There is a feeling being voiced from some parts of the LGBTQ community that those of us in favour of equal marriage are buying into heteronormative models and that we will take our marriage certificates and then settle into quiet, passive, obedience to the usual rules of nice straight conduct.
Well, for a start, I don’t see straight allies and straight role models (Mandela, Gandhi, Aung Sun Suu Kyi, MRS Pankhurst anyone?) shutting up and settling down the minute they get married, but I also don’t see equal marriage as a sop, a stop, or an end in itself. It’s one more step. And, for me, a welcome one.
It has been suggested that our equal marriages will simply be as dysfunctional as straight ones (often) are, because we will then need to conform to the many societal pressures that shape heterosexual couples. But those of us who are looking forward to marriage are not suddenly going to find our years of living ‘outside’ wiped from our experience simply because we’re married (and the assumption there is that marriage is a purely heterosexual construct, which is simply incorrect – see the role of fafafine in Samoan culture for eg). When Shelley Silas and I marry (if we can do so in 2015, before this parliament ends, we will have been together 25 years) we will have lived through a large part of our lives together, lives that have included familial, cultural and societal oppression because of our sexuality and our relationship. I truly hope that this means we will deal with the constraints and freedoms of marriage in new ways, in ways that may not have occurred to couples who were lucky enough to marry simply because they wanted to. I’m not saying those of us who want to marry and are campaigning for Marriage Equality can get it all – or any – right, but I do think there’s a chance that our previous experience will make a massive difference to how we do ‘marriage’. Not least because many of us have been doing it for such a long time, in all but name. Which means, far from being subsumed into the mass of tradition, we can continue to be the ones who make the change.
I’m not at all for equal marriage because marrying per se makes us ‘equal’. I don’t believe it does, given there are so many other factors – class for instance, which is so rarely mentioned in this discussion – that will ALWAYS get in the way. What I do care about enormously is language. And right now, the language around how we choose to become witnessed couples is not the same for gay and straight relationships. Language is our main form of communication, and to be forced to use different language in our public witnessing is a serious disparity. I also truly think it’s an underestimation of LGBTQ people, and an overestimation of straight culture, to assume all questioning will go as soon as marriage is permissible for all. There will always be plenty to fight for and those of us who have done so for the past generation will continue to not only challenge oppressive norms, but also to encourage our young friends to challenge. This is just one struggle. There are many more. And while a great deal of our emphasis is currently on protecting and encouraging our often-bullied LGBTQ youth, I’d suggest the next real change needs to come in how we take care of our elders, as the current heterosexual models do nothing for our elderly.
Of course, the other thing to say is that I am not gay because I want to change the world. I am gay because that is my sexuality. I was also born with red hair and a propensity to freckles. That I still want to change the world comes from a deep-rooted (thanks to my family) awareness of the disparities of gender, class, race, dis/ability, sexuality (and the others that I probably forgot to list and I’m – honestly – sorry if I missed the one that affects you). I want to change the world because it’s not fair, it’s not even, and it’s not equal. And that has nothing to do with my wanting to get married to the woman I have been with for 22 years and everything to do with wanting a better world for all.