The Queer Issue: You're Doing It Wrong

Straight-Wedding Boycotters

Avoiding Weddings Isn't the Way to Change Minds

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Robert Ullman

The Queer Issue: You're Doing It Wrong

I adore Rich Benjamin, the charming political commentator and author of Searching for Whitopia. I'm not surprised he's deluged with wedding invitations. The guy is exactly who you'd want at a wedding: sharp enough to win over your fussy aunt and likely to be a part of what everyone, the next day, says they don't remember from the party. Which is why it was so hard to see Benjamin get it so damn wrong in his May 21 New York Times op-ed, in which he announced his boycott of all straight weddings this summer and called on "all gay people" to join him.

I won't be joining this boycott.

The question of whether gays should attend straight weddings is not like the three questions Benjamin posed in his piece: "Does a vegan frequent summer pig roasts? Do devout evangelicals crash couple-swapping parties? Do undocumented immigrants march in Minuteman rallies?" (Answers, in order: Sometimes, especially if that vegan likes standing there sullen, eating barley out of a metal tin in order to better guilt-trip all the pig eaters; way more often than devout evangelicals will ever admit; and hopefully not.)

It's also not about whether, as Benjamin puts it, one has what it takes to become "a conscientious objector." (If the parallel to people who conscientiously object to military service were to hold, then we gays would be boycotting marriage altogether, even for ourselves.)

The question is: Who are the people extending the invitation?

Should Elton John have attended Rush Limbaugh's wedding? Obviously not, unless Sir Elton was planning to piss on the wedding cake. (Instead, he collected a reported $1 million for serenading Limbaugh on the occasion of his fourth marriage.) On the other hand: Should I go to my straight brother's wedding this summer in Seattle, and the wedding of my straight ex-girlfriend, not to mention the wedding of my boyfriend's straight friend from back home? Absolutely. No question. Yes.

These are good gay-rights-supporting people, so I should go to their nuptials, gay it up, celebrate them, and by my presence remind everyone in attendance—yes, a little bit like that sullen vegan, but with a lot more energy!—that it is good and right to do right by the gays. Because (a) the gays come to your weddings and make sure your champagne and dance floor don't go to waste, and maybe even have a whispered conversation or two that helps some family member sort out whether another family member is a likely closet case, and (b) the homos honor and recognize your partnerships, so you straight people are being completely unfair and hypocritical if you do not honor and recognize theirs.

We cannot be above this kind of guilt tripping. It's one of our most potent weapons. But it requires attendance.

Just look at the arc of the gay civil rights movement, which has historically been much more about already being at the party, and then staying there and demanding to be treated like everyone else in the room, than it has been about sulking and staying home. The old saying goes: "We're here, we're queer, get used to it." You'll note that's the opposite of "I decline your invitation, I'm not coming, take that."

I'm not saying we should be pushovers. I was getting ready to be a little huffy about my own brother's wedding because here we were, just a couple months shy of the event, and we hadn't had the talk, the one where he calls me from New York and says: "Eli, it's a total injustice that I can just fly on back to Washington State and get hitched, while you, who live and pay taxes there, can't." But then it turned out that one reason my brother hadn't had the talk with me was that he was busy recording a YouTube video for two gay friends of his who are running a campaign to bring gay adoption rights to France. Also, he was busy trying to come up with a way to work a mention of Washington's unjust marriage laws into his wedding ceremony.

Why in the world would I boycott the wedding of a straight guy like that?

Benjamin argues: "They should feel the consequences of this discrimination as sharply as we do."

Yeah, I guess, sometimes. But if they're good people, better for them to feel our love. And some guilt. recommended


Comments (15) RSS

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Marriage affords people privileges that I believe should be available to EVERYONE, gay or straight, married or unmarried. I will celebrate the partnerships and relationships of my friends, queer or straight, monogs or non-monogs, but I will not attend *actual weddings* unless they are sincere celebrations of those relationships, not sincere celebrations of the State's entry into their relationships, affording them additional privileges.
Posted by novabird on June 22, 2011 at 12:39 PM · Report this
e. ebullient 2
@1, when is a wedding *not* about the sincere celebration of a relationship? I don't know what kind of weddings you're going to, but at every single one I've been to, nobody has mentioned tax breaks or estate law even once.

