BY KELLY JEAN COGSWELL | I don’t know the exact figure, but approximately a gazillion queers are getting gay married every week in New York. I was at the marriage bureau a couple months ago to watch two friends get hitched, and the usually echoing hall was packed, not with wealthy gay white men cementing their fortunes, but with queers of all colors and ages and genders claiming their new rights.
It sometimes took a minute to spot the happy couples. Like others getting married, they were often surrounded by their biological families, so hets generally outnumbered attending queers. Part of me thought it was cool to see parents and siblings evolved enough to come, but it was also a little creepy to see how easy it was to diminish the presence of queers, even at our own weddings. Which is when I realized that this gay marrying thing wasn’t very gay after all.
I’m not sure what I expected. Not rainbow flags, certainly, but not this deep wrenching, either — from the signing of the official documents to the chubby Latino guy named Angel whispering the magic words.
Maybe it was because I’d never seen my dyke friends that way before. Surrounded by family, they were daughters and sisters and cousins, all the female roles defined by a still traditional society in which the family tree is everything, and most relationships are some vertical simulacrum. Until I came to New York from Kentucky, I felt governed by my older sisters. My parents above them. Then preachers and teachers and bosses. And all the rest.
I’d only been here a couple years when I joined the Lesbian Avengers and discovered a more horizontal world. Age and inexperience were on equal footing as long as you dared to wear a T-shirt, “I was a lesbian child,” or if you ate fire or spoke out. Almost all of the dykes I know now I met during those years of meetings and marches and demos. And in my most vivid memories, they are surrounded by their own girl gang, rejoicing and fierce as creatures sprung from the head of Zeus and equal to anybody from a president to a prostitute.
Now there they are, in the midst of their families. And the State is not the enemy but a party to the event. I imagine that’s partly why our straight relatives find it so comforting, and are often the ones pushing for big weddings. Parents are excited to see their daughters anchored and safe. Kids want to see their two parents take their place, just like anybody else. The marriage contract is less as a link between two people than between that pair and society at large, binding them and dividing them at the same time.
You might get immigration rights and tax write-offs, but when the State joins you for better or worse, richer or poorer, it also means you’ve had all the benefits you’re going to get and are mostly on your own. If one gets sick, the other foots the bill while society stands by until your last thin dime has been spent. Without a pre-nup, debts are inherited more often than lotto winnings. Vultures circle when your partner’s at death’s door.
In this respect, I like the services that at least invoke a larger sense of the world. Back in the day, I remember a pastor at a commitment ceremony talking about how we were gathered there as community to help and support the couple. She laid a charge on us, as witnesses, which I guess we failed: the couple broke up a couple years later. The only blessing was that there was no need of lawyers to divide up the spoils.
I’m not arguing that same-sex marriage is bad. I’m glad we have it now. It has a symbolic meaning, and it’s useful. Equality always is. I’m just not sure it’s progress in a more essential way. It ropes us back into a world we escaped at great cost. And for what? Most of the straight people I know aren’t happy in the land of matrimony. With rare exceptions, marriage seems like a musty room with all the windows glued shut by responsibilities and routine. And often acrimony. More than once I’ve gotten the impression that they are envious of my exile. No rights. No obligations, except moral ones.
It seems straight people, too, long for some better way to organize their lives than this genealogy chart mentality and careful division into two’s.