The gay people against gay marriage

Clockwise: Gay wedding cake, lesbian brides, champagne flutes, two male hands with a wedding ring

After France's first same-sex marriage, and a vote in the UK Parliament which puts England and Wales on course for gay weddings next summer, two US Supreme Court rulings expected soon could hasten the advance of same-sex marriage across the Atlantic. But some gay people remain opposed. Why?

"It's demonstrably not the same as heterosexual marriage - the religious and social significance of a gay wedding ceremony simply isn't the same."

Jonathan Soroff lives in liberal Massachusetts with his male partner, Sam. He doesn't fit the common stereotype of an opponent of gay marriage.

But like half of his friends, he does not believe that couples of the same gender should marry.

"We're not going to procreate as a couple and while the desire to demonstrate commitment might be laudable, the religious traditions that have accommodated same-sex couples have had to do some fairly major contortions," says Soroff.

The two rulings...

  • Whether the Defense of Marriage Act (1996) which bans recognition of same-sex marriage is unconstitutional
  • Whether voters in California were entitled to enact Proposition 8, which overturned a State Supreme Court decision allowing same-sex marriage

Until the federal government recognises and codifies the same rights for same-sex couples as straight ones, equality is the goal so why get hung up on a word, he asks.

"I'm not going to walk down the aisle to Mendelssohn wearing white in a church and throw a bouquet and do the first dance," adds Soroff, columnist for the Improper Boston.

"I've been to some lovely gay weddings but aping the traditional heterosexual wedding is weird and I don't understand why anyone wants to do that.

"I'm not saying that people who want that shouldn't have it but for me, all that matters is the legal stuff."

The legal situation could be about to change within days, as the nine Supreme Court judges are considering whether a federal law that does not recognise same-sex marriage - and therefore denies them benefits - is unconstitutional. A second ruling will be made on the legality of California's gay marriage ban.

...and how they affect benefits

  • Twelve states plus the District of Columbia recognise same-sex marriage, but the Defense of Marriage Act in 1996 banned federal recognition of same-sex marriage
  • So same-sex married couples only get state benefits such as family medical leave and becoming executor in the absence of a will - but heterosexual married couples also get federal benefits covered by more than 1,000 statutes on tax, immigration and social security

Source: Emily Doskow, lawyer

But while favourable rulings will spark celebrations among pro-marriage supporters across the US, some gay men and women will instead see it as a victory for a patriarchal institution that bears no historical relevance to them.

Some lesbians are opposed to marriage on feminist grounds, says Claudia Card, a professor of philosophy at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, because they see it as an institution that serves the interests of men more than women. It is also, in her view "heteronormative", embodying the view that heterosexuality is the preferred and normal sexuality.

"It's undeniable that marriage has historically also discriminated against same-sex couples," Card says.

As a result, she thinks the issue of marriage is a distraction.

Arguments against gay marriage, used by some gay people

  • Rights are more important than a name
  • It's a heteronormative institution that has historically marginalised homosexuality
  • Marriage is "between man and woman" and that's the best environment for children
  • It's a patriarchal, flawed institution
  • In countries that have civil partnerships, some gay people say that's enough

"Gay activists should instead put their energies into environmental issues like climate change, because there's a chance to make a morally more defensible and more urgent difference."

Others in the "No" camp oppose marriage more broadly because, they say, it denies benefits to people who are unmarried, or because they say it simply doesn't work.

Legba Carrefour, who describes himself as "radical queer", calls it a "destructive way of life" that produces broken families.

"We are only one or two generations away from children coming from gay marriage that are also from broken homes," he says.

He believes a more important priority for the gay community is the rise in violence against transgendered people.

"I'm not concerned about whether I can get married but whether I will die in the street at the hands of homophobes."

Support for gay marriage among Americans in general has risen above 50% according to Gallup, but what the figure is among gay people is harder to quantify. Neither Pew Research Center nor Gallup has conducted any such polling.

More pro-marriage voices

"A civil partnership lacks the cultural and social capital of marriage," writes Patrick Flanery in the Guardian

Three reasons why I'm voting for gay marriage, by Lord Browne in the Financial Times

David Blankenhorn writes in the New York Times how his position on gay marriage changed

Same-sex couples in New York tell of their wedding joy to Laura Trevelyan for BBC News

A community made up of millions of people is bound to hold a range of views on any subject, but it will surprise many that some of the people who on the face of it stand to gain the most from gay marriage should oppose it. And these contrary views are not often heard.

In the UK, Daily Mail columnist Andrew Pierce says that for speaking out against gay marriage in the past, he has been attacked as a homophobe and Uncle Tom, despite a long history of championing gay rights.

He strongly believes that civil partnerships - introduced in 2005 to give same-sex couples equal legal rights - are enough.

"We've got marriage, it's called a civil partnership and I rejoice in the fact that people like me who are different from straight people can do something they can't. I relish that."

He thinks there are more gay people in agreement with him than people may think - at a dinner party he hosted for 11 gay friends, only one was in favour of marriage, one was undecided and the rest were against, he says.

Map showing countries where same-sex marriage has been approved

In France, gay men and women joined the protests that preceded and followed this year's introduction of same-sex marriage. A website called Homovox featured 12 gay men and women opposed to it, with some of them citing a belief that children benefit most from opposite-sex parents.

Start Quote

Stampp Corbin

When we were slaves we couldn't marry, then we couldn't marry outside our race ”

End Quote Stampp Corbin LGBT Weekly

For many years, the conservative institution of marriage was never on the gay campaign agenda, says activist Yasmin Nair, who co-founded a group provocatively named Against Equality. But it became an objective in the early 1990s - regretfully, in her view - when the movement emerged from the seismic shock of the Aids epidemic, depleted of political energy.

But gay people who are in favour of same-sex marriage believe anything short of marriage is not equality.

You rarely hear arguments against it by gay people themselves, says Stampp Corbin, publisher of magazine LGBT Weekly, who sees strong parallels with the civil rights movement.

"I'm African American and there were many things society stopped us from doing. When we were slaves we couldn't marry, we couldn't marry outside our race and most notably, we couldn't share facilities with white people.

"So when I hear LGBT people saying the same thing: 'I don't think gay and lesbian people should get married', is it different from slaves saying: 'I don't think slaves should have the ability to get married'?

Previously on this website

The gay airman who took on the US military

The straight couples that want civil partnerships

Online activism and gay marriage

"It is internalised hatred, bred by oppression. Why would you want to deny someone of your own sexual orientation the ability to get married? No one [will be] forcing you to get married."

Civil partnerships do not provide equality, says Corbin, who was the National Co-Chair of the LGBT Leadership Council during the 2008 Obama presidential campaign. And in the US, the notion of "separate but equal" rekindles memories of segregation and the creation of second-class facilities.

With so many different points of view on a subject that has long divided America, perhaps the debate just underlines the obvious - gay people are like everyone else.

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