Friday, December 26, 2008

Who says we won't get married?

It was inevitable that someone within the gay community would eventually opine that all this fuss about Prop 8, the Rev. Rick Warren, and same-sex marriage in general is misplaced energy and the wrong tack for the gay community to take. Bob Ostertag doesn’t disappoint in this vein with his column at the Huffington Post. What is frustrating, however, about Ostertag’s premise and those who profess that seeking equal marriage rights is either a waste of time or the wrong issue to push forward is that Ostertag and others in his camp resort to baseless assertions about what we want. And it’s an argumentative style that isn’t much different from the anti-marriage crowd on the hetero, religious Right side.

The foundation of Ostertag’s argument is that by striving for equal marriage rights, we are striving to be “just like them.” By embracing marriage, we are turning away from our queerness and we are allowing ourselves to be absorbed by the amoebic hetero society. He goes on with: “We could be making common cause with them (unmarried straights). We could be fighting for equal rights for everyone, not just gays and lesbians, but for all unmarried people. In the process we would leave religious institutions to define marriage however their members see fit.”

Such a specious argument ignores some very key facts. A religious institution is already allowed to define marriage however its members see fit. And while it is true that there are many unmarried heterosexuals and their reasons for being unmarried are varied, the option of marriage remains available to them should they change their mind.

And then he makes this baseless assertion: “The fact is most of us won't marry even if we have the right to. We are putting all our resources into winning a right that only the few of us in long-term conventional couple relationships will enjoy.”

How does he know that “most of us won’t marry”? How can he make that statement? Did he conduct a survey? How many gay couples did he ask? It’s just more of the same BS that the religiously-oriented anti-marriage crowd makes when it asserts that allowing gays to marry would harm children and society.

At the heart of Ostertag’s argument, as well as others who share his views, is a desire for sexual freedom – for lack of a better term, unlicensed promiscuity. What he refuses to acknowledge is that by expanding the right to marriage to include same-sex couples in no way burdens his lifestyle with any onerous limitations. In reality, his argument is no different from the anti-marriage crowed on the religious Right. The religious anti-marriage crowd fears that allowing same-sex marriage will somehow denigrate or burden its marriage and its lifestyle, and that’s what Ostertag fears too: that he can’t define his family any way he wants if gays can marry. And that is just plain poppycock. Gay men who want to copulate with as many partners as they like may still do so and continue to behave irresponsibly for as long as they like, just as sexually irresponsible heterosexuals can do. And anyone who wishes to behave sexually responsibly outside the parameters of marriage may also do so, regardless of sexual orientation. Having the option of marriage doesn’t change that. Only individuals can change that, when they come to a conclusion that living such a life no longer fulfills their needs. And I’m not saying that such a life in and of itself is unfulfilling; what I’m saying is that it doesn’t suit me. Marriage suits me. That’s my cup of tea and I want to drink it badly. I don’t want Ostertag’s tea. Let him have it.

Ironically, Ostertag even puts a condition on marriage when he says: “It is no secret that marriage isn't working for straight people. That's why religious institutions are so up in arms about it. The institution of marriage is in crisis. On what basis does anyone imagine it is going to work better for queers?”

Marriage doesn’t have to work better for gays than straights for gays to desire it. As much as Ostertag might want to deny it, gays really are not any different from straights. We make poor relationship decisions just as easily as straight people do. But marriage “isn’t working” because the institution of marriage is flawed; it isn’t working because people who marry are more and more less inclined to accept the commitment that it requires. Why should I get married if the law can be changed to allow for civil unions and health benefits to anyone, related or not? The fact is that efforts to create other alternatives to civil marriage – like civil partnerships or unions – have become the primary reason for marriage becoming increasingly irrelevant. Like it or not, those who share Ostertag’s belief on this matter are like the character in the Bob Dylan song “It’s Alright Ma (I’m Only Bleeding)” when he sings, “While one who sings with his tongue on fire/Gargles in the rat race choir/Bent out of shape from society’s pliers/Cares not to come up any higher/But rather get you down in the hole/That he’s in.”

Even if Ostertag is correct in his assertion that most gays won’t marry even when given the chance, it’s no argument to stop trying. It’s his argument for his personal circumstances.

Finally, there’s a very persuasive argument that once marriage equality is achieved, all other inequalities become moot, unsupportable and even inhuman. Marriage equality breaks down all the other barriers that Ostertag correctly points out that remain in our way. It is because the argument against marriage equality has been justified that all other violence against us continues with impunity. At the heart of the anti-marriage argument is we’re different in such a significant and harmful way, that even our love is illegitimate. Granted, we remove that, then Ostertag is correct: we do become just like everyone else in the eyes of the law. But what Ostertage doesn’t get is that we already are just like everyone else. We aren’t going to change. What needs to change is the law.

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