The issue of marriage equality is currently a hot topic. Political leaders, celebrities and proponents from many disciplines are publicly lending their support in favor of equal treatment, and admirably so. These people are making the headlines. These headlines, however, are illustrating a growing trend. Everybody’s calling it “gay marriage.” I’m asking, by using the phrase “gay marriage,” are we advancing the cause in search of equality? We must remember; we are pursuing marriage equality as a human right, not as a gay right.
We are all familiar with the fact that “gay” used to mean “happy” in everyday language. The meaning of the word has undergone notable change. It means something completely different to its traditional definition. And some of us are fond of our “traditional definitions.” Just ask any marriage equality opponent. “It has always been between a man and a woman,” they’ll tell you to justify their opposition. Is it ironic then that the word “gay” can illustrate how definitions can change? Possibly, and perhaps inadvertently we’re taking it too far with our “gay marriage” campaign.
It is worth considering that phrasing it “gay marriage” may be operating to strengthen the illusion that some narrow minds are under. Those same minds see equality as a threat. They think the institution of marriage is in danger. What they don’t understand is that marriage won’t change. What will change is who enjoys the privilege and legal right to enter it. Our celebrated institution will remain the same. It will simply be available to us all, regardless of sexual orientation, to guard our committed love with the law. We won’t have “gay marriages.” We’ll have marriages, just like now.
If I’m out on a limb here, I’m not alone. I have company. The Associated Press warned that the construct gay marriage can imply that marriages of gay and lesbian couples are somehow legally different from those of opposite-sex couples. Or take the words of comedian Liz Feldman:
“It’s very dear to me, the issue of gay marriage. Or, as I like to call it: ‘marriage.’ You know, because I had lunch this afternoon, not gay lunch. I parked my car; I didn’t gay park it.”
Consider the role of gay bars. A “gay bar”‘ necessarily implies that sexual orientation plays a role in its operation, if not central to the existence of some of these entities. That’s why we love them. However, the very foundation of our whole argument, the vital element, is that sexual orientation should not play a role, nor be a decisive factor in determining who enjoys the right of marriage. I believe our crusade for equality will fair better by leaving sexual orientation out of marriage — that’s what we want, after all: no gender-based distinction, and our end goal is marriage, not “gay marriage.”
Do we need to prefix marriage for the purposes of our campaign for equality? If we do, I suggest we thread with some caution. We have to remember — we want the same as what’s currently available by way of legal rights, to our heterosexual counterparts, not something different. We want those same legal rights. It won’t help our cause to suggest we’re looking for something different to what already exists. Does “gay marriage” sound the same as “marriage” to those narrow minds I mentioned? Probably not, and those are the very minds we need to educate.
The phrase “same-sex marriage” has also gained in popularity. The potential perceived meaning, however, may be somewhat different insofar as we are all a sex, whether one, the other, a bit of both or in between, whereas not everyone is gay, and not everyone can relate to that.
When marriage equality takes its rightful place amongst our other sacred human rights, the sooner we can lose any labels attached to marriage and focus on eradicating other inequalities that continue to divide us.
Where then does this leave gay people such as me? I’m a gay person. Does that play a role or act as a decisive factor in determining anything about my life? Perhaps my work, where I live, who I love, where I socialize? Yes, it determines who I’ll fall in love with, who I’ll marry and which bars I prefer to drink in. But then again, are these not concerns everybody has? My view of the future is colored by optimism. I don’t know who she is yet, but I do know I’ll get to marry her. I may have to curtail time spent in my beloved gay bars, but that’s okay; I’ve always heard marriage involves sacrifice. Or is it called compromise? Either way, the only “gay marriage” I’ll be involved in, is a good old-fashioned happy one.