Marriage: To Be or Not to Be?

"That is the question... Whether it is nobler in the mind to suffer the slings and arrows of OUTRAGEOUS fortune, or to take arms against a sea of troubles and by opposing END THEM."

The Supreme Court handed down it's opinion today on the case of same-sex couples ability to marry in California. LGBT organizations across California declared it a victory, although the opinion is in many ways very mixed.

The conversations I've had today about the whole thing have been similarly nuanced.

One friend, with whom I frequently go on academic diatribes with, did not want to be too hasty in his excitement. The opinion did overturn Prop. 22. It also deemed the denial of same-sex couples the ability to marry, when opposite-sex couples are given that right, unconstitutional. But it was by no means a piece of definitive legislation. What's more, the effort on the behalf of the opposing organizations appears to have produced the 1 million signatures necessary to put a constitutional amendment on the ballot in November. If Californians vote in favor of that measure, the opinion today will be overruled.

Some of my black friends are skeptical. One person took the moment to recognize the domestic struggles that some black straight couples face, even as their marriage is recognized. To her the victory was more symbolic. She even went so far as to point out how this move only re-established privilege for those who tend to benefit most from any gay civil rights measures, gay white men. She is a partnered black woman.

"Weddings are for CAKE"

LOL. One of my friends is opposed to marriage in either case. She and I agreed that it is mostly a symbolic gesture. Family and friend get dressed up, eat cake and dance (and generally all one poor saps dime). She stressed that if you're in a committed relationship it shouldn't matter. And jokingly, but truthfully, pointed out that if her and a partner needed to be married in order for her to feel secure in the relationship, then they had "bigger problems."

All have good points. Others of my friends were in awe, some rejoiced openly. I am still milling.

I am both a skeptic and an optimist here. I think I've heard only a smidgen of the important critiques of this moment. I think that we cannot accept this "victory" without being even slightly critical. The marriage movement has been bittersweet for me, as someone who identifies with my many intersecting identities.

As a black person, I can't ignore that there tend to be are more pressing issues for black queer folks. Mental health high on my list of them. As well a person of lesser economic stature, I can't ignore that those of us who don't have the expository income, are often quieted by the raucous roars of those who can put their money where their mouths are. As a young person, the prospect of marriage is both alien and seemingly fantastical. I am not at a place in my life yet where I am ready to be married, but I would like to in the foreseeable future when I have established myself.

Looking through all of those lenses and working among those who are "gay for pay" I also know that we are staggeringly not present in those private meetings where the agenda is decided and the messages are crafted.

Marriage Means Something

But identities aside (or taken together- however one looks at it), as a thinking person I know that this means something. In the same way that Brown v. Board of Education meant something for black folks, and Loving v. Perez meant something for interracial couples, so too does this case mean something for gay folks, of all walks of life.

Having it acknowledged that it is unconstitutional for same-sex couples to be denied equal protection under the law. It takes one step closer to bringing the lives of same-sex individuals off of the margins. I don't really want to be mainstream, but I don't deserve to be discriminated against because who I love and because others have failed to update their archaic perspectives and views.

I think that I am CONTENT. And I feel fortunate to be alive to witness this event. [Hey, that rhymed ;0)]

People like the Alicia Heath-Toby & Saundra Toby-Heath (pictured above) in NJ are still unable to marry in their state. But I think this ruling sends a powerful message, to loving and lasting couples like them, that things can change. They are an important figure in this movement especially when it comes to help ing bring the issue home for black folks.

Supreme Ct. Opinion (PDF 172pgs)

Here are some notable quotes

"As past cases establish, the substantive right of two adults who share a loving relationship to join together to establish an officially recognized family of their
own — and, if the couple chooses, to raise children within that family —
constitutes a vitally important attribute of the fundamental interest in liberty and
personal autonomy that the California Constitution secures to all persons for the
benefit of both the individual and society.

