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Nicholas Marlin Headshot

First Comes Love, Then Comes Marriage Equality

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"Frank and Nikki sitting in a tree, K-I-S-S-I-N-G." Almost everyone knows the rest of this song: "First comes love, then comes marriage, then comes the baby in the baby carriage."

For most of my life, I've hated this rhyme. It represented the heteronormative bullying that dominated my youth. As a young boy who coded as "gay" very early on, I had a hard time making male friends. Instead, I found myself surrounded by girls, and in response, the other kids used this schoolyard chant to shame me for my inability to make same-sex friends and my acceptance of the cootie-carrying persuasion.

As I got older, I associated the song with a conservative and narrow-minded definition of the heteronormative life progression, the central message being that "normal" people should kiss, get married, and have babies. Since I was unable to fulfill the latter two of the three criteria simply by virtue of my sexuality, I vehemently opposed this seemingly prejudiced song.

Recently, our marketing department at OneGoodLove decided to use the song's wording to celebrate DOMA's defeat in a new ad campaign to promote long-term dating and marriage for the LGBT community. The ad pairs a photo of two men kissing and the lines, "First comes love, then comes marriage." While my history has trained me to dislike the song, in light of the recent Supreme Court rulings, which deemed it unconstitutional for the federal government to treat same-sex and opposite-sex married couples differently, this imagery and copy pairing made me realize that this playground rhyme actually mirrors the court decisions and promotes marriage equality.

Just like the updated definitions of marriage, the song need not apply only to opposite-sex couplings. Though I had only ever heard it used in a male-female context, any two people, regardless of gender, could be K-I-S-S-I-N-G in the tree. The song also suggests that love, rather than gender, is the key factor in a lasting relationship. "First comes love, then comes marriage." In contrast, it is interesting to note that the definition of marriage proposed by and overturned in both the DOMA and Prop 8 legislation defines it only as the legal union of a man and a woman. Love, in this definition, is nowhere to be found.

By restoring love to its place at the heart of marriage, this new OneGoodLove ad campaign reclaims the song as an LGBT call to action and a marriage equality anthem. Not only does it counter the heteronormative definitions of marriage institutionalized by both pieces of homophobic legislation, but it also queers the song that has tormented so much of the LGBT childhood. It suggests that everyone has the right to marriage, and that love is the key ingredient to make it last. So as the Supreme Court and the U.S. government continue to pass legislation to promote marriage equality, I have faith that they will continue to do so with this song in mind and remember that "first comes love."