At time of publishing of this blog post, there are currently 17 states in the United States that allow gay marriage (this is not including Utah, which recently allowed gay marriage for a very short window of time). In the movement for “marriage equality,” we have seen states allowing gay marriage, then having it taken away, only to have it restored later (California). We’ve also seen states that allow gay marriage, get it taken away, and have those unions validated but possibly will have no future marriages in the foreseeable future (Utah). Lastly, we’ve had states allowing gay marriage and having it indefinitely–thanks in part to the strikedown of The Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA). If you’re keeping up (as we LGBTQ folks and our allies try to), whenever a state allows gay marriage, history (herstory!) has shown it may or may not stick.
In the wake of all of this, I feel it is necessary to express some serious concerns I have about a little-talked about side effect of the hokie-pokie dance of same-sex marriage legalization and de-legalization in various states: I call it, “The Gay Marriage Speed Trap.”
While I understand that the majority of gay marriages these days are between folks who have been in love forever and have been just waiting for the law to catch up (bravo to them!), many of us in queer communities either 1) haven’t wanted marriages for various political/social reasons and/or 2) haven’t been ready (ex/ we are in new relationships and/or feel we want to wait until we are older to make this life decision).
It’s really stressful as a young gay person to have states in the United States randomly allowing gay marriage for short windows (like Utah). It puts a LOT of pressure on us young gays or gays in new relationships to get married right away–after all, it may not come back for a year, five years, or potentially ever–so there’s a weird rush to go down the aisle ASAP. I wonder, don’t we deserve the same opportunity to deliberate about marriage as our straight compatriots?
My concern is that in the rush for marriage equality, many of us need to take a step back and look at what marriage means and whether it is right for us–especially right now. For my friends and fellow LGBTQ community members who have been with partners for many, many years, and have been planning nuptials in their minds forever–swift legalizations of marriage are wonderful. I am so thrilled for them, truly. But for those of us in our twenties, or for whom marriage wouldn’t be in the cards at this time no matter our sexual orientation, sudden legalizations of gay marriage (that may or may not be temporary as in Utah) can feel like a whole lot of pressure to get married before we’re ready.
As a pure coincidence, I recently traveled to Utah to spend the holidays with my partner Courtney and her (gay-friendly) family during the short window that gay marriage happened to be legal there. I did not anticipate the barrage of messages I received from distant friends and relatives who wondered if Courtney and I were planning to get married while in town! It hadn’t even occurred to me, but it makes sense that those who are not super close in relation would potentially think we were headed to The Beehive State to get hitched.
While neither of us feel at all ready for that step in our lives, I’ll admit: I thought about it. The “lack” mentality that sudden gay marriage legalization and then de-legalization causes is a real force with which to contend. A friend of mine got married in California before Prop 8, as she worried that if she didn’t before it passed (it was about to go through), she wouldn’t get the chance for a while. She told me she felt that she wasn’t truly prepared, and that the marriage wasn’t really right–but because of the legal situation, she felt it was necessary to make that quick decision. I also have friends from Connecticut who got married as soon as it was legal, but weren’t ready, it turned out, and had a nasty time trying to get a “gay divorce.” To be fair, “non-gay” marriages happen all the time under false pretenses, but these legal marriage speed traps do feel like a uniquely queer scenario. While it’s impossibly easy to get a “straight marriage” any time of the year in any state, getting a gay marriage isn’t always such an easy feat in each state. Can you blame some of us for rushing in before we’ve really considered if we’re truly ready?
The bottom line is that it’s super unfair that we LGBTQ folks have to deal with this. We deserve to get married to those we love when we feel ready, and to know that marriage will be there for us in the future. Those who claim to be “neutral” about same-sex marriage (I’m talking straight folks who aren’t openly homophobic but aren’t pushing for marriage equality, either) need to understand the serious implications on our psyches, hearts, and lives that having limited to access to marriage creates for us, including the feeling that many of us need to “grab marriage while we can.”
While we can be excited for rapid spread of same-sex marriage to many states, my hope is we can also remember to really evaluate whether a) we think marriage is right for us at all and b) whether we want to get married right now, just because we can, and it might not come back for a while (or ever) in a given state. I greatly hope that one day, this won’t be an issue–all states will have marriage equality, and will give gays and straights the same opportunity to deliberate and choose whether marriage is what they desire. I hope that our straight allies will support us in our efforts to gain the equal opportunity as they have to choose marriage out of love, and not out of fear that it will be soon taken away. I expect and hope herstory will be in our favor on this.
I’d love to hear others’ thoughts on this. xoxo