Skip to content

The Gay Case Against Gay Marriage and Gay Bigotry

By Mark Simpson (Guardian CIF, 30 April 2009)

Who would have guessed the dainty opinions of a Miss America candidate would have been taken so seriously by gays and liberals?

Miss California, a practising Christian, was last week denounced by Miss America judge Perez Hilton on his blog as ‘a dumb bitch’ and unworthy of the Miss America crown because she gave the ‘wrong’ answer to his chippy question about gay marriage. Like most Americans – including the current Democratic President of the United States – she believes that marriage is ‘between a man and a woman’. Boo! Hiss! Rip her to shreds!

It wasn’t just the famously bitchy gay gossip-monger Hilton casting stones, however. For honestly and somewhat courageously answering his question Miss California was roundly condemned as a ‘bigot’ by hosts of gay and liberal bloggers, and was even denounced by the directors of the Miss California pageant who declared themselves ‘saddened’ by her views and that they had no place in the ‘Miss California family’, whatever that is. Most now agree with Hilton’s gloating claim that her answer cost her the crown.

Candidate Obama expressed the exact same view during the Presidential Election: “I believe that marriage is the union between a man and a woman. Now, for me as a Christian, it’s also a sacred union. You know, God’s in the mix.” Instead of being scorned as a bigot and a dumb bitch, Obama was handed the Mr America crown by liberals and probably most gay voters. But I suppose that being President of the United States is a rather less important title than Miss America.

Branding Christians and traditionalists ‘bigots’ for being Christians and traditionalists and thus none too keen to fundamentally revise the definition of marriage is a highly unattractive exercise in liberal self-righteousness that makes Miss America look quite sophisticated. Not to mention sounding a lot like pots and kettles rattling. It’s faintly absurd to have to even say this, but it isn’t bigoted to believe that marriage is between a man and a woman. It’s just being conventional. And after all, marriage itself is convention and tradition tied up in a big red bow and covered in confetti and sprinkled with Holy Water. Which is exactly why lesbians and gays should have nothing to do with it.

Today’s out and proud same-sex relationships are very unconventional and a very new kind of phenomenon. And so are in fact many of today’s cross-sex relationships in a brave new world of gender parity. Marriage on the other hand is an antiquated, failing institution based on inequality and traditional roles. Much like Miss America.

Marriage is, whether you like it or not, also based on religious sentiment: ‘God’s in the mix.’ Especially in a very religious country like America. And I have a hunch, based on millennia of violent opposition to sex that doesn’t produce more Christians, that God is not going to sanctify ‘sodomy’ any time soon.

New ways of living and loving require new institutions. Or in the words of the famously unmarried Galilee carpenter and fisher of men: put new wine into new wineskins. And keep the flippin’ Pharisees out of it. Or else you’ll end up with a tacky mess.

It needs to be said out loud that full civil unions with the same legal rights and privileges of marriage at both the State and Federal level, supported by President Obama and many Republicans and even some right-wing evangelicals – and the large majority of American voters – are not only much more politically achievable in the US than gay marriage, they are also a better fit for most same sex relationships. What’s more they represent an entirely dignified way of side-stepping this endless, unsightly domestic between liberal and conservative, secular and religious, metropolitan and rural America.

But instead, gay marriage zealots, many of whom admit that they themselves don’t wish to get married, insist on characterising civil unions as ‘second class’, ‘social apartheid’ or ‘riding at the back of the bus’. I’d like to think it was merely a ploy to make fully-recognised civil unions more achievable, but many really seem to believe their own shrill propaganda. Worse, they’ve made even more of a fetish of the word ‘marriage’ than the religious right they rail against.

In the UK, where nationally recognised same-sex civil unions with the same legal status as marriage – called civil partnerships – were introduced in 2004 there is little or no appetite now for gay marriage. In my experience few lesbians or gays feel they are ‘riding at the back of the bus’. Maybe because in many ways they’re actually riding at the front. It’s probably only a matter of time before gay civil partnerships in the UK are made available to all, as they are in France – where the vast majority of applications are now made by cross-sex couples disenchanted with traditional marriage.

