Why Some Gays Are Unenthusiastic About Gay Marriage

This article is reprinted from The Good Men Project

It seems like every time I see certain family members—my niece and father, for instance— they ask me when I’m going to marry Sam, the man I’ve been with for five and a half years. Sam’s father is one of the worst offenders. He and I were literally never together alone without him saying (as if there were a direct correlation between the two), “Jonathan, when are you and Sam going to get married? I think you two should have children.” I put a temporary kibosh on this one day at lunch, when I answered, “Paul, I’ve been trying to impregnate your son on a regular basis for a couple of years now, and you know what? So far, nothing!” This silenced him for about six months.

Living in Massachusetts, where gay marriage is legal, this is one of the hazards of being gay. Everyone expects you to be pro gay marriage, and I can’t say that I am.

Don’t get me wrong. I think Sam should have inheritance/pension/social security rights, be my healthcare proxy, get the tax breaks, be eligible for citizenship, etc., etc. Exactly like heterosexual married couples. What I’m against is the use of the word “marriage,” and I think we would have achieved equal rights by now, on a national level, if so much breath hadn’t been wasted and the right-wing gotten its knickers in a twist over the nomenclature.

I’d go so far as to say that “gay marriage” (not even as an issue but as a matter of semantics), helped cost John Kerry the presidential election that brought us the eight years of squandered opportunity and global goodwill, along with gross mismanagement, that characterized the Bush administration. So why do they insist on calling it marriage?

It’s demonstrably not the same thing as a marriage between a man and a woman. It’s two guys or two girls, and no matter how much Mendelssohn and matching white outfits you dress it up in, the religious and social significance of a wedding ceremony simply isn’t the same. We’re not going to procreate as a couple (until science catches up), and while the desire to demonstrate commitment might be laudable, the religious traditions that have accommodated same-sex couples have had to do some fairly major contortions to do so (which is probably healthy for them but neither here nor there). So the promise part is nice. Otherwise, “gay marriage” is beside the point. And for precisely that reason, I find it cringe-worthy to watch gay couples aping the rituals of a heterosexual wedding ceremony.

Which brings me to the saddest story I know about the legalization of gay marriage. A prominent gay couple who had been together for many years and were raising two sons were expected to be among the first to throw a lavish wedding when marriage became legal in Massachusetts. When the invitations weren’t forthcoming, I asked one of them why, and he said, “Fuck that. We’ve already spent a fortune on lawyer’s fees to be able to have the same thing.”

That’s where the true injustice lies. Gay people (even in states with gay marriage, if they’re dealing with a federal matter) have to shell out big bucks for something a drunk straight couple can pay an Elvis impersonator fifty bucks to do in Vegas. Wouldn’t it make more sense to concentrate on that, instead of what to call it?

We could call it a “floogle,” or any other word you’d care to make up. The argument that this would create a ”separate but equal” scenario is specious; simply make the legal wording exactly the same as civil marriage, and who really cares?

In short, I understand the sentiment, and I appreciate the desire for an acknowledgement that my relationship is the equal of any other. But Sam and I don’t even know what to call each other. “Boyfriend” sounds trite. “Partner” sounds like a business arrangement. Significant other, better half, lover, all unwieldy or awkward. Out of frustration and facetiousness, I usually refer to him as “my de facto husband-type-person.” So if we don’t know what to call each other, why harp on what to call the relationship? We know what we mean to each other. We both want what the world grants straight couples after they exchange vows. And someday we’ll commemorate our commitment somehow, which will probably involve a fairly major party. But if it wasn’t called “marriage,” neither of us would care, and for the gay people who do, you’d probably get what you want sooner if you weren’t so hung up on that one word.

14 Comments

  1. Steven Belec
    Posted June 23, 2011 at 8:58 am | Permalink

    It is the full-time job of lawyers to argue over language sadly… and that’s why the word is important. I agree with you; if we could only change the laws to call “marriage” something different for heterosexuals, allow the gays to do it, and all is well.

    Unfortunately, there are hundreds of years of “legal prescedent” that define the rights that marriage allows; at least 1,100 at the federal level in the US – but who’s counting?

