” marriage to get as many rights and bennies as I can, while still behaving like a teenager with no libido control?” And those who uphold this attitude expect the applause and support of the majority? The people of California have spoken — TWICE about this… and this from the most liberal state in the Union. What exactly is not clear here?
    The fact that those who are in open and polygamous relationships demand marital rights is an affront to those of us who — dare I use this phrase — actually do believe that committed relationships are sacred, that we as human beings and our bodies are sacred, and that monagamy is important for one’s own stability and for the stability of society at large (all world cultures since the beginning of time, religious or not, have supported and recognized this as essential to their society’s stability and health). Insisting that marriage’s benefits are a right to be enjoyed by all people, even people who shun marriage itself and who want to sleep around, is ridiculous.
    You said it yourself, Mark — most gay men do not covet a monogamous committed relationship. Well, ok. Why then the demand for marriage rights when real marriage isn’t what most gay men even want? It’s like not paying your taxes but insisting your government meet your needs anyway. The vocal gay community needs to understand that before going on and on about their “rights.”

  26. I am straight so don’t garrote me, but this has always struck me as another provocative waste of political capital when civil unions could be easily pursued. I supported for the fight for gays in the military that derailed the Clinton administration, but when I asked my gay activist friends at law school as to whether they actually wanted to join the military, or were willing to be drafted, they all said no. this strikes me as similar.

  27. As a good old fashioned (“Ni Dieu, ni maitre”) anarchist, I prefer the state out of my private life. Relationships approved by the state are rewarded with all sorts of goodies unavailable to single people or in alternative arrangements. And those goodies are what gay people, who want to marry, are after. So in that sense it is a campaign to extend privileges to a variety of couplings between people but denied to anyone who hasn’t had the luck to find someone who he/she can stand being with the morning after.
    What should happen is a thorough privatisation of human relationships, and a return of marriage to its original purpose (something akin to what the Romans had): a freely entered into economic contractual arrangement between people. None of that sentimental love or families-are-the-touchstone-of-society, please.
    The discrimination not addressed in any form of “marriage” system is against single people. Only when individuals are considered equal, and not inferior to people in a “relationship”, there can be progress. Extending privilege is a step backward.

    Here in New Zealand civil unions are available to cross-sex couples too. Our former Prime Minister, Helen Clark, has always said she would have chosen that option over marriage if it had been available in her time.
    More on the New Zealand civil union / gay marriage debate here:

  28. my name is aron. i am a straight seventeen year old in los angeles, california, and i am politically and socially liberal in most respects. coming from somebody who is highly supportive of the right for gays to marry, i would like to propose the idea that this is not just about gay marriage. its about getting rid of a known social and unspoken political fear of gays. gay marriage is only the fight of today. tomorrow the fight is for universal acceptance (perfection is a goal, but even i know it can never be attained). once gay rights are a non-issue, a thousand more issues to fight for will appear. gay marriage is only the beginning.

  29. As another terminally single, I agree, why this fuss about gay marriage? Even my coupled friends (in Australia) don’t see the need to register for china and indulge in the whole ceremony thing… they have adequate legal protection for their assets and are content to be “partnered”.

    But on the topic of committments, and social validation of our “relationships”, I don’t see the wider communities of which I am part campaigning to see other dependent relationships recognised. It seems to many that unless you mimic the devoted couple, with the white picket fence and the whole married kit and kaboodle, your relationship does not deserve to be recognised.

    And if the Americans need “marriage” to validate themselves – and to access fundamental rights – perhaps they need to look at their own legal system.

  30. The points B. Clenderson made are true, but the point Mark makes is that the gay marriage movement lacks real vision. The privileges accorded to married people by the federal government are unfair and unjust! The fact that contracts and lawyers can arrange most of the necessary protections proves that marriage is not the only way.

    There’s no reason why the federal government cannot recognize civil unions. Marriage is not mentioned in the constitution.

    The specific campaigns for gay marriage have been unable to build coalitions with other groups (Latinos and African Americans). What it looks like to me is the white gay male community is desperate to be included in the privileges they’ve been excluded from, but the winning strategy will be one that challenges existing unjust privileges accorded to marriage and builds power for more than just a narrow gay community.

  31. Hi Mark, there’s a legal layer too and arguably more important than the “spiritual” layer of why USA gays want to marry. In the USA, marrying rather than entering into a civil union formalizes lots of issues involving wills, death, dying, children at cetera, without any need for additional lawyers and contracts. Also, here in the states, many federal laws ignore civil unions alltogether. For example transfering social security to a spouse is simply not possible. So, there’s lots of reasons to want a marriage license rather than a civil union license. I think I speak for many when I say I could care less about marriage except that married folks get tex breaks and legal coverage I cannot ever get in a civil union.

Comments are closed.