My Big Fat Funky Queer Marriage

Forget the rice. (We're on Atkins.) No his-and-his towels. (Nothing matches in our house.) Just give us Viagra—and wish us well

As I age, new roles emerge, along with passions I never knew I possessed and sex objects I wouldn't have noticed in my youth. There's only so far these changes can be explored in the context of monogamy, at least that's what we've concluded. And so Tony and I maintain the pattern we had when we met. He has tricks and I have affairs. My m.o. is riskier than his, because there's always the chance of an attachment that can't be contained. But I think risk can be a source of growth, and besides, as our wedding song proclaims: I am what I am.

I can just see this confession quoted on some fundamentalist website dedicated to casting homosexuals as terminally self-absorbed. Marriage isn't about pleasure, they hold; it's about God's plan. But the question always is, who gets to divine that plan? This prompts another question, one that lies at the core of the current debate: What is marriage now?

Our wedding portrait, 1987
photo: Sylvia Plachy
Our wedding portrait, 1987


The 25th Annual Queer Issue

  • Beyond the Stepford Queers
    Welcome to the age of do-it-yourself identity
  • I Ruck, Therefore I Am
    Rugby and the gay male body
    Christopher Stahl
  • Transmale Nation
    Remaking manhood in the genderqueer generation
    by Elizabeth Cline
  • The Great Gay Way
    A brief history of Christopher Street
    by Wayne Hoffman
  • It Was 25 Years Ago Today Selections From the Village Voice's Annual Queer Issue
    compiled by Charles McNulty and Matthew Phillp
  • Elements Of Style: Chasing Rainbows
    Peace tees, platform shoes, and big pussies get ready for Pride day
    by Lynn Yaeger
  • Listings: There She Is, Miss L.E.S.
    She'll Take the Town by Storm
    by Keisha Franklin
  • Pride Events
  • To the gay right, it's nothing less than the fulcrum of wholeness. Listen to what Jonathan Rauch has to say: "No other institution has the power to turn narcissism into partnership, lust into devotion, strangers into kin." Personally, I'd like to hold on to all the narcissism, lust, and strangers I can muster, even as a married man. And I'd hate to see folks fall for the idea that marriage is necessary—or sufficient—for devotion.

    In his recent book Gay Marriage: Why It Is Good for Gays, Good for Straights, and Good for America, Rauch maintains that being denied the right to wed is the main reason why many gays have a rough time finding love. I think he's got it wrong. Stigmatized people don't find it easier to love simply because they can marry. (Just check out the attitude toward intimacy in gangsta rap.) Freedom from stigma, not matrimony, is the key to wholeness. Still, the two are synergistically linked. Gays won't have access to legal marriage until the onus against us is lifted, and the onus won't be fully erased until we gain the right to wed. That's why I believe marriage rights are an essential part of gay liberation—and vice versa.

    Of course, homocons don't think socially, which is why they can't see this connection. But they do have a social agenda. Rauch contends that when we can marry, "the gay-rights era will be over and the gay-responsibility era will begin." This sounds a lot like Andrew Sullivan's infamous quip that, once gays win the right to wed and serve in the military, "we should have a party and close down the gay movement for good." It doesn't strike me as an imminent threat. Most of us understand that at some point in our lives we will come up against homophobia big-time. Being married won't protect us, but being part of a community can—and we're not about to give that weapon up.

    What really worries me is seeing radical queers buy into the same overloaded image of matrimony that animates the homocons. They fear that by embracing this orthodox institution, gay culture will lose its capacity for subversion. That may happen, but not because we can wed. The visionary potential of any minority depends in no small part on its persecution. When that burden is lifted, banality is a real possibility. But marriage doesn't create this condition. Nor will it turn us into Stepford spouses. If gays see normalcy as a prospect, it's because the norm is expanding to include us. And, yes, the meaning of marriage is changing.

    A third of all American women are single at the age of 30, a statistic our ancestors would find uncanny. Forty percent of children are being raised in homes without both birth parents. Many young people organize their relationships in a series of steps that may or may not culminate in a formal wedding. As these practices evolve, there will be growing pressure on the law to accommodate them. In the not too distant future, we may see a menu of options for couples, from civil unions to covenant marriages that make it hard to divorce. Gays are beneficiaries of this brave new world, but our agenda didn't create it.

    I won't be surprised if the first reaction to legal marriage from gay couples is to replicate the most conventional behavior of straights. That's what happens when you're let into an exclusive club for the first time. But once these couples relax, and same-sex weddings become commonplace, my gaydar tells me that the liberationist code will assert itself in a new setting.

    What is that code? You'll find its basis in Walt Whitman's essay "Democratic Vistas." "The greatest lessons of Nature [are] the lessons of variety and freedom," he wrote. That's a pretty good standard for a democracy, but there's a reason why Whitman is the godfather of gay liberation. We live his ideas in a special way. The values of variety and freedom have always been at the heart of homosexual society.

    I don't think marriage will change that. Some gay couples will choose picket-fence fidelity while others follow the path Tony and I have chosen, or forge an entirely different route to intimacy. That's what freedom and variety mean in our time, and not just for queers. A lot of straights are embracing these values, too—but not without ambivalence.

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