An Open Letter to My Gay Friend; or: Gay Marriage Is Not About Marriage

I've been looking over our online chat transcript from last night to see if I was overreacting when I decided to abruptly end our conversation. With the benefit of hindsight, I can say that I acted rationally and, in addition, I am deeply disappointed in you.

First of all, just seconds after I brought up the issue of Proposition 8 (the California measure that aims to ban same-sex marriage), you responded with "blah blah blah." The swiftness of your response indicated that you didn't even bother to read what I had written and that the mere fact that I am against Prop 8 meant that I should be lumped together with militant liberal activists who want to shove their ideas down people's throats without respectfully listening to opposing viewpoints. I'm the most evenhanded person you know, so for you to then tell me to "calm down" suggests, again, that you actively chose to not listen to me and to pretend to know my true stance on the subject, based your experience with other people. Perhaps, as a friend, you would be willing to take a moment to listen to what I have to say here in this public forum?

Let's establish something right at the outset. About the fundamental idea of marriage itself, straight or gay, I don't give a shit. As I've said previously, I've always been weary of same-sex marriage being the cause célèbre of the gay community. But the issue of marriage equality is something I have to support because gay marriage is not about marriage.

Arguments against same-sex marriage, at their core, have never been about the institution itself. They're fundamentally about homosexuality. So if you look underneath the shiny surface, "preserving the sanctity of marriage" is not the real issue—the aim is to attack sexual orientation, to disapprove of sexual identity, and to legalize discrimination, which is far more insidious and which will set this country back decades.

I know that you're not the only gay person who is "over" this fight for same-sex marriage. Perhaps that's why the Mormons and their cohorts have been able to out-fundraise us, with families going as far as withdrawing $50,000 from their life savings to make sure Proposition 8 passes and gays are denied the right to marry.

Perhaps gay people are apathetic because we're not hammering home the point that this is an important civil rights issue and, for the hundredth time, not about marriage. Look, it honestly doesn't bother me that you don't care about marriage rights, but, as a gay man who knows what it's like to be teased, shunned, and discriminated against firsthand, it is your responsibility to care about civil rights.

There are people out there who want to change the law to designate an entire class of people as unequal to, as less than, every other class of people. If we lose this battle, I don't care that we're losing marriage; I care that you and I will, in the eyes of the law, be inferior to everyone else. And when our opponents see that our inferiority is validated by the government, it will allow them to continue on their path of dehumanizing us. That's what denying a class of people an equal right does. It dehumanizes them. And it is the dehumanization of a group that creates a culture in which people feel that it is okay to yell "fag" at me when I'm walking down the street; that it is okay for kids to be bullied and beaten at school; that it is okay for a jeering mob to incite a gay 17-year-old to commit suicide by jumping off a building. These things happen because gays are demonized. And gays are demonized when they're made out to be an inferior class of people. And they are made out to be an inferior class of people when they are not allowed the same rights as everyone else.

During our chat, you said you didn't see what the big deal is, that civil unions and domestic partnerships are fine since they would give gays and lesbians marriage rights without using the term "marriage." On this point, you are misinformed. Please be very clear that it is not a matter of semantics; we are not stupidly quibbling over terminology. If you really want to look at it from a legal standpoint, in the few states in which civil unions or similar domestic partnerships exist, same-sex couples are granted the same rights as married couples but only on the state level. There are hundreds upon hundreds of federal benefits that do not apply to those couples in civil unions or domestic partnerships.

You also suggested that we should ride it out and let gay marriage happen when it happens. Funny thing is, history does not write itself. And if not now, then when?

Small acts were what drove the civil rights movement: Rosa Parks refused to move to the back of the bus in 1955; black students faced protesters when trying to attend a white school in 1957; people marched for voting rights in 1965. These small acts defied odds; these small acts helped to change the United States of America.

The rights, benefits, and acceptance that you are allowed and that you enjoy and that you take for granted as a gay man are the result of history—history created by regular people, just like you and me, who weren't activists or politicians or crusaders. They were people who came out of the closet decades before us in a time when it was social suicide to do so; they were high school students who met opposition when they tried to start gay-straight alliances to foster tolerance at their schools; and they are the millions of people, gay and straight, who will vote no on Proposition 8 on November 4, 2008. The latter act is indeed a modest act, but one that will have far-reaching ramifications. One vote may be a footnote in our lives, but that footnote will explain how we stood up for what is fair, what is just, and what is humane. The story of our lives reveal the scope of our history; the footnotes give us depth.

[Read the follow-up to this post: "Sweet. Bitter." This was written after the unfortunate passage of Proposition 8.]


  1. Extremely passionate and full of conviction.
    Thank you, Prince.

  2. thank you - this is awesome.

    why do i care so much, you might ask, as someone who a) isn’t into marriage and b) isn’t gay?

    this is why. this isn’t about marriage, or about being gay. this is about equal rights. and i am into equal rights. for everyone.

  3. Thank you for sharing this. People really do need to think about this whole situation and you pointed out very well that it's about civil rights, not about marriage. I feel like people are so wound up in the whole definition of marriage thing.