What’s more, fully-recognised, open-to-all civil unions are a fully-fledged secular institution that helps to shore up a fragile secular society. And make no mistake, it is secularism on which most of the – historically very, very recent – freedoms enjoyed by lesbians and gays are based, along with those of women.

But so far the gay marriage crusade in the US doesn’t seem very interested in any of this or lessons it might learn from the experience of other countries. Instead it seems too busy proving itself holier-than-thou. And less sophisticated than Miss America contestants.

Become a patron at Patreon!

29 thoughts on “The Gay Case Against Gay Marriage and Gay Bigotry”

  1. Tarzie: Oh, but you did call Civil Unions a lesser category:

    ‘It’s pos­si­ble that in some states get­ting Civil Unions in place might be eas­ier, but not in a way com­men­su­rate with the social cost of plac­ing these rela­tion­ships in a lesser cat­e­gory.’

    But anyway, good luck with your ‘done deal’. You’ll need it.

    To the veteran gay activist who likes to bandy the word ‘perverse’ around: I didn’t say I was insulted. I said it was ironic.

  2. For the record, I didn’t call Mark Simpson perverse, I called his argument perverse. Surely there is a difference but it seems utterly in the character of this post for MS to be seen as being insulted personally.

    Anyway, as someone who lived through the 90s in the States and was an activist, although not a political one, I can say with conviction that there was no consensus around civil unions as the way to push equality. It was toyed with and talked about there was no serious push from anywhere. Not in the AIDS activist community and not among the mainstream lobbyists and advocates. Groups like ACT UP were largely uninterested, focused on other things and groups like HRC were focused on hate crimes and employment non-discrimination. They were terrified of pushing marriage and pursuing civil unions was problematic for the following reasons:

    1. There was and is no social institution called Civil Unions, unlike Marriage. There was nothing to care about, join and fight to be included within and that’s probably a big psychological reason why no one got very enthused about it.

    2. Party because of #1, civil union legislation would have had to have been invented from scratch *State by State* and States could have therefore defined it any way they liked, leaving adoption out in Idaho and inheritance rights forgotten in Nevada. It would have been a legal and legislative nightmare to implement (Which part(s) of civil unions from other states gets recognized by other States under the Full Faith clause.) and then later, to undo should the movement decide to move on to marriage. It was a nonstarter from the very beginning and a pale imitation of full equality.

    ONLY marriage answers both these issues. Only marriage, for better or worse, represents and solidifies full equality. And it’s a done deal.

  3. By the way, I agree completely on the extent to which this issue distracts from other topics and serves riff raff like Obama. However, to me, that’s a separate issue from the merit of the marriage equality itself.

  4. Mark, I don’t see civil unions as a lesser category, but I think for some people they are and I don’t fault them for wanting something else if that’s how they see them. There is no question that civil unions are a separate but equal proposition. I think Rick Powell’s experience in Argentina speaks to why that’s problematic from a social justice standpoint.

    Again, I think you are overstating the support for civil unions, but I am too lazy to look up the data. Also civil unions were the route pursued in the early stages (late 80s) and the fundamentalists fought them with repeals also. The fact is there is majority support for gay marriage now in the US so from the standpoint of public opinion, it’s kind of a done deal.

  5. PS: Since this post in 2009 our Tory PM has announced his intention to introduce gay marriage in the UK:

    After briefly threatening to ignite a culture war in the UK it all seems to have fizzled out and been put ‘on hold’. Good. I don’t want to have to be ‘for’ something, or care about it, essentially because some Cardinal is against it. Or a Tory PM in favour.

  6. Tarzie: As far as I can make out from over here, there has been a majority in favour of civil unions in the US since the early Noughties. But like you most gay activists dismiss civil unions as ‘segregation’ or a ‘lesser category’ so liberals have learned to diss them.

    The reason they and the real, pratical rights and benefits (and privileges) they afford been successfully rolled back or banned in many US states in the last decade seems to me to be because the US gay movement has gone after the symbolic/moral high ground issue of marriage and given the religious right the ‘cultural war’ it wanted and is much better-armed to fight. Civil unions have been banned as a side-order on ballots banning gay marriage. They’re collateral damage in the war for gay marriage. Yes, I’m sure the religious right isn’t terribly fond of civil unions but do you think they would have been able to mobilize enough support to win a ballot banning civil unions alone? Which many Republicans, such as George W. Bush, and even some conservative Christians say they support?

