“Why do you need the word marriage?”

Rob Tisinai

February 21st, 2013

David Boies and Ted Olson, the good guys in the Prop 8 battle, have filed their brief with the Supreme Court. At the end of page 1 they say,

Proposition 8 thus places the full force of California’s constitution behind the stigma that gays and lesbians, and their relationships, are not “okay,” that their life commitments “are not as highly valued as opposite-sex relationships”…and that gay and lesbian individuals are different, less worthy, and not equal under the law. That “generates a feeling of inferiority” among gay men and lesbians—and especially their children— “that may affect their hearts and minds in a way unlikely ever to be undone.” Brown v. Bd. of Educ., 347 U.S. 483, 494 (1954).

My third blog post ever, in 2008, barely a month after Prop 8 passed (and long before I was writing for Box Turtle Bulletin), was about the Brown court case, and how poorly I understood it for so many years, and how relevant it is to our battle for legal dignity. This seems like an appropriate moment to bring it back.

I’ve seen documentaries about Brown v. Topeka, and the producers always compare a spiffy 1950s whites-only school with a ramshackle "negro" schoolhouse. That made me think the Supreme Court struck down the "separate but equal" doctrine because the equal part never really happened. But if you read the Brown decision, the Court believed the separate facilities really were equal, or pretty close.

But the good guys won anyway. Why?  Because they arrived with studies showing the mere fact of separateness did harm to black kids. The decision included this:

Segregation of white and colored children in public schools has a detrimental effect upon the colored children. The impact is greater when it has the sanction of the law, for the policy of separating the races is usually interpreted as denoting the inferiority of the negro group. A sense of inferiority affects the motivation of a child to learn.

Relate this to gay kids. We already know they’re at a greater risk for suicide. Now they hear people say, “Settle for civil unions–we’ll give you the rights of marriage but not the word itself. What’s the difference?”  Here’s the difference:

Any relationship you have might be good enough for civil unions, but not for marriage. Good enough for an uninspired legal phrase–not for the real thing. Good enough to live on the awkward outskirts of our culture, but not the heart, the core, the soul of America.

When I read the Brown decision, I have to think segregation of straight and gay relationships has a detrimental effect on gays. It denotes the inferiority of gay relationships. It leaves gays with an attitude of futility when it comes to commitment.

I don’t have any evidence on that. I’m not sure evidence is out there. It’s probably time for an enterprising grad student to take that on as a Ph.D. dissertation. And it’s not like we’re helpless victims here. Gay men can fight against this conditioning, and many of us succeed. But why should we have the burden to begin with?

And that leads to me back to gay kids. I just talked to my sister, a surgeon in Frankfurt, Indiana. Now, the city of Indianapolis might be gay-friendly, but the 50-mile drive to Frankfurt might as well be a 50-year voyage back in time as far as gays are concerned. I wonder about gay kids in Frankfurt. I think about Harvey Milk saying that victories in San Francisco gave hope to gay kids in small towns everywhere. And it makes me ashamed I didn’t do more to fight Prop 8, because that loss was a betrayal of gay kids everywhere.

And settling for civil unions instead of fighting for marriage–that would betray them again.

Ben In Oakland

February 21st, 2013

As I always like to put it, why should i accept something that no heterosexual would accept for themselveS?

Gene in L.A.

February 21st, 2013

Anyone who wonders why we “need the word” should be asked why shouldn’t we have the word. If it’s only a word, as they say, who is harmed if we use it?

Regan DuCasse

February 21st, 2013

1. Ask anyone what a cu or dp is, and they don’t know what it is themselves.

2. If THEY don’t know, and can’t explain them, then they must not work very well, and certainly not well enough.

3. Ask someone what married is, everyone knows what that is. And wherever you are in the world, anytime, you’re married. Not so with whatever a cu or dp is.

4. Ben is absolutely right, if it’s not good enough for any heterosexuals to want it, than it’s not good enough for ANYONE to accept it.


February 22nd, 2013

Not to dispute your conclusion, Rob, but personally I’d have preferred a civil union that had the benefits of marriage if that union was open to all couples. Now before anyone gets cross with me let me tell you that we were registered domestic partners in NYC the day that became legal; we entered into a civil union in VT shortly that became an option; and we married in Ontario so soon after that became legal that we had to amend the forms and find a minister since none of the judges had worked out what to do. So we’ve proved ourselves willing over the years.

Our marriage is legal in NY state where we live though it has little impact so far as we’re concerned. I’m sure that’s not the case for others. I’d be perfectly happy to have the protections of marriage without the name. I don’t find it second class and I prefer not to get sucked into the bourgeois world of pretending to be just like everyone else. I’m not and don’t want to be. As someone who didn’t grow up in the States I’m constantly surprised by the fantastic pressures here to conform and the fear that non-conformity engenders.

I suppose if we were younger and contemplated adopting I might feel differently. And again, I’d accept a civil union that was open to all couples not just same-sex couples.

But I don’t think this fight is really about marriage so much as it is about becoming part of the greater society. And of course that will be an enormous benefit to kids all across the country. So for that reason I think this is a very important right to win. But speaking only for myself I don’t want to be part of the greater society and never have. Part of my job is to be an outsider and I’m OK with it.

But this is a very good account. Well done.


February 22nd, 2013

Stephen’s post above is nonsensical or at least it is contradictory. On the one hand, he is satisfied with a civil union because he doesn’t want to be a (shudder) conformist. On the other hand, he thinks the fight is about “becoming part of the greater society.”

Becoming part of the greater society is not being willing to be shunted into a lesser category.