  4. whoa jterry and i posted at the same time! O_o

  5. A bi friend of mine recently said, "I probably won't get married to a guy or a girl, so I really don't want to get involved with Equality for All because I don't see what's in it for me." I couldn't help but think, "So if there was a bill that would help, like, kids or animals, you'd be apathetic about that too?"

    Also, I think some people are annoyed by the marriage issue because they think it's all about wealthy West Hollywood guys wanting to register at Crate and Barrel. But as some gay marriage advocates have pointed out, it's poor gay people--who can't afford to hire lawyers to work out legal stuff between them, as Sarah Palin has suggested we do--who need marriage the most.

  6. Thank you for your eloquent, insightful post. You are 100% right - this is about equality, not just marriage equality. My girl and I forked over thousands to get every legal advantage we could (which is barely anything), and after 12 years we still have to write, "single" on our health insurance forms.

    I know I'm preaching to the choir here on Bamboo Nation (except for the teenie wingnuts who will converge on this blog after you post about HSM3: Gradu-Dancin'!). But Prince's post reminded of this quote, which I won't get exactly right:

    “The worst form of inequality is to try to make unequal things equal.”

  7. I understand that as a practical matter, there is little to no difference between 'domestic partnerships' and 'marriages' under California law.

    I understand that Proposition 8 will have little effect on me personally, because my husband has no interest in being legally married and it's not important enough to me to make an issue of it.

    But, damnit ... if Proposition 8 passes, I'm going to go to bed November 4 knowing that a majority of the voters of my state have said that my relationships are second class and that, at the end of the day, I'm a second-class citizen.

    I'm *already* bitter about it.

  8. Sincerely, folks, thanks so much for your comments. I just posted an update here, by the way. You all rock my world.

  9. So what *does* your friend believe in?

    (Wonderful post.)

  10. This is amazing, Prince. I am really inspired to do whatever I can from 2000 miles away here in MN. I will be copying and pasting your letter for a mass email to my peeps in CA (where I'm from!) and posting on my blog too (I've already got the "Vote No" banner up there!).

  11. Tacky and Brash, thanks thanks thanks.

  12. Thank you. I"m right there with you. I don't give a shit about marriage either. However, reluctantly, I agree, it's about homosexuality and society's acceptance or "tolerance" of it. Finally, it's about me not having to hire a lawyer to draft a very complicated document to protect my rights in my 10 year relationship with my boyfriend. Domestic partnership only goes so far. We are denied a number of benefits that married couples enjoy (whether they're in love or deeply committed or not, they're legally married).

    This is why I continue to support gay marriage, eventhough I could give a crap about getting my picture in the NY Times Style section, or outlying huge amounts of cash for a wasteful party (I'll save that for a big anniversary thank you very much).

    Now, on to gay divorce property rights dammit!

  13. A most excellent piece! Here in this hellhole (to borrow a phrase) of the midwest, I know exactly what it's like to be regarded as less than because of who I love. To be dismissed as second class simply because of such ridiculous criteria is infuriating, but not unusual.

    I thank you for the reminder of why we must all stand up for everyone's rights. So that we all have them, as we should.

  14. Fantastic! You hit the nails on the head so many times you may have broken the damn board. Thanks! I do enjoy your blog!

    visit mine anytime:

  15. Kurt from Milwaukee10/16/2008

    Excellent post! I've been doing what I can from Wisconsin and hope that in the end a majority of Californians see this hateful measure for what it is.

    Your post was right on point! I'll be forwarding it to my friends.

    Good luck - and thanks!

  16. Thanks for making this issue crystal clear. I am totally linking this on my blog.

  17. Madam B, The New Me, David, Casey, Kurt, and David, thanks so much for your feedback, and thanks for spreading the word. And the love. I love love. *sigh* :)

  18. Anonymous10/16/2008

    Right on! Here in Canada we have the right not to get married, and it means a lot to us. It means we are equal under the law.

    People who say we can have contracts and make our own arrangements can go screw themselves as far as I'm concerned. I'm not going to put people through giving me a wedding shower, or wearing a matching outfit. But I insist that anyone who calls me a friend defend my right to do so.


    The other side is saying it loud and clear: they want kids to be raised by a mother and father so that they can learn 'appropriate' gender roles, and that's why they're against gay marriage.

    Obviously it's an idiotic argument, but it shows what they're really for: discrimination against any family or way of life that isn't theirs.

    And what's next? Prohibiting gay adoption? Prohibiting straight divorce? Forcing men and women into rigid gender roles we've all found to be stifling? Mandating that women stay home with kids? Outlawing same-sex displays of affection? One thing is for sure: they're not planning to stop with CHANGING THE CALIFORNIA CONSTITUTION to eliminate marriage.

    Good for you for taking a stand!