    It may be that civil unions are now no longer an option. It may be that they are too pragmatic for America – which seems to prefer to have endless arguments about ‘principles’. Especially now that Obama has turned gay marriage into a fund-raising, base-mobilising – drone distracting – issue for the Dems during the coming Presidential election. Though after all the dust settles in five years time and even more US states have banned gay marriage via popular ballots, maybe then they might be reappraised. Or maybe not.

    Despite the deliberately provocative title of this blog post I don’t think it’s really necessary for me to make a case against gay marriage. Rhetoric aside, I’m not really ‘against’ it. I’m just not FOR it. I don’t believe. I’m making a case if anything for gay agnosticism. Which seems to be an intolerable position for some.

    Being called ‘perverse’ by other queers (and also by liberal straight friends) for not getting with the programme and refusing to support same sex marriage by mouthing the approved platitudes about it being ‘a simple matter of equality/human rights’ etc. and generally treating it as the great, defining, arent-we-lovely? liberal fetish of the 21st Century is more than a little ironic.

    But then as you acknowledge, the (endless) war for same sex marriage – or to give it its official propaganda oxymoron: ‘marriage equality’ – has swallowed the gay movement whole. Regardless of what you or I think of the institution of marriage itself, the campaign to achieve same sex marriage has made same sexers alarmingly conformist and intolerant.

  7. “Respectable gays and les­bians want to ride up the front with the respectable het­eros and leave us poofs and dykes and tran­nies and per­verts up the back. I’m not pre­pared to just have the “back of the bus” moved fur­ther back so some peo­ple can have legiticimacy.”

    This as an extremely tiresome cliche that gets invoked every time movement queers make a policy bid and it was past its prime 30 years ago. There is absolutely 0 evidence that the struggle for same sex marriage has domesticated same-sexers or that it correlates with pushing anyone to the margins.

    If New York is any example, anti-violence work, support for homeless youth, and advocacy for transgendered people are stronger than they have ever been. Unlike the old days, there is 0 arguing over whether or not certain factions belong in the sphere of concerns or not. Queer sex in all flavors is as abundant as ever and no one disparages it. Drag and leather queens still prevail at parades and in queer life. There are club nights dedicated to prostitutes.

    Who in your laundry list of marginalized queers can’t marry: poofs? trannies? perverts? Isn’t that just about everyone? Why do you assume that the lobby for marriage doesn’t include all of these people? Maybe it’s not legitimacy they want so much as the freedom to immigrate, shared worked benefits, a break on taxes, shared social security after retirement, hospital visitation rights etc.

    Sure, perhaps it’s cheating to take a shortcut to all of these things via marriage, instead of say, smashing capitalism, but considering the odds, you can hardly fault it. If you want to smash capitalism though and the apparent toxic waste dump of an institution that is marriage, who, exactly, is stopping you?

  8. I am with Rick Powell up there. Don’t think the anti-marriage crowd is making a strong case at all. As ever, the all-gays-are-icky-but-me thing and attendant caricatures aren’t helping.

    First of all, Mark, you grossly overstate the purchase civil unions have in the States in relation to marriage. Believe me, for the small but highly motivated religious fanatics who care about this, marriage and civil unions are the same thing. These states that are passing amendments to prohibit marriage equality are prohibiting civil unions too. In some cases, such as in North Carolina, they are banning them for heterosexuals also.

    It’s possible that in some states getting Civil Unions in place might be easier, but not in a way commensurate with the social cost of placing these relationships in a lesser category. I think Rick’s remarks on Argentina and also on obliging queers to stay on the margins speak to that better than I need to here.

    I’m sympathetic to some who have said the state should not be in the business of fortifying some arrangements and not others, but then, that would do away with civil unions also. Certainly creating a society where people aren’t economically coerced into living some ways and not others is highly desirable, but opposing the provisional step of marriage for queers while keeping the man/woman thing in place is hardly the way to do it. Shall we not attempt to guarantee equal opportunity for women and minorities until capitalism is smashed.

