THE BLOG

The Danger of Using the 'Gay Marriage' Construct: A Prime Example

06/22/2012 06:05 pm ET | Updated Feb 02, 2016

Is marriage about being gay? Or is marriage about the union of two committed, consenting adults who are in love? Love sees no gender; why, then, does marriage? The movement is for equal treatment in the granting of marriage rights, without the law making any distinction on the basis of gender.

I write this blog in response to a recent article by Andrew Pierce, an openly gay columnist for the Daily Mail in the U.K. The title of his article is "I'm a gay man who opposes gay marriage." To give some background on this article, some months ago David Cameron, British Prime Minister, committed the government to supporting marriage equality. He stated, "I don't support gay marriage despite being a Conservative. I support gay marriage because I'm a Conservative."

Mr. Pierce's opposition to the prime minister, which is far more political in scope than this blog may imply, is intriguing given his open sexual orientation. But what concerned me more was the interchangeable use of particular terminology throughout the article. The title of his article clearly denotes his opposition to "gay marriage." The same construct is used throughout the article in reference to and in opposition to the government's pursuit of marriage equality, yet he concludes his column by stating:

The truth is that no one has been able to explain to me the difference between gay marriage and a civil partnership. I have asked ministers and friends. None has an answer.

But I do. We already have gay marriage; it's called civil partnership. Why can't Mr Cameron just leave it there?

What Mr. Pierce opposes is full marriage equality, not "gay marriage," as he latterly defines it. If that were the case, he would be opposed to legislation enacted in 2005, the year when civil partnerships became law in the U.K. But that's not the case. He is opposing the government in pursuing and granting full and equal marriage rights to all citizens. He doesn't see the need to press for full marriage rights as a matter of urgency, as equal rights are already in place for same-sex couples by way of civil partnership, what he calls "gay marriage" in his closing paragraph. Note the interchangeable use of the term, used in different contexts to mean different things.

Mr. Pierce's equating "gay marriage" with civil partnership at one point and using it to refer to marriage equality at another point highlights the danger of the use of the construct "gay marriage." We want equality, and we deserve equality; our cause is for equal treatment. We want full marriage rights, not Andrew Pierce's "gay marriage" rights, and certainly not anything less than what our heterosexual counterparts have. We want the same legal status. We want marriage.

If one were to follow Mr. Pierce's definition of "gay marriage" in his latter use of the term, it would mean that in seeking "gay marriage," those who are like-minded are seeking a lesser form of legal union. Call it "civil partnership," call it "civil union," but it is not a matrimonial union. His "gay marriage," in his column's concluding paragraph, does not mean marriage. It means something less.

We campaign on the assertion that marriage is about love, that love sees no gender, and that neither should marriage. But if marriage is about love, then "gay marriage," while encompassing love, must be about gender -- it says so. And Mr. Pierce's views, which are published in a national newspaper, are precisely one of the reasons I feel that caution and responsibility should be exercised as we go forward in the movement for equality. We have to remember: These are human rights at issue -- your rights, my rights, and everybody else's rights as human beings. Why run the risk of the gravity of our rights being undermined or misconstrued on the basis of convenience or catchy slogans? They are too important. They are our human rights. We want marriage rights to be neutral in terms of gender. Would it not be more beneficial if our language surrounding marriage equality were neutral, too? Equality doesn't differentiate. I optimistically see a day when marriage laws don't, either.

I have two very recent blogs on this matter that emphasize my thoughts on the use of the term "gay marriage" in more depth: "'Gay Marriage' vs. 'Marriage' and the Human Right to Love" and "When I Get Married, Will It Be a 'Gay Marriage'?"