"We therefore conclude that in view of the substance and significance of the fundamental constitutional right to form a family relationship, the California Constitution properly must be interpreted to guarantee this basic civil right to all Californians, whether gay or heterosexual, and to same-sex couples as well as to opposite-sex couples."

"We therefore conclude that although the provisions of the current domestic partnership legislation afford same-sex couples most of the substantive elements embodied in the constitutional right to marry, the current California statutes nonetheless must be viewed as potentially impinging upon a same-sex couple’s constitutional right to marry under the California Constitution."

Who else is talking about it:
Pam's House Blend
Living Out Loud with Darian
The Daily Voice
Rod 2.0


  1. Hey Chris! I wanted to take minute to let you know that I loved this post, and that I linked to it on my own post about the CA ruling: http://newworldview.wordpress.com/2008/05/21/is-there-a-happy-ending-to-the-gay-marriage-fight/

  2. I am a black gay man. I picked up on this site from darian's site.

    It is curious to me that some black gay people support same-sex marriage or reject it based on whether it "benefits" white gay men more than other gay groups or not. Keep in mind that it is estimated that approximately 2/3 (two thirds) of the same sex couples getting married in the state of Mass. are lesbians, not gay men.

    Lesbians are significantly more likely to want to get married than gay men are. It appears then that marriage rights for gays actually benefit lesbians more than gay men of any race. Exactly what are these black gay people talking about when they say marriage rights "benefit" white gay men more than anyone else?

    And why should I, a black gay man, care about the success rate of marriage among straight blacks. Most straight blacks under 40 years of age don't even get married any more and when they do their marriages fail by about 66%(!) and that's not including those straight black couples who separate but either don't get divorced or drag their feet about it.

    I strongly support same sex marriage rights if only because the denial of these rights to gays stigmatizes ALL gay people whether they want to marry someone of the same sex or not. The denial of marriage rights to gays says that marriage is too "sanctified" for gays who are evil doers/sinners out to destroy the institution. It is a way of making us second class citizens. I should be able to get married regardless of how my being married to a man effects straight people in general or straight black people in particular.

    Also, do black gay people who say they do not need to make their relationships "legal" by getting married know that if their partner is hospitalized that relatives of the sick partner can legally deny them visitation rights and there is nothing they can do about it in most states. Do they know that if their partner dies the relatives of the deceased can legally take everything and the living partner can't do anything about it in most states. Marriage confers hundreds of rights and privileges on married couples that unmarried couples do not have regardless of what race/sex you are. Get real black gay people.

  3. Thanks for the post Anonymous-black gay man. I hope you come back again.

    You make some great statements that I think a larger audience would benefit from hearing. I think that most folks who pose the argument re: white gay folks are expressing the sentiment that the people who are willing (and able) to put the time and money into promoting these causes tend to be white gay men. Go to a fund raiser held by the major LGBT organizations and I guarantee that if you're a woman, you'll be in the minority. If you're a BLACK woman... Trust, I've experienced this first hand (not to mention a masculine-identified black woman...DONT GET ME STARTED).

    Nonetheless, I definitely think that there is a bigger picture. And I think you hit it on the head when you said:

    "I strongly support same sex marriage rights if only because the denial of these rights to gays stigmatizes ALL gay people whether they want to marry someone of the same sex or not."

    So many people do not engage and deal with this very fact. Whether or not any of us choose to get married, the inability to do so if we so choose is what is problematic.

    We aren't fighting to change anyone's church proceedings. Those that want to exist in bigotry and prejudice are free to do so, so long as it doesn't infringe upon my life. But marriage is a LEGAL right afforded to opposite-sex couples, that should be afforded to same sex couples.

    There are over 1,300 legal benefits that come with marriage. Even straight people don't know what they are (I am planning to look them up myself). But being denied those rights is DISCRIMINATION. There are no two ways about it. If we can all step outside the realm of "religion" and "belief" perhaps we can have a REAL conversation about what we're really demanding with "would-be" detractors.

    -urB'n sKoLa


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