    Like Rick Powell I have no intention of getting married and used to be militantly opposed to queers seeking inclusion. I do regret, to a certain extent, the emphasis movement politics have put on this. At the same time, since this juggernaut is well on its way, I don’t see any reason for stopping it now, especially since the people who would like to are no making a persuasive case at all.

  9. Personally I believe that we deserve the right to marry if that is what we desire. Yes I agree it is not for all, but many of us want it. I do not accept and never will accept that just because I am a gay man that means I am not good enough to marry, or am somehow less of a human being and not worthy of it.

    We gay’s have put up with so much for too long. Why any gay man could believe that we are not worthy of marriage is utterly beyond me. Full equality is what we all need.

  10. Rick: You’re absolutely right. Nothing I wrote takes away your right to call people you disagree with ‘bigots’ – or ‘perverse’.

  11. I’m still looking for the actual arguments in this post and the only halfway coherent ones hinted at are as follows:

    (1) Gays should call Obama on his shit if we’re going to call the blond Miss America wannabe on her shit


    (1) Calling bigoted anyone’s objection to gay marriage is intolerant.

    It doesn’t seem like you could decide which argument you wanted to make. To the first: Well, yeah. To the second (1), you’re joking, right? I can’t take that anymore seriously than I would someone’s objecting to my criticism of the tenet, “The woman’s role is that of helpmeet.” Call me a bigot, then.

    It’s also obvious that one can be both bigoted and conventional, or conventional in some senses but also unbiased about some other issue. It’s not an argument to say otherwise, it’s a fallacy.

    Your supporting argument for the latter seems to be something about defining marriage as a religious institution. (You hedge by calling it “sentiment.”) Which it’s not and hasn’t been for the duration, at least, of the independence of the United States. Plus, that’s an argument out of the enemy’s playbook and I can’t imagine why you’d employ that here.

    (2) Gay relationships, vis a vis their already standing outside traditional institutions, should endeavor to create new ones.

    Oh, no, not that old saw! On the one hand, well, duh, we’ve been doing that for a long time now. No doubt we’ll continue to do that wherever we are and so will a lot of heterosexuals. On the other hand, that ship has never left the dock. You’re not going to get very many people on board with that project if they’re not already on board. Gay marriage has momentum in the States and that momentum has grassroots support. The whole gay marriage movement in the States completely bypassed the gay lobbying establishment and arose locally. That tells me it not only has legitimacy, it has legs. The argument is already over for everyone under 35. Rolling out this libertarian cant ain’t gonna do a whit of good or bad, but if it makes you feel better…

    As far as the emphasis in the UK on civil unions and not marriage, good for you but so what? In Argentina where I live, a very Catholic country, there wasn’t a single discussion anywhere about whether or not the struggle should be for civil unions or civil marriage. Only marriage carried full social legitimacy for Argentines, even for those Argentines with heavy religious backgrounds. It’s also a country where family is still the most important thing. So a Catholic mom could not possibly settle on a “civil union” for her son or daughter. She deserves what everyone else gets. And now she has it.

    I think you wrote something that’s called “preaching to the choir.” But, it’s a fairly small congregation, isn’t it? Most people do want the conferred legitimacy of already existing institutions. Most people do not want to be seen as different or outside social norms. And I can’t blame them. I’m not sure what it gets anyone to do so.

    I’ve been a sexual outlaw most of my adult life. I have never even considered getting married — despite being proposed to here — and ridiculed the idea throughout my AIDS activist 90s. I still don’t want to. But the social justice arguments for it have won me over and seem pretty much, ahem, impregnable. To argue against in the way you have, and in defending some blond asshole’s fundamentalist pronouncements, seems perverse, and not in a good way.

  12. You are so right, Mark. You are coming from a logical place and a lot of people here are clear;y speaking out of emotion. The case is clear. The LGBT community has NO reason to be attracted to marriage as long as they get the same civil rights married couples get.

    But as Mark says, it is an exercise in liberal self righteousness. You think everybody has to come around to your way of thinking right away, without stopping to think that every once in a while, the minority is wrong.

  13. And President Obama is emerging unscathed from another (and more important than same-sex marriage) Cause – that of gays and lesbians serving in the US military. Not sure about bisexuals, is there a “Don’t Ask, Don’t Get Confused Because They Don’t Fit Into A Stereotype” policy?

