I got an email yesterday from Equality California, an organization that is fighting to overturn Proposition 8. Those of you who know me might be aware that this is a ballot initiative whose outcome I was very invested in, and whose passage reawakened in me the desire to do something about my country and make it the sort of place I want to grow up and raise children in. In any case, this email asked me to tell three people who might not otherwise be sympathetic to marriage equality what marriage means to me. Now, everyone in my family, and all the friends who I talk to on a regular basis, are pretty liberal, so I think the closest I can get to fulfilling Equality California’s request is to hold forth on the Internet. So.
You know, the funny thing is, I don’t even see marriage as something at all relevant to me. I’m pretty cynical about Long-term Committed Relationships and Me. I don’t envision marriage as something in my future. Furthermore, I find myself appreciating, in a lot of ways, how the LGBT community has led the way in breaking down the traditional marriage paradigm. I don’t think a formal long-term monogamous relationship is necessarily the right way for every couple to exist, and I don’t think it should be held up as a higher moral good than any other form of sexual and/or romantic commitment. I actually often have a knee-jerk reaction to the idea of marriage, especially when it’s put front-and-center in LGBT rights campaigns, because it reeks to me of assimilation. It’s almost as if the mainstream of the LGBT movement feels that the only way to create a future where queer folks are treated fairly is if they try to emulate the domestic habits of what my history of sexuality professor calls “institutionalized heterosexuality.” And I don’t think that’s true at all.
But. But. But just think about what marriage means in this country (which is America, for you foreign readers, but it probably means many of the same things in your countries too). It means security and stability for your children, if you choose to acquire any. It means all sorts of legal headaches erased or made much less painful, from taxes to green cards. It means hospital visitation rights. It means, most basically, public validation that your relationship deserves and has the right to exist. And we (as the queer community) can choose not to play that game; we can choose to say that we reject the outdated and inherently inequitable institution of marriage (if you do believe it to be outdated and inherently inequitable, that is). But on the other hand, reality for a lot of people is keeping their kids safe, keeping each other safe, and just living day to day. Not everyone wants to struggle through their lives just to make a social point. And we should respect that too.
The fact is that marriage is an item—a really big item—on the very long list of things that LGBT folks are denied in America. And yeah, there are some other things I would definitely like to see worked on: Don’t Ask Don’t Tell. Employment discrimination. Bullying and harassment in schools, and sex ed that generally ignores the existence of LGBT kids. Simple visibility and loudness and outness, teaching folks that there is nothing shameful or wrong about the nature of the people whom you’re attracted to or about the identity you were born with. Just making it clear that queer folks exist and that everyone probably knows at least one. Yeah, those are all hugely important things. Maybe they rank above marriage.
But the way I see it, that doesn’t change the fact that California granted LGBT couples—and the queer Californian kids like me who would like to think that their state cares about their future—a very basic right, and then snatched it away. When I visited home in the last week of October, right before the election, I drove down my street and saw Yes on 8 signs on the lawns. I would see my neighbors, out washing their cars or playing with their kids, and think about how these people who live all around me, and their kids who went to the same schools I did, do not believe that I should have the same rights that they enjoy. And that, to me, is inexcusable.
So, I guess, that’s what marriage means to me. It means, whatever you believe about the institution itself, a basic sense of recognition and validation from your government. It means that your government grants you the right to exist. And, really, is that too much to ask?