The Irresistible Banality of Same-Sex Marriage

How opponents of marriage for gays will be bored into submission

Readers with taxonomic minds will see that one position has gone unmentioned. We have marriage proponents arguing in the ideal register (many liberals), marriage opponents arguing in the ideal register (many conservatives), and marriage opponents arguing in the banal register (some queers). Where is the proponent of marriage who accepts its banality?

Marriage in a banal register

Preparing for the big gay day
photo: Brian Kennedy
Preparing for the big gay day


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  • The advice manuals on same-sex weddings fill that gap. Of course, the manuals often cast marriage in ideal terms. But they cannot tarry there, because the wedding will not plan itself. The Essential Guide to Lesbian and Gay Weddings and The Complete Guide to Lesbian and Gay Weddings dole out a daunting litany of advice on invitations, locations, rings, catering, cakes, attire, flowers, receptions, music, dancing, and honeymoons. Much of this advice is not specific to gay weddings, which is itself a weighty proof that we are talking about a single institution.

    But these manuals also tailor some of their advice to same-sex couples. David Toussaint's Gay and Lesbian Weddings: Planning the Perfect Same-Sex Ceremony asks and answers gay-specific questions with particular brio: How do you treat those who refuse to treat your wedding as "real"? (Do not invite them). Who carries whom over the threshold? (Whoever is stronger and has no history of back pain.) How do you tell your parents you are gay before the wedding? (Say: "Could be worse. I could be marrying Liza.")

    Unlike the policy books, these manuals were not written to make the case for same-sex marriage. They incline toward jokes and pictures rather than toward arguments. But to see photograph after photograph of same-sex couples feeding each other cake is to feel an argument being won without being made. It is to feel that same-sex marriage is happening, is happening everywhere, and is possessed of an absolved necessity.

    Of course, the ideal and banal registers are not mutually exclusive. Yet I have come to believe that I, at least, have focused too much on the ideal register in which I was trained. The ideal register persuades only those committed to the dream of reason. The banal one presents the world with a fait accompli.

    Consider the startling case of Massachusetts. On May 17, 2005, the first anniversary of the authorization of same-sex marriage in that state, Deb Price wrote an article in USA Today titled "The Sky Didn't Fall in Mass." She found that between February 2004 and March 2005, the percentage of Bay State voters who supported gay marriage rocketed from 35 percent to 56 percent. This "breathtaking turnabout" can only be explained by the fact that some 6,000 couples got married without incident during that period. The hysterical claims made by conservatives, such as James Dobson's May 2004 contention that same-sex marriage would "threaten the entire superstructure of Western civilization," were simply not borne out. Far from being apocalyptic, same-sex marriages were mundane.

    Gay-rights activists should not underestimate the power of banality. I'm reminded of a friend who wrote his grandfather a 14-page, single-spaced coming-out letter. After saying all the right things, the grandfather added: "And by page eight, I have to say that I was thinking, 'All right, all right, I get it, you're gay.' "

    The coming-out story is now a cliché, and we should celebrate that politically, if not aesthetically. Marriage is headed in the same direction, and we should celebrate that as well. For if we cannot persuade our opponents with high-minded argument, we can still bore them into submission with wedding pictures.

    Kenji Yoshino is deputy dean and professor of law at Yale Law School. His book Covering: The Hidden Assault on Our Civil Rights will be published by Random House in February 2006.

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