  2. Donald Winter
    Posted June 23, 2011 at 1:10 pm | Permalink

    I understand your sentiment; but I strongly disagree with your conclusion. I also find rather silly some of your arguments. Let me go through the latter first. Your cute remark to Sam’s father is, well just that, cute. Even a liberal arts guy with little medical education understand how impregnation works. You just loved shocking your would-be father-in-law witg the image of fucking his son. (A fantasy image that rather delights me.) But he wasn’t hung up on the word Marriage; he just wants to know when you will make your emotional commitment into a legal one.
    My personal decision came from the opposite direction. Richard and I had agreed that after over 20 years of commitment to each other, a legal commitment was not needed. Then, in his totally Italian and hard-headed way, one day he announced. “We’ve got to get married.” Notice, he didn’t suggest we re-visit the question, or have a conversation about whether we should get married; he announced that we gotta do it. Since I was perfectly happy to go along with him, I said, “That’s fine. But what changed your mind?” He said, ” Years from now when the grandchildren ask us why we didn’t ever get married, we won’t have a good reason.”
    There are a couple well written books that explain why marriage is necessary and civil commitment is not enough. I am at my son’s house today and don’t have access to the titles. You would also refer you to the Opinion of the Justices of the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court in reply to a question posed by the General Court about whether a civil union law would satisfy the requirement for equal protection. They said no, that separate can never be equal in such matters. Even if the segregated schools and teachers provided for black kids had beeb better in every way than those provided for whites, the very act of separating the two groups, of saying that “they” can’t have what “we” have, creates an inferior category.
    I could argue that civil marriage is what marriage is all about from a legal point of view. It is in France and Mexico for example. Religious ceremonies are a take-it-or-leave-it matter. It is the Religious Right that has it wrong; we can all be married by the JP. They can keep us out of their Baptist churches; let them call it Holy Matrimony, and keep it all to themselves. We won’t insist on their ceremonies unless we are Unitarians or Anglicans.
    The nomenclature problem, as you acknowledge, exists outside the Marriage issue. Lover, boyfriend, partner, etc. are all uncomfortable. So were calling Richard husband and wife. Under certain circumstances I called him my spouse but hardly felt satisfied. But how much worse would it be to have to call Sam your civilly committed guy, your civil committee, your …. You get the idea. But to be able to say to the person in the Emergency Room, “We are married.” makes a world of difference. Trust me on that one.

    • Jonathan Soroff
      Posted June 23, 2011 at 1:22 pm | Permalink

      Donald, I whole-heartedly thank you for this thoughtful response and respect both your wisdom and knowledge of legal matters. But why can’t they make the civil unions EXACTLY the same as a marriage in legal terms? That’s what I don’t understand.

    • sharyn Fireman
      Posted June 23, 2011 at 11:20 pm | Permalink

      I love you both and understand both points of view. Both are valid from where you were at the time and where you are now. It is interesting that I call Murton my “Spouse Equivalent” and when people with little clue about life, (usually theirs) ask me why we don’t get married, I would like to claw them to death.
      I, like John, pre-empt the conversation by announcing in my most “diva” like manner, that I am too old to have his kids, so I had his dog instead. O Donald: I hope that doesn’t bring up any images!

      What is most artificial is the intrusion into your life as if THEY belong. Should this not have been reconciled years ago? I often felt “damned” by friends who were married living in the perfect home, perfect car, perfect kids:
      Our life wasn’t that. It was interesting, mysterious, complex and sometimes, LOUSY. But we made no pretense.
      We had a commitment and could thumb our nose at the sad sack lives of those who couldn’t relinquish their attitudes (or platitudes).
      I do refer to MURTON as my husband. It doesn’t matter, and we do have 27 years.it is a law that acknowledges our “paper” work. It is lousy that anyone should not have the privilege of being with loved ones for the sake of politics, morals, ethics. Companionship and Love are the most familiar essences of a good life. It needs to belong to everyone. So the name be damned: Be married, be civil unionized, be what makes you and your partner happy and satisfied. It is really about having integrity for the union and taking responsibility for it.

      HOWEVER, there is a particular nerve-jarring issue amongst the “normal” people when it comes to living outside the boundaries. As my sassy mother once joked, “Don’t bring home a Chinese, black, gay guy for a husband.”
      I wasn’t sure what she meant at the time, but now i do. It meant, “Don’t step out of the box.”