Even at very traditional religious weddings, the focus has always been on the mutual duties and joy of being a spouse, which are sometimes explicitly said to come from God. But God is not the state.
Posted by e. ebullient on June 22, 2011 at 1:06 PM · Report this
John Horstman 3
@2: Difference between weddings (anyone can have one, including gay people; hell, the other members of Rick Santorum's big three evil sex offenders - pedophiles and zoophiles - can have weddings) and marriage (legal institution that is currently not necessarily open to "same-sex" - in quotes because binary sex and sex as a category generally are social constructions - couples). People always get married in order to secure legal benefits (guardianship of children, default power of attorney, combined incomes and assets, shared health insurance, citizenship, etc.), and I would also guess that most weddings, that is, the celebratory ceremonies, are sincere celebrations of the relationships in question. But no one would sign the marriage license and pay the processing fee if marriage wasn't about legal considerations.
Posted by John Horstman on June 22, 2011 at 2:32 PM · Report this
@3: And maybe if someone is just having a marriage, you shouldn't attend. But if they're having a wedding, it would be awfully douchey of you to refuse to go due to something they have no control over. Do you really think that you missing your brother's wedding will have any impact on how a Mormon housewife feels about marriage? No, all it will do is hurt your brother (and probably the rest of your family).

It's a meaningless gesture that has no positive impact and which only hurts gays' friends and families. Downright stupid. I am truly sympathetic to my gay friends' plights, that is no reason for them to begrudge me my happiness.
Posted by WeAreNotTheEnemy on June 22, 2011 at 4:53 PM · Report this
If you want to convince decent straight people to stand up for marriage rights, coming off as a judgmental scold isn't the way to do it. I'm vegan and an animal rights activist and this kind of holier-than-thou bullshit is a huge impediment to engaging onmivores.

There's a better way to bring straight couples in: when you RSVP, tell them, "I'm so happy to celebrate with you guys, but as you know, the state won't let me marry my partner. I know you're busy, but it would mean a lot if you could write to Rep. ____ and let her know that it's time to let same-sex couples take all the rights and responsibilities the two of you will enjoy."
Posted by mai naim hear on June 23, 2011 at 8:27 AM · Report this
"But no one would sign the marriage license and pay the processing fee if marriage wasn't about legal considerations."

I signed a marriage license because I knew I wanted to be with my girl for the rest of my life. All of the legal stuff was just background noise to us. We married at a simple JoP ceremony, with our immediate family and friends. No frills, no extravagance, very happy.

I know what you're saying, but you're simply wrong that "no one would". I did. I know why I did, and you can't contradict that. We didn't do it for tax breaks, or to make our parents happy, or whatever. We did it because we knew that we were already committed to each other, and it just felt exactly right.

We also know that we are not creative enough to solve every problem, from scratch, that two people will encounter during a lifetime together. Marriage is probably the oldest social institution there is -- it gives you a lot of answers, out of the box. You are not obligated to accept those answers blindly (in our society), but it's a good start. (Stuff like, when I'm old and not so trim any more, should my mate leave me for a new model? No, that's rude.)

So you should think harder before making sweeping generalizations. And I know I'm hardly an exception. For a long time, I thought I would never marry, because the institution of marriage just seemed so weird and incomprehensible. (My own parents divorced when I was very, very young.) Then two friends of mine married, and it was the best, most positive thing I had ever seen. (I've been to a fair number of crap weddings, too.) That single night changed my mind, and, years later, it greatly influenced my decision to marry, and what it meant to me.

Part of it (for me) is a conscious desire to be part of humanity, to have some connection to the countless generations that have preceded me. To most modern folks, even to me, that sounds hokey. But so what, I'm OK with being hokey. I don't care if marriage and gender relations have been fucked up for, oh, probably most of human history. I still want to be part of humanity.

