We Can’t Be Free Separately
I’m going downstairs now to the drugstore near my office, and I’m going to get some black electrical tape, and I’m going to wear it over my wedding band, and I’m going to tell people that what happened is wrong.
I said that on the day after election day. For obvious reasons, a lot of people around me and a lot of people I care about were elated, but I couldn’t join the celebration, because I was too upset about Prop 8 in California.
I’m still upset. I’m still wearing black over my wedding ring.
Once upon a time, I met someone very special, and we worked through a lot of decisions together. It took a long time before I got where I needed to be to decide that we could try to be together forever. We were adults, we loved each other and we wanted to join our lives together. And so we got married. And in the eyes of two New England states (including the state I got married in), and several countries, and maybe soon New York and New Jersey, that’s enough. But in the nation’s most populous state, where the Supreme Court decided that equality was part of the state Constitution, the voters changed the Constitution.
I’m aware of the legal challenges; I’m a lawyer and I followed the California marriage cases closely. But I’m not writing about that. A majority of the voters decided that they wanted a word that made them special; that tolerance was okay, but equality was unacceptable. That’s just wrong. We’ll never get anywhere if the majority insists on othering anyone who is different.
This blog and the book are about sexuality, agency and respect. This is about whether we live in a culture that will systematically limit some classes of people by threatening, shaming and excluding them. The fight over marriage equality is the final major wall between gay and lesbian folks (not so much bi and trans and intersexed and genderqueer folks, who have a lot more arrayed against them still) and full legal equality. Many opponents of marriage equality will now say that they accept civil unions and all the legal rights of marriage should be available to same sex couples — they just want the word. They just want one tiny little word that tells them they are somehow special and better than other folks. There is not a whole lot of difference between the urge to “other” that will pat queer folks on the head as long as they “know their place” and the culture that says, “only the bad girls get raped.” Each enforces a tiered system of citizenship.
The majority vote for Prop 8 insults me and devalues my marriage. Share our lives with people we love should not be a special right. It should be a universal human right – not just the legal rights that flow from it, but the right to call it a thing, that special thing. As long as it is reserved just to those in some special category, mine means less. Its an unearned privilege, and it feels like a burden, like a daily complicity in oppressing people.
Marriage is not one thing through history; it is many things with a complicated and problematic history. Some folks question whether there ought to be any special social recognition for a two -person romantic unit. I think that’s a pretty reasonable question to ask. And there is a lot of meat in the idea that marriage equality will change marriage, and I expect I’ll write about that at some point. But the most immediate thing to come out of Prop 8, for me, is this: the people of California make me ashamed to be married.