February 22nd, 2013

For the oppostition to ask why we would not be OK with Civil Unions is a failed position because of 2 reasons:

Firstly, those (Civil Unions) have not BEEN offered by the opposition. They have done nothing to promote this resolution (except to contrarilyoppose CU’s too), so to make this arguement NOW is crap,

And secondly, this still leaves US in the position of having to fight for Civil Unions ourselves,…and AGAINST them. They strangely recommend that which they also oppose?)

So I say now let SCOTUS validate Marriage come June, and let the assholes eat cake!…WEDDING cake that is – LOL!


February 22nd, 2013

Problem: They don’t think same-sex intimate relationships exists or at least on par with ‘traditional’ marriage, so to them this post would very well look like you trying to get people to call an orange ‘apple’. Same-sex couples could go from friends to bromance with benefits, never receiving the status of the romantic relationship and thus will never be treated equally or as seriously.

Anyways i would definitely prefer marriage over civil unions, which according to where i live, i’m not even close to getting either one of them.


February 22nd, 2013

Jay, I don’t agree that civil unions couldn’t achieve that. Not the way they’ve been presented in this country but I thought the French solution was perfectly OK. I write for a living so it’s not to my benefit to feel too included. I don’t speak for anyone else. And as Rob pointed out, this will be of most benefit to young people. And that’s a good thing.

I would like to point out that I’m probably the only commenter here who has actually committed himself to all three variations.

Priya Lynn

February 22nd, 2013

Stephen said “I’m constantly surprised by the fantastic pressures here to conform and the fear that non-conformity engenders.”.

Giving gays and lesbians the right to marry in no way pressures them to marry. It sounds like you want to deny gays and lesbians the right to conform through marriage should they choose to do so.


February 22nd, 2013

When will friends in support of overturning Prop 8 and DOMA be filed? It seems the haters got every low life to crawl from under their rocks to file in support of them.

Regan DuCasse

February 22nd, 2013

Stephen, your mindset reminds me a great deal of when The Pill and Women’s liberation changed how the laws pertaining to married women did too. I remember too well the different legal fights in the different states.
And THEN came a famous case in Los Angeles Triolo vs. Marvin, where a longtime live in girlfriend of the actor Lee Marvin sued for a form of support because she gave up her own career to support him during his.
The support was called ‘palimony’.
Now, Marvin had already been married two times, and didn’t want to again. And Ms. Triolo had been once. Some times oft married people opt for cohabitation.
The point is CHOICE.
The libertarian attitude is that marriage is too strictly coded by gov’t anyway.
And that individuals should pretty much set the rules for themselves.
But that is exactly what power of attorney and that tier of legal protection that UNMARRIED people can set for themselves AT THEIR CHOOSING.
Again the point is CHOICE.

But at this point in time, gay couples have NO CHOICE in marrying and the states in which marriage is legal, it’s still collared by DOMA. Leaving it at a different standard of legal protection for gay people than for any other married couple.
The married people in this country are married ANYWHERE in the world.
Married gay couples, are only legally married LOCALLY.
This is all so unworkable and impractical.
Maybe to YOU and quite a few straight people, marriage is a form of social restraint that doesn’t suit.
There was a time when most women were indoctrinated to consider it a DUTY. And THEIR conformity, led to a great deal of socio/political challenge in their own homes.
Marriage for women, became a lot less popular, until the laws changed where a woman gained more autonomy.
In your civil union, you have limits you might find inconvenient depending on needs you haven’t confronted yet.
As long as gay people have NO CHOICE, and at each and every step, the anti gay keep changing up the rules and standards of marriage.
It has to be marriage or the CHOICE not to.

Jonathan Justice

February 22nd, 2013

Just to be picky, while it is true that the town name honors the Frankfurt in Germany, the spelling actually given for the city in Indiana is Frankfort. Kentucky’s odd little capitol city had already gotten there by contracting Frank’s Fort.


February 22nd, 2013

Regan, you need to relax.


February 23rd, 2013

Stephen –
Kindly stop pitching your pearls of wisdom from atop your triply-unioned throne of privilege.
YOU “need” to do a little reality checki.


February 23rd, 2013

I don’t seem to be popular.


February 24th, 2013

Stephen, I think it was your use of the word “bourgeois”. Most people recognize that the only people who use that word anymore have a certain amount of sanctimony. Also, it’s hard to understand your position. You say you don’t conform, but each time there is a new type of rellationship offered, you take advantage of it. First, a Domestic Partnership, then a Civil Unions, then marriage in a foreign Country, then marriage in New York. For someone who claims they don’t conform, you sure seem to. It’s like keep up with the Smit-Joneses of the world.

It really is NOT hard to see why you would be feeling unpopular here, but when one comes on and says, in fancier terms of course, “You are all Conformist lemmings” well, people tend not to react positively about that. Not to mention that when belittling people for conforming, it’s best not to lay out such a glaring example of your own conformity. Either you conformed in the case of what you did in your relationship, or you are a clone that has to be trendy and have the most recent and updated category of a relationship that’s possible. A non-conformist conformist, complaing that all the people are sheeple.

Must be lonely up there on your pedestal. Glad you have a fellow Domesticated, Civilized, Partner/lover/spouse/husband to keep yoou company.

Timothy (TRiG)

March 2nd, 2013

I don’t want to marry either (my feelings are moot in this case, anyway, because I’m single), but I do want to have the option open, because (a) the decision of whether or not I marry should be made by me (and my hypothetical boyfriend), not made for me by the State, and (b) the option should be open to other same-sex couples who may wish to avail of it for their own reasons (whether those reasons be practical, “bourgeois”, or whatever).


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