    It’s easy to shoot clay pigeons like the ever-so-lovely Miss California, whereas both the President and the US Congress keep the DADT policy despite election promises. I wish the gay and lesbian lobby would grow some balls.

  14. Right, Mark. All of the American gay bloggers supported the Democratic candidate! They would just look more stupid than usual, turning on him.

    Beauty queens are just a pretty easy target for abuse: considering the superficiality of the culture they could just be jealose too.

    Ref.Gauise(above): monogamous mating may have been around for quite a while. As far as I know, “marriage with all the pomp and circumstance: the thing that American gays want is the holy sacrament which connotes that they are not freaks. Historically, if you know anything about gay history over the past 15 years
    it is intimately tied to normalization and the death of gay liberation.

  15. Perhaps it has to do with the fact he’s black, but I suspect it’s mostly because he’s powerful. And male. So they vent their spleen on a powerless beauty queen instead, in language shot through with hatred and envy of her sex.

  16. But, interestingly, President Obama – who as you pointed out espouses the same viewpoint as our very dear Miss C – cannot be a whore, or a slut, or a bitch. Maybe because he is a minority, which Miss California clearly is not (although the peroxided, cosmetically enhanced is a minority…but a desirable one). Or maybe because Miss California is a clay pigeon easily shot…whereas Obama is just too much for the Good Gays to digest. The untouchable President and his views against the holy Gay crusade is the elephant in the room, and perhaps is symptomatic of the reluctance of other minorities to embrance the Gay Cause…and feeds into the Victim Complex without which no bona fide religion is complete.

  17. There seems little doubt that the yen for gay marriage by American gays is at root a religious one – even and especially when it’s espoused by people who think of themselves as anti-religious. They want sodomy to be sanctified, but as you say, in order to do that they have to distance themselves from… sodomy. And likewise, Miss California is WHORE! and a SLUT! and BITCH! because she doesn’t endorse their crusade.

  18. I would go further: the Puritan approach is inevitable given the Gay Cause is a religious Cause, with saints and demons and a liturgy that demands a heterosexualised public face and private hypocrisy. The gays dare not expose the fact of how downright icky gay sex can be – what with those drugs and orgies and sex clubs and multiple partners and taking it up the pooper – so it is important that gays become divorced from sex.

    Am I the only one to imagine the level of adoration had Miss California giggled out a gay-affirming answer supporting the holy grail of gay marriage?

  19. There’s something really quite disturbing in the venom and crazy fury the gay blogs have shown Miss California – even claiming that she didn’t deserve her crown because she did a topless photo shoot! It’s official: gays are the New Puritans.

  20. Donald Trump has ruled that Miss California can keep her tarnished crown….echoing the words of Mark Simpson he acknowledged that Miss C and President Obama have the same view on marriage being between a man and a woman. Gay blogs and BBs are going mad with the frothy delight of calling Miss California every type of bigot…

    But when it is an important issue such as this, and said by such a public person as Miss California (and the runner up for Miss USA no less), no amount of vitriol is too much. Good thing that being President of the United States is such a low profile, unimportant job, because then the Pro-Gay-Marriagers would have to take Obama to task as well.

    I love the smell of hypocrisy on the intraweb.

  21. Marriage has been around a lot longer than Christianity and it wasn’t until 16th centuries after Christ that the Catholic church decided that a priest had to be present to make the marriage a done deal.
    Christianity has no exclusive rights to the term “marriage” and no right to tell others that they can’t use the term.

  22. Given that the U. S. Constitution was written almost solely by men who were products of the Enlightenment, they were nearly to a man atheists and agnostics. Only one person of 39 even went to church at all. These men were inspired by many of the people responsible for the French revolution.

    The Constitution provides Americans with a legal structure, a Bill of Rights and guidelines for a democracy all of which is secular. These laws eventual which governed a population of religious extremists, slaves and indentured servants accommodated as much as they could the various groups regardless of their often strange beliefs and even their dislike for democracy. The rules of the constitution and the many religious communities were often at odds and effort had to be made to keep the Civil authority separate from religious authority. Even though the Law itself is supposed to be secular, when it was used carelessly to buttress church law, as such, it was abused, and remains so, still obfuscating church and civil law. That remains the case, unfortunately..

    if it was not gays would not then be challenging the religious principles which happen to overlap with marriage law. Marriage laws were originally made to regulate sexuality for religious people, to control women and to see to the breeding and raising of children. This has come to correlate with the governments’ work. Gay people have no need of the kind of sexual constraints which apply to people breeding children. We don’t reproduce ourselves and we already have our own sexual and social habits which differ from those required to.

