A Gay Man's Case Against Gay Marriage
Gay men and lesbians have done great work on forming relationships outside marriage. Why stop now?
The best argument against same-sex marriage is the argument against marriage.
I've been a gay activist since the gay-liberation Stonewall Riots in 1969, and today I'm a visiting professor of gay and lesbian studies at Dartmouth College. I'm often asked why gay men and lesbians are fighting for same-sex marriage, and my answer is always the same: I don't really know. To me, the fight for same-sex marriage seems not so much shortsighted as beside the point.
Don't get me wrong. I completely support giving gay men and lesbians the right to partake of civil marriage, and the basic economic benefits that come with it, simply as a matter of equality under the law. Within a generation most states will likely follow Massachusetts' bold lead and insure marriage equality for all couples. It's a no-brainer: states that don't allow gay men and lesbians access to the legal status given to heterosexuals blatantly discriminate.
What I don't understand is why gay men and lesbians want to get married. The unswerving fight that gay men and lesbians have waged for marriage equality has been predicated largely on the idea that traditional marriage is the best possible form a relationship can take. For gay-marriage advocates, marriage carries the gold seal of approval: however loving, fruitful, or productive other relationships are, they are, by definition, not as good as marriage.
This is curious, given how deeply ambivalent heterosexuals are about marriage. It's there in the 50 percent divorce rate, the high rates of spouse and child abuse, the incidence of adultery-check the record of the congressmen who voted for the Defense of Marriage Act, never mind average couples. Despite their distinct 1950s ring, jokes about balls-and-chains still abound, and the famous Mae West quip, "Marriage is an institution, I'm just not ready for an institution yet," still gets laughs.
What makes gay people think marriage will work better for them? It probably won't.
I'm not the sort of gay activist who thinks everything heterosexuals do is wrong. I see "Queer Eye for the Straight Guy" as a show about five busybodies who interfere in other people's lives with intrusive product placements. I also recognize that some marriages work marvelously: my parents' 50 wonderfully happy years together ended only with my mother's death a few years ago. But as it is practiced in the United States, we can all agree that marriage is not perfect, and for so many of us marriage no longer suits our current emotional or social needs. We-homosexuals and heterosexuals alike-might do better by spending some time rethinking how we want to live our emotional and sexual, private and public lives.