I’ve got enough on my plate as a college student without worrying about my social life as a gay guy, let alone any plans for marriage. But the national discussion over Proposition 8 has led my friends and me to differ on same-sex matrimony. Even though I’m gay and hope to meet “the one” someday, I’d prefer a civil union because I have some critical concerns about same-sex marriage.
Critics of civil unions argue that even if such arrangements differ merely in name from same-sex marriage, gays and lesbians are still marginalized because it suggests same-sex couples cannot “marry.” One argument I’ve read on the Web went so far as to say that marriage has a “special power” as a social institution that includes same-sex couples in a community. Another said that in early American history, the focus was on the function of marriage as a public affair and municipal contract rather than a private religious rite.
I think most of these critics are right, but for the wrong reasons. They’re assuming that there is a certain societal status same-sex couples must achieve if they wish to be rewarded with social acceptance. The power to find individuality is not in the hands of the individuals, but in the hands of everyone else. This is how assimilation works; same-sex marriage has become less about obtaining certain civil rights and more about fitting into a societal dictation.
When I talk about wanting to be in a same-sex relationship acknowledged on a state and federal level, I’m talking about hospital visitation, protection from hate-crime violence, international visa availability, and appropriate taxes. But when that relationship gets framed with marriage as a societal empowerment, it sounds like, “I want to get married so it proves that my partner and I are just as competent as a heterosexual couple.”
I’m not trivializing LGBT civil rights by making marriages and unions an issue of cultural semantics. But frankly, that’s the heart of the matter. Same-sex marriage as societal empowerment is joining the theological squabble in an uphill battle.
The majority of the LGBT community in the U.S. would like to distance institutional marriage from religion. Yet they still argue that while civil unions and same-sex marriages constitute the same civil rights, marriage has a societal acceptance rooted in the presence of Christianity in American culture — something civil unions supposedly lack.
But if American cultural perceptions of marriage are fundamentally Judeo-Christian, and that tradition condemns homosexual activity, then as gay Americans we are asking for acceptance from a culture that inherently excludes us.
I don’t need same-sex marriage because I don’t need societal approval in order to validate my identity or my relationship with another guy. The freedom to choose same-sex marriage is important to the LGBT community. But if it is chosen because it’s needed, then you can count me out.