  3. Posted June 23, 2011 at 4:18 pm | Permalink

    What’s delightfully ironic is that many straight people don’t even want marriages, they just want unions! My husband and I sometimes ponder how it is that we’re “married” when we’re both atheists and the only binding thing about our “marriage” is a legal contract. So, give me your petitions and your “don’t have a wedding, join a union” tee shirts and I will have a parade to get you the same thing I have… :)

  4. Tom Weisend
    Posted June 23, 2011 at 5:13 pm | Permalink

    Are you unenthusiastic about gay marriage in general as a concept, or just for you and Sam? I think it’s kind of like how some people are, in principal, in favor of keeping abortion legal, but would not have one themselves. They still believe that the law should exist for that choice. And, as someone who has had the thrill of doing “some fairly major contortions,” I can tell you first-hand that it was unexpectedly but undeniably life changing and affirming.

  5. Nancy
    Posted June 24, 2011 at 11:52 am | Permalink

    I tried to raise my children to find their own happiness-to be who they want to be, regardless of what other people might think or say. It’s obvious you have recognized what that is and your frustration in being denied that is evident, if not directly through your words, definitely between the lines. It makes my heart hurt for you. You are a wonderful person and I sincerely hope things will change for the better. You and Sam seem to have a great relationship and you are lucky to have found that. Hold onto that love. About your fathers and niece asking about getting married/having kids. They, too, have found what they believe will bring happiness; they just haven’t figured out (or can’t understand) that it isn’t the same for everyone. Most likely, they are not going to change and they are going to keep on making comments. (This I speak of from personal experience with my mother-in-law of 32 years). If they weren’t family, I’d say, who cares because I think it’s rude to ask those questions of anyone (gay or heterosexual) and comments like you made to Sam’s father would probably nip it in the bud. But because they are close family members and respect/accept the fact you’re gay, which many families don’t, perhaps going on the offensive and trying the direct/”lay your cards on the table” route might work.

  6. Posted June 24, 2011 at 12:10 pm | Permalink

    Hey Jonathan,

    Well done. I’m with you about the semantics of marriage. And, personally don’t get why gay people WANT to be a part of something straight identified. I agree there is a way around the legal issues – and that the gay community could spend their time and money in more effective ways.

  7. Posted June 24, 2011 at 8:56 pm | Permalink

    I agreed with you 10 years ago, but it looks like “marriage” equality will happen within the next decade. I would prefer to wait for full equality because separate but equal isn’t equal. We have full marriage in a growing number of states… and will soon have immigration rights as a result of the imminent repeal of Clinton’s anti-Gay law, the Defense of Marriage Act. And I think family asks when you will get married because they believe that the ceremony is a symbol of the lifelong commitment and loving companionship they hope for you both. I hope that for you too regardless of ceremony.

  8. Brian Lighty
    Posted June 26, 2011 at 12:19 am | Permalink

    J,

    You quoted me perfectly!! Great article

    • Jonathan Soroff
      Posted June 27, 2011 at 12:18 am | Permalink

      When are you guys on MV? Would love to see you.

  9. Mark Campbell
    Posted June 26, 2011 at 8:43 pm | Permalink

    Hey Jonathan,

    You were at my reception with Sam, who I love and view as a brother. You celebrated our marriage and forever am grateful! While Jason and I have been married for 4 years, and together for 6… I wanted that commitment. However, I did not, and still do NOT my relationship with Jason to have any connection with any religion. I was raised Catholic, and that’s a whole can of worms… but I have always said that I want one term for all civil “unions” and this term would apply solely for the government unions that would entitle all to the the benefits that come with being legally connected and are afforded only to heterosexuals on the federal level, and to the remaining states that do not recognize gay marriage. Call this what you will, and give it to all couples. Leave the term marriage to the Churches as I do not want it. However, I do strongly believe the same term should be use for heterosexual and homosexual couples in terms of the government.

    If that term were to be civil union or whatever, but still afforded me the same rights, then fine, I would be happy with that, but if and only if that term applied to my heterosexual counterparts in the eyes of the government. I have not, and will not ever want to walk down a Church aisle… I hope this makes sense.

    Hope you are doing well, as it’s been far too long.

  10. Jonathan Soroff
    Posted June 24, 2011 at 8:30 am | Permalink

    Great minds…

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