- by Kurt Karandy, II -
I am extremely anxious about marriage equality.
My concern is not about any specious claim that same-sex marriage damages society, nor does it stem from any internalized sense of self-loathing or shame.
My unease is over the central position that marriage occupies in contemporary movements for LGBT rights in America.
Endorsing same-sex marriage, or “marriage equality” as it is popularly referred, has become the primary indicator of one’s support for LGBT people and our civil rights. When politicians want to show they are champions of LGBT people, they endorse marriage equality.
Even in The United Methodist Church, much energy in the LGBT movement has shifted towards marriage equality. Some local churches—such as Foundry UMC, the church in which I worshipped regularly while residing in D.C.—declared they would marry same-sex couples because they believe this is an issue of pastoral care. Others vow that they would not perform any marriages until all are able to marry. I applaud the courage that guides both of these prayerful decisions.
Attention to marriage also occupies a significant focus of the Biblical Obedience witness sponsored by the Reconciling Ministries Network. As I scroll through the list of signers of the Altars for All petition, I’m proud to see many familiar names from across the Connection. I commend them for their witness.
Yet I remain anxious.
The term “marriage equality” reflects this logic. It suggests same-sex marriage is and ought to be equivalent to heterosexual marriage. It implies that the only difference between gay and straight people is the combination of figurines at the top of a wedding cake. As the primary focus of the movement, marriage equality implies that the highest form of gay liberation is to be just like straight people.
This view of marriage tends to subordinate or at times overlook the tangible, material benefits that marriage offers—benefits that had been specifically denied to LGBT people because we have been viewed as distinct from heterosexuals. The protections and benefits that marriage furnishes are especially important to LGBT people in light of the community’s particular history of the HIV/AIDS epidemic.
For these specific reasons, I support same-sex marriage. But I just cannot embrace “marriage equality” as the pinnacle of LGBT liberation and acceptance. And I cannot put to rest my qualms about the primary place of marriage in any LGBT movement.
Is the culmination of years of struggle under oppression only to have marriages that look just like our heterosexual counterparts?
Is the apex of gay liberation to simply put your wedding announcement in the newspaper?
Is the sum total of agitation in The United Methodist Church really just to reproduce the same rituals of opposite-sex families?
I think the drag queens of Stonewall would tell us no.
The Stonewall riot and the gay liberation movements that followed told the world that not only did LGBT people exist, but that we are different. We are queer.
I am concerned that framing the movement for LGBT rights around themes of social recognition and church acceptance as exemplified in the centrality of “marriage equality” that we have forgotten the queerness of the LGBT people.
To be queer and to embrace the queerness of LGBT people does not stand in opposition to same-sex marriage, but it does challenge the idea of marriage as a universally accepted social norm. There are many ways to be queer, many different expressions of queerness.
Elevating same-sex marriage to be of paramount concern to LGBT movements suggest that there is only one way to be queer, or at least one way that is more respectable than the rest. Until all expressions of queerness are honored and celebrated in contemporary LGBT movements —including the freedom to choose not to marry—all will not truly be welcome in our churches.
One’s sacred worth should not ever be contingent upon one’s desire to wed.
. . .
Kurt Karandy is an incoming Ph.D. student in the Religion Department at Princeton University where he studies American religious history. In his work as a board member of the General Board of Church and Society, he chairs the Human Welfare work area whose portfolio includes human sexuality.