    Gay people are therefore fighting an unnecessary religious battle, by engaging in a scuffle for marriage which should not be part of the civil laws in the first place, many knowingly so. They are trying to force their sexuality on mom and dad and all the religious extremists in the U.S., which is a vast majority by making the government allow their nonreproductive sexual activity the status of a religious sacrament.

    Moreover, and most important to Mark’s concern is that in the argument which the same sex proponents use to assert a right, the ‘separate but equal clause’ which was used originally to make miscegenist marriages legal. It is not at all clear that these are the same issue. They are not since marriage has been defined as a reproducing agreement between a man and woman, no matter what color according to the law.

    However, it is not at all clear cut that this is the same thing, if ‘marriage’ is defined as the union of a man and a woman the “separate” referred to color, not nonreproductive sex.

    If this constitutional matter was clear, then there would be more reason to criticize someone who differed, that fact is though that it is not clear. And to berate someone who disagrees on their religious grounds, or simple legal grounds is intolerant. Of course no one would want to accuse Perez Hilton of good judgement or clear thought in any case.

  23. What Sisu said.
    I would be all in favour of the gay (or any other) community taking the tack that the state needs to stop discriminating on the basis of your relationship (or lack of). How come people who have the luck/nous/stamina to share their lives, finances, procreation and in-laws have more “rights” in most jurisdictions than happy and sad singles alike? Me thinks it’s time to abolish any privileges attached to your relationships and make us truly equal before the law.

  24. With full equality, the haters will continue to work tirelessly to find ways to oppress you. Let’s face it, a law means nothing when classed with bigotry and hatred.

    But all this talk of “equality” and no “separate but equal” only works if being same-sex attracted is a genetic or congenital condition. It also follows that this almost wholly American “mindset” – to link a person’s sexuality as a condition akin to race.

    So failing any proof – despite the efforts of many researchers – to link same-sex attraction to a specific “cause”, ultimately we seem fated to have our sexualities unexplained. And as Mark’s recent spate of articles on bisexuality show, much to the disgust of the gay and lesbian mainstream a person’s sexuality is complex, changeable, and highly dependent on many extrinsic factors.

    So where is the equality in assuming that every person has a “right” to committ to a monogamous, highly co-dependent arrangement such as marriage – especially when the men and women who do get married are destined to leave it in droves? Why is the monolithic Gay and Lesbian Lobby pushing such a failed institution when it does nothing but promote a very limited, middle-class conservative mindset?

    And where is the equality for those people who don’t want or need a significant other; or people who are in polygamous relationships or those who have changed or non-gender specific identities? What about two heterosexual friends who live together, are emotionally dependent on each other but do not have a sexual relationship?

    There is a myriad of ways that people can form relationships – something the original Gay Movement recognised. It is a great step back to now have a Gay and Lesbian movement that only sees a traditional marriage as the be-all-and-fucking-end-all, especially when it leaves most of us with separate but not equal status.

    Respectable gays and lesbians want to ride up the front with the respectable heteros and leave us poofs and dykes and trannies and perverts up the back. I’m not prepared to just have the “back of the bus” moved further back so some people can have legiticimacy.

  25. Keep in mind the U.S. has a bad history with “Separate but Equal”. It just doesn’t seem to work here. The LGBT community doesn’t seem to want to have a repeat of that historical failure. Understandable.

    Already, we’ve seen cases where ‘civil unions’ have been held to not have the same legal standing as marriage, despite the best intent of the civil union legislation. Case in point: A judge who ruled that alimony must continue because civil union isn’t the same as marriage.

    Given the rabid hatred against LGBT peoples by many segments of the U.S. population, it is vital to form the strongest legal protections possible. In this case, that appears to be nothing short of marriage. Without full equality, the haters will continue to work tirelessly to find ways to oppress us.

Comments are closed.