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Is That All There Is?

Jessica Stein Jul 4, 2003

More to Gay Rights Than Marriage

I didn’t go to Gay Pride this year. I haven’t been to Pride for a few years, since the corporate ads on the sides of the floats got bigger than the signs people were carrying. But folks mobilized en masse last Sunday, galvanized to gallivant by the recent Supreme Court ruling striking down America’s sodomy laws, Lawrence v. Texas.

The decision is being touted as a major victory, Brown v. the Board for non-straights. Democracy Now! calls it “the most significant ruling ever for lesbian and gay civil rights.”

People are especially excited – on both sides – because they see legal same-sex unions on the horizon. “Is Gay Marriage Next?” Newsweek’s new cover wonders.

The text of the ruling clearly opens the door to this possibility. Writing for the majority, Anthony Kennedy interprets the Constitution as allowing consenting homosexual adults to “enter upon relationships… and still retain their dignity as free persons.”

I’m glad Justice Kennedy thinks I’m a human being, though I doubt I would have modified my behavior in keeping with the law. (“Not tonight, Griselda! We’re in Texas!”) I might want to get married someday, to someone with a penis or vagina or some variant thereof, and I certainly appreciate the benefits of legal marriage: tax breaks, shared insurance, adoption and housing rights, prison and hospital visitation rights, and the list goes on.

But I resent the idea that my highest goal as a queer person is to find my better half. How did the right to get off become the right to get married off? How did “relations” become “relationships”?

I came out as queer ten years ago, at age 16, in suburban upstate New York. This was before lesbians were the new hip thing, before k.d. and Ellen graced every magazine cover. When I dated my first girlfriend, we were improvising. I didn’t have the lesbian equivalent of Seventeen telling me the right way to lace up my combat boots in order to snag the baby dyke of my dreams. Being queer allowed me – forced me – to make things up the way I needed them to be done.

Not that it was all fun and frolic. When I was chased home from school for being a dyke, gay marriage was the last thing on my mind.

I couldn’t wait to get out of the suburbs. Yet many gays and lesbians consider their liberation over and done with once they get in.

It’s the fifties all over again – except sometimes mom and dad are mom and mom or dad and dad. “Hey, we’re just like anyone else – a middle-class, hometown suburban couple that’s been called boring,” Cindy Meneghin tells Newsweek. “We do fall in love. We do have life-long partners,” says the website of the Wedding Party, an organization that held a mass wedding at this year’s Pride Parade, at which dozens of couples recited vows.

We do? I don’t, and neither do many of the people I know. Need I list the many kinds of families out there? Single people, with or without kids; extended families; polyamorous triads or dyads; cohabitating couples who resist state involvement in their families; communes and kibbutzim… How did coupledom become the only option?