And there is no conflict with that desire, and my very real desire for marriage equality for everyone, now. I am thrilled to see the world changing around me, and to see my society move from vilifying LGBT folks, to something close to acceptance (if you're lucky enough to live in the city), in a single generation. It's far from perfect and it's nowhere near done or acceptable, but it's a real change. I think acceptance of gay marriage is inevitable -- maybe in our lifetimes, and maybe not, but inevitable in the long run.

Just don't tell me that I got married for the money. That's just bullshit. Marriage has been around far longer than the law.
Posted by nuh_uh on June 23, 2011 at 3:18 PM · Report this
Eli-If you haven't already, I'd love for you to send in your piece to the NYT as a counter-op-ed. I thought Benjamin's article was bitchy and petulant. Great job.

@5 mai naim hear and @6/nuh uh: also well said!
Posted by Snarky on June 24, 2011 at 7:29 AM · Report this
Would that Mr Sanders' example were the rule. Isn't it more common to receive subtle (or not so subtle) pressure not to be Quite So Obvious?
Posted by vennominon on June 24, 2011 at 8:44 PM · Report this
opera cat 9
I don't really see where the argument is here, other than the blanket assertion that the person extending the invitation is dispositive. And the obvious (?) "Let's not be extreme about this, Elton John shouldn't have gone to Rush's wedding." What if I were related to a prominent conservative politico who voted against equal marriage rights and I was invited to his/her straight wedding?
Posted by opera cat on June 24, 2011 at 9:47 PM · Report this
What about straight people who refuse to participate in the institution themselves? Seems like that's a statement of another type. A number of high profile folks, Brangelina comes to mind, who have publicly stated that they won't join a discriminatory "club."

Gays boycotting straight marriages might not be your cup of tea, but what about allies who forgo those social/legal/economic benefits?
Posted by nopenotinterested on June 24, 2011 at 11:31 PM · Report this
Canadian Nurse 11
@9: My vote would be: don't go. I would tend towards saying, "since you would never attend my wedding, I can't attend yours." That's different than someone who *couldn't* attend your wedding, but would if the laws changed.
Posted by Canadian Nurse on June 25, 2011 at 6:59 AM · Report this
This article forgets that Elton was never a gay marriage advocate. He views it as an anachronistic institution that government is stupid to be involved in at all, and that gays have wasted time trying to be let into it, instead of aiming for equal rights via a nationwide civil union law as was done in England back in 2005.

His view's always been that it doesn't make sense to keep exposing our families nationwide to danger by insisting on "marriage or nothing". Our own state electeds' decision to protect all our state's couples and families by going for civil union laws first is an example of that sort of pragmatism.

It's certainly not a popular view, but it is one he doesn't seem interested in apologizing for.
Posted by gloomy gus on June 25, 2011 at 8:15 AM · Report this
@12 Also, Limbaugh is apparently a supporter of same-sex civil unions, so I guess his and Elton John's opinions coalesce on that matter.

Anyway, Eli's article reminds me of Law 18: "Do Not Build Fortresses to Protect Yourself – Isolation is Dangerous"
Posted by madcap on June 25, 2011 at 12:33 PM · Report this
What a crock of shit!

I haven't attended any gay marriages, yet, but only because I haven't received any invitations (yet!). Stop whining about not having having the option, and plan your wedding in a state where it is legal, if you are ready to do it! Yes, the majority of the country isn't rainbow minded, but (40 years after the assassination of Martin Luther King Jr.) now we have an African-American president. It was an accident of birth that I was born a breeder, why is he going to hold that against me? Besides, in NY state that argument is over. Equality won.

If this is really about always being the bridesmaid...

Posted by Married in MA on June 27, 2011 at 9:03 AM · Report this
I'm not attending any more ceremonies until polygamists can legally wed.
Posted by Pelosi Facelift on August 8, 2011 at 3:38 PM · Report this

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