Here’s the thing: I don’t want to get married. I didn’t want to get married when I was straight, and the prospect of having to pay for two bridal dresses has done precious little for my enthusiasm. Now that Rhode Island is inching toward “legalizing love,” and committed activists for whom I have genuine respect are campaigning for marriage equality, and Facebook posts sugest my sexual preferences will not hinder me from consuming any of the buy-with-1-click heart-shaped falsehoods our culture produces, I feel like I need to say it again. I don’t want to marry. I don’t want recognition. I don’t want cake and I certainly don’t want to buy “My Uncle’s Wedding” on Amazon gayshop.
Ever since I began to consider myself bisexual, I’ve been taught to regard the cause of marriage equality as somehow intimately mine. If straight people had the right to have their nominally monogamous sleeping arrangements sanctioned by the state, so, I thought, did I. The fact that I was denied the innumerable protections and benefits that marriage grants seemed to me a terrible affront. So terrible that I never cringed at statements like “marriage equality is the defining civil rights issue of our time.”
While marriage remained an unattractive possibility to me personally, as it would for anyone who ever worked a wedding at a catering company, I believed in it as a cause, a stand in for everything I thought equality meant, from kissing in a bus stop to saying a final goodbye in a hospital bed. To marry, to be allowed into one of the most oppressive patriarchal institutions known to mankind, was to have my humanity affirmed.
Yet humanity, as Walter Rodney put it, “is not a thing one proves.” To assert it is to dream of more than the right to be equally subjected to state scrutiny and white middle class heterosexual values. I do not object to the legalization of same-sex marriage insofar as it serves as another tactic to improve the lives and conditions of queer folks. But I do object to marriage equality as the dream itself. If the dream of liberation is a long, boring life in a double bed, reproducing — if only through adoption — the very same structures that account for so much oppression, that seems more like a nightmare to me.
Browsing through the website of Marriage Equality USA, one of America’s largest and most well-funded LGBT organizations, I was amazed at the way in which the long-awaited promises of freedom and equality were understood and envisioned. On the home page, a collage of hearts and rings and smiling couples previously read, “February is the month of love — Freedom to Marry Day.” Now don’t get me wrong, I am not a cynic. Pink is my favorite color. I like children immensely. I believe in higher ideals like love and health care. But the idea that freedom means signing a binding legal contract and swearing allegiance to a violent tool of governmental control is a terrifying one. While Marriage Equality USA, with its gift shop — “What Better Way to Live One’s Activism than to Shop!” — and its offers of corporate sponsorship is especially nauseating, it seems to me to reflect a general trend.
This trend is brilliantly captured in a term I recently encountered in the radical bisexual activist Shiri Eisner’s writings about the “GGGG movement.” For this group, white affluent gay men, liberation is fast approaching — in the form of gold shimmer, lace and bow wedding invitations. For the rest of us, gay and straight, the blessing of Goldman Sachs and Lockheed Martin will not free us from poverty, racism or sexism. A marriage certificate will not provide us with the real conditions of equality, free health care, education, food and shelter. Moreover, if we buy into the idea that the right to marry is the ultimate expression of human worth and legitimacy, if we make mainstreaming the end-goal and reality of our activism, we reject, overtly or covertly, those of us who are single, those who are polygamous, those who sleep around, those who seek to create new relationships and their ways of living and being in the world. In short, we expel from our midst anyone who doesn’t fit the mold of a wedding figurine.
I sincerely hope same-sex marriage is legalized in Rhode Island, and I respect and support the work of those who see it as a small step toward a different world, one in which we won’t need a piece of paper in order to acknowledge the full humanity of a person. But really, I may kiss the bride when she says so, that’s all.
Mika Zacks ’15 can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.