Thursday, January 7, 2010

Language About Marriage (Again).

In response to

Dear Dr. Weems,

I've often enjoyed your columns in outlook monthly, but there was something in your latest column that bothered me. While I agree with your overall sentiment that we should not have to "clean up" our movement to make it more palatable to the mainstream, I take issue with your perception of the term "marriage equality." Doubtless it is true that some feel the phrase is better to use when talking about marriage rights because it leaves out "the offensive word 'gay,'" as you said. There are, however, a growing number of people who say "marriage equality" instead of "gay marriage" or even "same-sex marriage" because marriage equality is simply the most inclusive term. The people who say "marriage equality" because it is a good, inclusive phrase are actually the people who are most likely to be those least palatable to mainstream straight America - bisexuals, trans people, queers, and their allies.

Our movement is not just about gays. It's not just about gays and lesbians. We are fighting (or, at least, I hope we are fighting) on behalf of a whole lovely queer rainbow of people. Many bisexuals and trans people don't feel that "gay marriage" best describes their unions/potential unions. There are a number of reasons we feel this way. We're not gay. We're not lesbians. Our relationships aren't gay or lesbian relationships. When we are in a relationship with a same-sex partner, we don't automatically become gay or lesbian. We want our identities to be acknowledged. We're tired of being "gaywashed" (see: ) We find "gay marriage" offensive because we don't want our unions described as "gay marriages," needing that qualifier "gay," implying something outside of, something not as real as, a bona-fide man-and-woman state-recognized hetero Marriage (TM). We want our marriages called marriages, because that is what they are. Just marriages. I personally know several gay men and lesbians who also feel this way and who say "marriage equality" alongside us. For them and for us, it has nothing to do with trying to "sugar-coat the issue."

If you pay more attention to the language surrounding the gay marriage/marriage equality discussion, you will find that "gay marriage" is everywhere. I personally became aware of the wording issue a few years back, and I can tell you, it is not disappearing from the fight. It's most often the term that the press uses, and it is frequently used by our major activists and organizations (including the notorious HRC). I can't tell you the number of times I've gotten an e-mail from HRC generally or Joe Solmonese specifically talking about the fight for "gay marriage" or the victories for "gay and lesbian couples." GLAAD's Media Guide even states that "'marriage' or "marriage for gay and lesbian couples" are preferred terms and that "print editors may need the term 'gay marriage' when space does not permit use of the more accurate 'marriage for gay and lesbian couples.'" I see nary a mention of "marriage equality" there. I know that members of BiNet USA, a national organization for bisexuals, have made it a point to contact people who use "gay marriage" and ask for use of more inclusive language. But how far are we going to get when even GLAAD's Media Guide is outdated?

Bisexuals, trans people, and other queer folk who don't fit the gay and lesbian mold continue to struggle to be heard both outside and within the mainstream LGBT rights movement. As a distinguished academic, I'm sure you are aware of the power of language. For all unions to be recognized, all unions need to be included. I hope you'll take some time to think more about this important issue.

The Bi Avenger

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