On Semantics: Forget Marriage, We Want Civil Union for All


In which The Gay Recluse clarifies his thoughts on gay marriage after years of skirting the issue.

Since we are gay and in a long-term relationship — almost ten years! — we are constantly besieged by frenz and relatives with questions that more or less could be summed up as this: “Oh it’s so sweet that you’re together! If you could get married, would you?”

In the past, we’ve generally hesitated before offering something along the lines of: “Well, maybe — but since it’s not going to happen anytime soon, let’s not worry about it.” This answer, of course, is disingenuous to the degree that we would get married in a second if it meant we could receive the same tax/legal benefits that “straight” couples currently receive. We would even like to throw a party — a$$uming we’re not bankrupt — because even though we’re reclusive misanthropic curmudgeons, “weddings” are fun and offer a few hours of unadulterated optimism before sending us back to the hard travails of daily life.  (Note: we do not ever want to call this a “commitment ceremony” — even if that’s essentially what it is — because omg “precious moments” barf!)  

And yet yet yet! The vocabulary of this process — marriage, engagements, bridezillas, groomzillas, fiances, even weddings — strikes us as distasteful and cumbersome to the extreme, and it’s really this — we now realize — that has been the root of our hesitation. In truth, we don’t ever want to get “married”; after fleeing the wasteland of suburban America — where every single house featured two people who were or had been married — we have no desire to return to that sad landscape of desparation and conformity. Along the same lines, we have never liked the words “husband” and “wife” and frankly never want them to pass our lips when describing our relationship partner, because these words are indelibly tainted by association with an outdated, homophobic, misogynistic and bourgeois mode of thinking (and society) that has absolutely no appeal to us (except in campy movies and teevee shows).  

Though we are obviously not the only gays to express frustration with marriage and everything it implies in this regard, we are often surprised by the failure of those doing so to make the following point, which to us is most critical in the current (and quickly evolving) political climate: it’s possible to be against marriage — even, or especially, gay marriage — but in favor of equality for all, and we should frame our political objectives in terms of the latter, while dispensing with the former. This, of course, is what Obama implied in the debates about “gay marriage,” and we should hold him to it!

Practically speaking of course, this would entail the promulgation of legislation that would strip the word and concept of “marriage” from federal laws and regulations (and by implication the states) and replace it with a “civil union” that would be open to any two people, regardless of age, gender, sexual orientation or even family status. (Because really, there’s no reason why say, two sisters living together shouldn’t have the option of filing a joint tax return and receiving whatever other advantages are offered to “married” couples.)

The reason this is important to consider now is that there is a huge opportunity to make this happen at the federal level and we (collectively speaking) should not squander it by squabbling over “gay marriage.” (Which careful observers should note is the term of choice for Republican assholes and fundamentalist nutjobs, i.e., “the gays want gay marriage! Outrage!”)

As any (good) lawyer will tell you — not to mention any political campaign strategist — legal fights are won and lost based on definitions of the terms involved. Let’s be honest with ourselves: “gay marriage” is needlessly provocative and moreover a losing proposition in our seriously homophobic country, as California just demonstrated, particularly when we can express the same objectives in terms of “equality,” which is more often a winning argument. 

So if people want to limit “marriage” to a man and woman, we should happily grant this, but at the same time press our allies (starting with Obama) to acknowledge that the state needs to get out of the business of “marriage” asap in order to ensure equal treatment for all of its citizens. “Civil union for all” is the most elegant way forward, and we should join the ranks of the enlightened countries that have already recognized this.

5 Responses to “On Semantics: Forget Marriage, We Want Civil Union for All”

  1. Ditto: hence Civillywedd.com Good luck to us all.

  2. 2 Your New York Friend

    Very, very much agreed. I wish more people would understand how the semantics of the words “marriage” is making the fight for equality more difficult for us. European countries with same-sex unions (and even ones that don’t) operate in a similar fashion. Everyone gets civil unions as far as the law is concerned and a marriage is something that a church may or may not do if they choose to recognize the relationship. Everyone has the same rights, the churches feel like they’re not being forced to change their traditions and everyone wins. Instead, we waste time arguing over a word that doesn’t even have a universally understood definition so naturally we continue to spin our wheels.

  3. Thanks for the comment, YNYF. Just today I’ve been noticing that a lot of folks seem to have shifted away from “marriage” and toward “equality” arguments, so obviously a lot more people are getting this, now. Let’s hope it pays off!

  4. 4 James van Maanen

    Well reasoned and well said. Let’s hope….

  5. 5 Straight for Civil Union

    Here here! I have been saying this for years. I don’t know why someone hasn’t brought this to the supreme court, because clearly using the word “marriage” in our legal documents is a violation of the separation of church and state. I just happen to be opposite-sex oriented and in a committed relationship and would much prefer to get a civil union if I could! Now how do we make it happen? Is there a group lobbying for this??

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