  20. Great letter. The one thing I would add is to mention that this is more than just passing a law; this is changing the California CONSTITUTION. That's even more serious than just passing a law. The constitution is the very core of what California is about. And California has always been, more than most other states, about fairness and equity. It has been a bastion in this ever-more-conservative morass we call America. That's one of the reasons the conservatives are putting so much money and manpower into passing Proposition 8; they KNOW what it would mean to the rest of the country if California were to actually alter its constitution to
    include discrimination. It could set the cause of civil rights back
    for years to come. That's why this is more than just a "normal"
    voting situation, and why it's so crucial to do everything we can to
    convince people of the importance of this historic vote.

    And I say this (to quote amy leblanc) as someone who (a) isn't into marriage and (b) isn't gay. I just think there is nothing more fundamental than the right to be with the person of your choice, and it is OUTRAGEOUS (not to mention pathetic) that so many people are dedicating so much of their time, money and energy to preventing other people (who they'll never meet and who will never have any impact on their lives) from living their lives.

  21. Anonymous10/17/2008

    I agree; this whole argument is about equal rights. However I must say that I see many people going about it the wrong way. Living here in SF you can see just how many people are about saying "I do" just so they can say "I do". The gay world out here is so convoluted and shallow.
    I know people who have been together only a matter of weeks who are rushing off to the courthouse to "get hitched".
    Unfortunately that is what many of the voting society sees here in the Bay Area as well, and this is our biggest obstacle in my opinion; overcoming ourselves.
    It is frustrating not having equal rights on a federal level, but on the surface this is not what the fight is about. Watching TV and reading articles it appears that the only thing we are fighting for is to say "I do".
    As a gay male with wants and needs of my own I know this is not the true fight. The true fight is about the "rights" of marriage; not the "right" to marry.
    Sadly, this is not what the majority of the public sees or hears. We need to convey the emotion and need of what we are fighting for if we are going to win this war.
    I personally have had it with watching lesbian and gay couples kissing all over the news, so I can only imagine how the non-gay public feels. How bout some substance in the media. How about the long-term gay couple who is having one partner deported because they cannot get equal immigration rights? That is what we need to see more of. Not the frou frou mushy tuxedoed partners crying cuz their stupid piece of paper was taken away.
    Sorry to be so harsh but we need to get to the point or we are going to lose this fight. It's about RIGHTS not TUXEDOES!
    Don't be so hard on your friend, he may be as frustrated as me with the direction this fight is headed.

  22. Prince Gomolvilas, Thanks so much for taking a look at my blog post about Prop 8 and its blatant bigotry and intolerance. Keep up the great work yourself!!

  23. Sam Hurwitt10/17/2008

    Amen. The very notion that the institution of marriage would be in some way cheapened if a particular group of people were allowed to participate it is offensive and obscene. It's exactly like saying your drinking fountain would be tainted if non-Caucasians were allowed to drink from it.

    It's not complicated. It's a question of "values" only in the sense that the anti-marriage crowd doesn't seem to have the most basic values of human decency to regard other people as being entitled to share the same rights that they have. It's a basic civil rights issue, and it's high time we took this small step for humanity once and for all so we can move on to the next thing.

    Preaching to the converted, I know, but it's infuriating. Why is this so difficult?!

  24. Anonymous From Canada, Canada rocks! (Even if you ARE responsible for that Titanic chick.)

    Rebecca and Actorman, good points. Thanks!

    Anonymous From SF, thanks for sharing your frustration. As for my friend...well, I enjoy being HARD on him. Ha ha ha! I said "hard." Ha ha ha!

    Culturepress, thanks for stopping by.

    Sam, thanks for putting it so eloquently. You should look into this whole "writing thing." :) And I second your sentiment: "Why is this so difficult?!" I sometimes sit here and can't believe this is happening 2008. This was supposed to be the future, if you know what I mean.

  25. I FINALLY had the chance to sit down and read this through and I have to say, you moved me to tears.

    I'm going to pass this along to as many people as I can.

  26. A couple of other things I wanted to add:

    For those who are on the fence, I think it's important to emphasize that this is a CIVIL issue; it's not about the state interfering with the rights of each religion and church to decide for themselves what is appropriate. This is about the government, which is supposed to be separate from all religions, being responsible to treat all of its citizens equally. The law's main impact is on CIVIL ceremonies.

    I also had the idea that it might be time to update Martin Luther King's 45-year-old "Dream":

    "I dream of a day when people will be judged not by the color of their skin, the faith (or lack thereof) that they practice, their place of birth, their disabilities, their gender identification, their sexual orientation, or the person(s) with whom they choose to spend their lives, but by the content of their character. In fact, how about if we take it one step further: let’s not judge people at all, but love and respect all living beings. That would be the TRUE American Dream."

  27. My, that was so very well said!!!
    Very insightful and full of thought, and that thought you could tell came from deep inside your heart. This is simply a matter of holding down a large part of our population. We can not have the gays running around and infecting our children to be homosexuals. Come on people. Everything I have read and seen on TV has everyone dodge the one question I want to hear. How is same sex marriages going to affect the family? The straights have been messing up that for years. Divorce, cheating all sorts of horrible things, and then we are denied our civil right to marry the one we love so greatly. Shame on our society, shame on the church and shame on our political leaders.

  28. Thanks for your comments, Carl. Keep at it, sir! :)