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Gay marriage has the ties that bind

By Dan Savage · February 25th, 2004 · Savage Love
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Can you explain gay marriage? I lost a friend who was a lesbian for expressing my view that marriage is meaningless. It seems to me that the point of gay marriage is to win offcial recognition that homos aren't second-class citizens, that it would amount to a state-sanctioned "Gays are OK!" message. I've got no problem with gay marriage, but it seems like there are more pressing issues like the shitty economy and the war and an awful lot of energy is being spent trying to win something that doesn't matter except as a symbol. So why is gay marriage so important? What's the big deal? Admittedly I'm a straight guy, Dan, but does it really matter all that much?

-- Tortured Acronym

Sure, I can explain gay marriage. Some gay and lesbian couples would like to marry for the same reasons so many straight couples would like to marry or have already married: They're in love, they've made a commitment to each other and they want the rights, privileges and responsibilities (RPRs) that come with legal marriage. While some gays and lesbians are after the "Gays are OK!" message -- no one has ever gone broke overestimating the insecurities of gays and lesbians -- most gay couples don't just want the symbolism of marriage, TA. But those RPRs? Guess what? They matter.

"Marriage brings extremely important tangible and intangible protections," says Evan Wolfson, executive director of Freedom to Marry, the organization leading the charge on gay marriage. "Tangible or intangible, neither is symbolic. To have clarity and security, to have people know who you are in relation to the primary person that you're building your life with, is no mere symbol. And gay people have the same need for that security, clarity and, by the way, equality, as non-gay people."

As for your lesbian ex-friend, can't you see how listening to a straight guy dismiss gay marriage as trivial might infuriate her? Lesbians are famously easy to infuriate -- there, I just did it myself -- but being told by someone who can get married that gay marriage is a silly distraction from the economy or the war would anger the mellowest homo.

Also, where do you get off assuming that gays and lesbians aren't active on other issues? Many of the same folks lining up to get married in San Francisco last week were folks who, without a doubt, marched against the war in Iraq and made donations to Howard Dean (RIP). Maybe once gays and lesbians are no longer second-class citizens we'll be able to focus like laser beams on just the economy or the war.

In the meantime, TA, as long as we're treated as second-class citizens -- and we are, every day save April 15 -- gays and lesbians are going to fght for our rights, if that's OK with you.

Finally, for a taste of why so many gays and lesbians give a shit about marriage, check out dearmary.com/mary, a Web site devoted to shaming Mary Cheney, Vice President Dick Cheney's daughter. Before her father took over the world, Mary Cheney was a professional lesbian and an advocate for gay rights. Now, as her own father stumps for an amendment to the U.S. Constitution that would do lasting harm to his own daughter and all other American gays and lesbians, Mary is AWOL. At dearmary.com/mary you'll fnd heart-wrenching letters that show why marriage rights for gays and lesbians are important. And anyone who's interested in sending Mary "My Heart Belongs to Daddy" Cheney a letter can do so via the site.

I'm a 29-year-old gay man who started coming out when my state, Ohio, passed a discriminatory law banning gay marriage, civil unions and domestic-partner benefts. The people who run this state keep saying how they don't want to lose to other states the young, creative people with professional degrees. Well here I am, Ohio, and soon I will go.

I was flled with this coming-out gusto until Super Bowl Sunday. I went to the biggest gay bar in Cleveland. There were at least 50 TVs in the joint. Not one had the game. I asked the bartender if they were showing the game. He said they don't show sports. "This is a gay bar, you know," one of the patrons added. Now I don't know what to do. Most of my friends are straight -- hell, I would be straight except for the likes-to-lick-hairy-chests thing. So where is someone like me supposed to go? Straight Ohio doesn't want me, and Gay Ohio apparently doesn't either. Maybe there really isn't a place for me.

-- Guy from Ohio

One gay bar wasn't showing the Super Bowl, one old queen wasting away on a barstool said something bitchy and now you're wondering, like Maria and Tony, if there's a place for you? Puh-leeze. For someone who likes hairy-chested sports, GFO, your skin isn't very thick. My frst bit of advice: Toughen up, you big pansy, it's a rough world out there.

On to your problem: You admit that you don't know many gay people ("Most of my friends are straight...") and that's the real issue here. While on average fewer gay people give a shit about professional sports (full disclosure: I don't even know who played in the Super Bowl), there are tons of gay people out there -- in Ohio and elsewhere -- who love pro football. Once you get to know more gay men, you'll meet more of the gay men who like the same stuff you do, from licking hairy chests to watching hairy-chested men slam into each other.

There's a place for you, GFO. Now stop whining and go fnd it.

I'm sure your readers have been following the gay marriage hoopla in Massachusetts and San Francisco. While I have reservations about the institution of marriage, I believe this is a big moment in the fght for gay rights. And I have a simple idea: All engaged straight couples who support gay rights should get married in Massachusetts. No doubt gays and lesbians are going to ├żood Massachusetts for same-sex weddings. However, the number of people ready, willing and able to marry is small.

This is where our straight friends can do something important. They can show that they support us by having their weddings in Massachusetts even though they can legally marry anywhere in the country. The wedding industry generates $35 billion in sales annually. If Massachusetts gets a lot more of that revenue, business people and politicians will notice. It might be inconvenient to get married in Massachusetts if you live in, say, Oregon, but what's a little inconvenience compared to the opportunity to help advance civil rights?

-- Chris

Find me two people about to be married -- gay or straight -- who can, even for an instant, think of anyone other than themselves. If that couple exists and if that couple is straight and if that straight couple is oddly passionate about gay rights, then maybe -- maybe -- one straight couple will opt to marry in Massachusetts after reading your letter. This will not, I'm sad to say, bring the other 49 states to their knees.

Instead of asking our straight friends to trek to Massachusetts to marry, gays and lesbians should ask them and their families to make big fat contributions to Freedom to Marry. (Donations can be made to the group via its Web site, freedomtomarry.org.) Perhaps our straight friends who are getting married could include a donation to Freedom to Marry in their gift registry. Unlike other wedding presents, gift contributions to Freedom to Marry are tax deductible.

 
 
 
 

 

 
 
 
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