May 23, 2011
It's been a few months since our last D-Bag O' the Day, not because there's been any real shortage of D-Bags, but more because none of them seemed all that worthy of my attention. Sure, Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker (a Republican, natch) decided that gay couples didn't deserve even the limited right to visit or make health care decisions for their partners in the hospital. Minnesota legislators (again, Republicans) were hard at work addressing the state's infrastructure and economic issues by passing a state constitutional amendment to ban gay marriages. The Tennessee legislature and governor were working overtime to make sure schoolkids weren't exposed to the gay menace, and to strip away anti-discrimination protection from gays. The latter effort came with a shameful big assist from the Tennessee Chamber of Commerce whose members were shocked—shocked!—to discover Republicans were passing the law to target gays, who the Chamber members swear they really, really love. Still, given the impressive Republican achievements in bigotry and demagoguery the past couple of decades, this is all garden variety douchiness. To get my attention, you have to elevate your game.
Today, the anti-gay D-Bag gauntlet was thrown down from a rather unexpected source—a liberal gay man writing in the New York Times. Now liberals, gays, and Times writers are frequent contributors to the realm of political hyperbole and hypocrisy, but they generally have a good record on gay issues. Rich Benjamin—a gay man and blowhard of whom I have 'til now enjoyed the pleasure of blissful ignorance—makes a childish argument that, as long as it isn't legal for gays to get married, he will hold his breath until he turns blue while boycotting the weddings of his straight friends.
How utterly absurd to celebrate an institution that I am banned from in most of the country. It puzzles me, truth be told, that wedding invitations deluge me. Does a vegan frequent summer pig roasts? Do devout evangelicals crash couple-swapping parties? Do undocumented immigrants march in Minuteman rallies?
Benjamin's superficial analogies are particularly inapt. Gays aren't morally or politically opposed to straight marriage, they merely seek to be treated equally within that sacred institution. Why would Benjamin advocate the bizarre boycotting of straight marriages? Benjamin insists his reasons aren't political:
[My friend Zach] resents me for blowing off his special day, for putting political beliefs ahead of our friendship and for punishing him for others’ deeds. But screaming zealots aren’t the only obstacles to equal marriage rights; the passivity of good people like Zach who tacitly fortify the inequality of this institution are also to blame.
They’re proof of a double standard: Even well-meaning heterosexuals often describe their own nuptials in deeply personal terms, above and beyond politics, but tend to dismiss same-sex marriage as a political cause, and gay people’s desire to marry as political maneuvering.
What many straight people consistently forget is that same-sex couples aren’t demanding marriage to make a political statement or to accrue “special rights.” When I ask my gay friends why they wish to marry, they don’t mention tax benefits. They seek marriage for the same personal reasons that straight people do: to share life’s triumphs and trials with their beloved, to start a family, to have the ability to protect that family, and to celebrate their loving commitment with a wedding.
Benjamin misses the point on two fronts. First, my straight friends don't seem to regard marriage equality as primarily a "gay issue" or a "political issue". Certainly there is a political element to the issue, but the significant progress that has been made in advancing the cause of marriage equality is because straight folks have stopped thinking of the issue as a gay rights issue, and instead have reflected on the fundamental unfairness of depriving gay people the right to be in committed, loving relationships. Benjamin fails to give our straight supporters credit for understanding that the issue of marriage equality is fundamentally a moral, not a political, question.
Second, and more to the point, it is Benjamin himself who abuses his friendships by injecting politics into a meaningful personal celebration of love and commitment. It is Benjamin who is making a political statement at the expense of sharing in the joy his friends experience. I do not have kids, but I still get great pleasure from sharing in the births, baptisms, graduations, and weddings of my friends' children. Just because I and other gay folks may not be able to marry the person we love in most states isn't a valid reason to churlishly hold ourselves aloof from the weddings of our straight friends.
Benjamin ultimately betrays his truly childish motivation—if he can't play, then he's taking his ball and running home to pout:
In recent years, many straight people have admirably pledged not to get married until gay people have the right to do so nationwide. I can’t ask friends like Zach to cancel their weddings, but I expect them to at least understand why I won’t attend. Straight friends and family need to accept their wedding invitations as collateral damage to exclusionary marriage laws. They should feel the consequences of this discrimination as sharply as we do.
Looking back over the past decade, it's nothing short of astonishing what strides gay people have made in achieving equality: merely being gay is no longer criminal, gays are mere months away from finally being able to serve their country openly and with honor, and the idea of gay marriage has gone from being an alien concept to being legal in five states (with civil unions in several others). The future looks even brighter. Despite the occasional spasms of anti-gay rhetoric from the Republican social conservative machine, a majority of Americans now support marriage equality, and the head of the odious Focus on the Family group has admitted that, with overwhelming support from younger Americans, marriage equality is all but inevitable. The only real question is whether a lengthy state-by-state operation will be required to bring about equality, or whether the U.S. Supreme Court will deliver a speedier coup de grâce to anti-gay discrimination.
This remarkable progress toward gay equality has occurred because of the thoughtful support of our straight friends. In fact, without the support of straight folks, there would be no gay rights progress. When we ultimately achieve marriage equality, it will because of our many straight allies who rallied to our cause, even if only by rethinking their view of the essence of the bonds of marriage. Boycotting the weddings of straight friends is a childish temper tantrum. Instead, Benjamin should rejoice in the marriages of his friends, gay or straight, knowing they wish him the right to join in that joyous bond.