I don't believe in gay marriage. I'm a lesbian in New York City in a loving, partnered relationship of 15 years this June, with two small children conceived within the relationship. When gay marriage was ratified in New York state last summer, I was upstate with two other long-term lesbian families, and we rejoiced over the political and personal victory. When Vice President Biden announced his utter comfortability with same-sex marriage, it was a feel-good moment for me, too. And when President Obama finally (and belatedly) took the step of saying he personally supports same-sex marriage, after years of "evolution" on the issue, I thrilled alongside millions of other gay and straight Americans to the political and cultural watershed of our time. But I still don't want to get gay married.
Not right now, anyway, and the reasons why are a complicated brew. But I do believe gay and lesbian Americans should have the legal right to marry in every state, and that those state rights should be recognized by our federal government. Withholding marriage from us is of course withholding equal rights, which I think contradicts what our country was founded on. And I'm sick and tired of filing separate "single" tax returns for my partner and me when we've shared two mortgages; two pregnancies, childbirths, and child rearings; several health-insurance policies; one cancer diagnosis, treatment, and survival; two extended families; and all the other wonderful, difficult things that a marriage-emulating relationship brings. But I wasn't rushing down to City Hall after Governor Cuomo signed the marriage bill, and I'm still not.
Growing up, I never assumed I'd get married. I never dreamt about getting a diamond, walking down the aisle in a white dress, being "given away" by my father, or living happily ever after. It's difficult to piece together all the developmental factors involved in shaping an individual's personality and politics. Part of the reason I didn't harbor those fantasies was that I was latently a lesbian, and some internal force didn't allow me to fit comfortably within the status quo on marriage.
But I also didn't grow up in a house that modeled successful marriages. Between my mother and my father, five marriages have transpired. And four divorces. (That does leave one marriage intact, and that's the current model I have for a long-term relationship, but the stake was already in the ground by that time.) Not all five of those marriages were unhappy all the time, surely, and in fact, at least one of them seemed pretty good when I was growing up. But it eventually suffered its particular problems, like most marriages do. And then it unraveled.
I never grew up thinking marriage was meant to last, and so my default position perhaps subconsciously became, "Why bother attempting something big that's destined to fail?" I'd always heard that at least half of marriages end in divorce, and I have a problem with an institution that's successful only half the time, if that. Is that really the brass ring we should be reaching for?
I'm not against committed relationships or family structure in general -- quite the contrary. I've been in a stable, healthy relationship for 15 years, and sure, we've had complications and hardships over the years, but generally our partnership works. We have two children under the age of 5, a dynamic that's hard to manage even in the best of relationships, and we do it fairly well together, I think. Why would we want to turn something that works into something that is likely not to work sometime down the line? I know this probably sounds like flawed logic (and yes, I realize it may not even be marriage that fails half the time but monogamous relationships, wed or not), but it's in my head, and that's hard to undo.
Then there's the exclusion factor: I don't want to be a part of any club that doesn't want me. But now that marriage does want me, I feel like it's too little, too late. This is rooted in my coming of age in college in the early 1990s as what I then considered a radical feminist. I demonstrated with same-sex kiss-ins at a Cracker Barrel in suburban Illinois with the activist group Queer Nation; I wrote for feminist literary journals; I marched on Washington for abortion rights, and for gay rights. And while marriage has certainly been a primary burgeoning goal for the gay-rights movement for more than a decade now, it wasn't a goal for radical feminism. Marriage, I learned in my women's studies classes, was a patriarchal institution that kept women down, that treated them as property. Why would fags and dykes want to replicate an institution that was based on the dominance of men and was inherently bad news for women? When marriage and military service rights for gays became the main foci of the movement, radical gay and lesbian activists felt a wave of defeat, I think, wondering why we would want to give up the sometimes subversive, thriving culture we had developed as outsiders to mainstream society?
And now my life couldn't be more mainstream. I live in brownstone Brooklyn. Weekdays involve getting breakfast and lunch made, and getting out the door for preschool dropoff. Weekends revolves around playdates, family swim at the Y, toddler birthday parties, the occasional night out at a farm-to-table restaurant. It's not a bad life; it's pretty lovely at times. But there's nothing radical about it. My partner often jokes, "Thank god I'm a lesbian or there'd be nothing interesting about me." That's patently untrue, but I get her point. If we were to get married, wouldn't we just fully become Smug Marrieds, as Bridget Jones called them, just another stereotype of modern bourgeois society? It's not like I haven't thought about the legal benefits of marriage, but I'm not sure how much more they offer us than what we already have. Though I do think a legal marriage would validate our family in a whole new way with our parents/extended families, and that's not insignificant.
For now, I'm going to work on remaining happily partnered, and continue thinking about marriage. Maybe it will be the next radical act in my life.
Follow Liz Wallace on Twitter: www.twitter.com/lizardwallace