Complicating the Gay Marriage Debate

August 2, 2007

Forgive me, loyal readers of saltyfemme. I’ve written about this topic so much I have queer self-righteousness coming out of my ears. But the Feministe readers haven’t heard me rant yet, so now I’m giving them their turn. Reposting here. Feministe readers who have moseyed on over, find more of my gay-marriage rants here:

Recent Ruminations on Gay Marriage (June 2006)
Beyond Rhetoric (July 2006)
NYTimes on Those Rebel Gays (July 2006)
Wedding Bells Ring Again (October 2006)
Potlucks, Purim, and Gay Marriage (October 2006)
Blame it on the Gays. Seriously! (November 2006)
Maybe DOMAS Should Address This Instead? (November 2006)
Whose Agenda is GENDA? (July 2007)

And now, the post from Feministe:

There are supposed to be two sides to this marriage debate. Either you’re a member of the Religious Right and are opposed or you’re a good liberal and are in favor. Right? Not so much. I’ve seen a huge range of opinions on this issue from queers who don’t identify with either of these mainstream opinions. I wish that more of these voices were represented in legislative actions and in media representations.

Gay marriage advocates are fighting for the same rights that straight people already have. I’d like to question why straight marriage is the model from which to build gay marriage. Is it convenience? Strategy (i.e. what is winnable?). Why aren’t we fighting for more, why aren’t we representing nontraditional family structures instead of just traditional nuclear family structures? (and no, I’m not talking polyamory right now). What good is the right to share health insurance with your partner when millions of Americans don’t have health insurance to begin with? Furthermore, why should the government get to police who shares our benefits, who can inherit from us, and who can adopt our children? Considering that only 25% of families in this country follow the traditional nuclear model, wouldn’t we be better off instead seeing what might be best for everyone? How do (or will) co-parenting families, cohabiting adults in non-romantic relationships, single parents living with a sibling, and elderly parents living with their child and their child’s partner (among countless other permutations of family) benefit from a marriage that only provides rights to two romantically involved adults? Furthermore, it seems ironic that in a time when it seems like every straight person is avoiding marriage like the plague, gay people are fighting hard.

Academic John D’Emilio puts these changes into historical context brilliantly in his November/December 2006 article in the Gay and Lesbian Review, The Marriage Movement is Setting Us Back. D’Emilio actually argues that gay marriage goes against history. He explains:

Since the early 1960’s, the lives of many, many heterosexuals have become much more like the imagined lives of homosexuals . Being heterosexual no longer means settling as a young adult into a lifelong coupled relationship sanctioned by the state and characterized by the presence of children and sharply gendered spousal roles. Instead, there may be a number of intimate relationships over the course of a lifetime. A marriage certificate may or may not accompany these relationships. Males and females alike expect to earn their way. Children figure less importantly in the lifespan of adults, and some heterosexuals, for the first time in history, choose not to have children at all.

These new “lifestyles” (a word woefully inadequate for grasping the deep structural foundations that sustain these changes) have appeared wherever capitalism has long historical roots. The decline in reproductive rates and the de-centering of marriage follow the spread of capitalism as surely as night follows day. They surface even in the face of religious traditions and national histories that have emphasized marriage, high fertility, and strong kinship ties.

The gay marriage movement has also been accused of racism and classism and of taking up so much of the mainstream LGBT movement’s time and energy that it has little left for any other issues (trans rights in NY state, for example).

Is gay marriage the way to go? Can’t we embrace the fact that the nuclear family structure is no longer useful for so many people in this country and legislate to be able to support and be supported by who(m)ever we want and choose? To be clear – I support anyone who wants to celebrate their relationship privately or with their community. In the post, I am addressing gay marriage in a legal sense, the problems I have with the government policing our relationships and the rights that those relationships bring us.

I don’t want to leave out last summer’s Beyond Same-Sex Marriage (BSSM) statement, the most widely-read document that I know of that questions the legitimacy of the gay marriage movement and its “you’re either with us or against us” mentality. The BSSM executive summary is certainly worth a read. Its signatories advocate for:

  • Legal recognition for a wide range of relationships, households and families – regardless of kinship or conjugal status.
  • Access for all, regardless of marital or citizenship status, to vital government support programs including but not limited to health care, housing, Social Security and pension plans, disaster recovery assistance, unemployment insurance and welfare assistance.
  • Separation of church and state in all matters, including regulation and recognition of relationships, households and families.
  • Freedom from state regulation of our sexual lives and gender choices, identities and expression.

Realistically, this will never pass as legislation, though I don’t think that was the intent of the writers. I believe they wanted to spark a conversation, to bring the gray areas of the marriage discussion to the fore. Since last summer, not much follow-up has been done, save for a few events here in New York (one of which I attended and kept some notes on). Queers, marriage skeptics, if you’re out there, does BSSM speak to you? Is there anything useful (media or legislatively speaking) we can do with it? For all of you — what are your thoughts on gay marriage beyond the “I believe in equality for all people” lines and in light of these issues? Is gay marriage really the path to equality?

cross-posted to Feministe



  1. […] to saltyfemme (where I also link to some of my previous writing on this […]

  2. I can’t wait to go through that archived list of gay marriage rants, thanks so much for compiling!

    Love —

  3. Well, I am parked for a while. You have given me my reading. Cheers!

  4. […] salty femme asks some excellent questions about gay marriage: Gay marriage advocates are fighting for the same rights that straight people already have. I’d […]

  5. I think the notion of gay marriage is pretty ridiculous and we’re looking at the issue the wrong way. This has nothing to do with liberal or conservative, it has to do with the way we’re viewing the issue.

    The Garling Gauge has a really good take on it that might change your mind:


  6. thank you as always salty. you’ve come a long way with this discusion in the last year and include SO many important points! and tho i don’t have any contributions on the “how to make this useful” front right now, i want to be in this discussion on how to move this thinking forward in the world.

    one thing to add- folks who are single and want to have lots of hot sex with lots of people- they need healthcare etc too. and while i agree that polyamory is just the chip of the iceburg in terms of all the non-marriage-centric ways ppl live and care for each other, it should be included.. so as not to get on to a road that forgets that bdsm is just as (maybe more) valuable as marriage is. xxo.

  7. hi!

    i don’t have anything particularly insightful to say, except that i’m glad you’re having this conversation, because i think there are a *lot* of issues out there that affect queer people, but are not receiving the kind of mainstream coverage and attention that they should.

    one of our bloggers just posted a thread called “the big picture” on quench that relates to the process of asking the kinds of questions about communities and activism that you mentioned. i’d love to hear your thoughts! (http://quenchzine.blogspot.com)

  8. As you said, this debate mostly highlights the crucial aspects [and boundaries] or marriage and family legislation in the 21st century. I thoroughly enjoyed your discussion of the various points.

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