A Different Perspective on Gay Marriage
Guest Post by Mikaya Heart
I came out as a lesbian in 1977 in northern England, when a wave of feminism swept through the Western world, and a lot of women woke up. For me and many others, coming out as a lesbian and recognizing how traditional male dominance kept us down were one and the same thing. We didn’t just climb out of the box that was made for us, we leapt out of it. Discovering that we could have great sex without men was only the beginning. We were going to live our own lives, do what we wanted, and be independent. We certainly weren’t going to get married, to anyone. The word marriage was all about being in that limiting little box. Those wedding bells sounded too much like chains clanking.
At that time, traditional lesbians all identified as either butch or femme, gender roles that we despised. They and their gay male friends were appalled at our vociferous rejection of the standards they lived by, seeing us as a serious threat to the very shakey tolerance that the mainstream accorded them. Only people who clearly fit the old paradigm were welcome at the few established gay or lesbian bars, and when we pushed the limits, bouncers gave us busted lips and black eyes to make sure we understood. Outsiders everywhere, we had to be very sure of ourselves—there was no place for any uncertainty in that atmosphere. We swaggered around in groups, wearing leather jackets, looking and sounding as tough as we could. We didn’t identify as gay—why would we use that word when the gay community hated us? We called ourselves dykes. We were loud, proud, and full of ourselves.
Most of us found lesbianism hugely liberating, since our attempts to be good heterosexuals had been far from rewarding. Our position as women in society was the primary source of what we thought of as oppression. We called ourselves lesbian feminists, and considered ourselves a part of the women’s liberation movement, although heterosexual feminists were uncomfortable with us. In those days, the word lesbian was still so loaded and powerful that it drowned out all other considerations.
Time passed and things changed, as they do. By 1990, living in northern California, I’d met gays and heterosexuals of both sexes who liked me, and I them. This is a trend which has continued, I’m happy to say. Life is a long, delightful picnic compared to the seventies in England, and so I’ve become very forgiving. Now I believe that everyone ought to be allowed to do their own thing, which includes getting married, whatever sexual orientation you are. Still, that word marriage doesn’t sit easily with me on a personal level. Yes, I want the legal benefits. It infuriates me that we must stoop to subterfuge in order that our foreign lovers can live here in the US. Beyond those kinds of legalities, I don’t need my partner and me to be seen as a couple by the established authorities. The concept of marriage has too many assumptions attached. Married couples settle down together. They are responsible for each other. They are obligated to each other. They owe each other. They are dependent on each other. They are meant to consult each other about both long-term and day-to-day decisions. They are meant to be monogamous. They are meant to be willing to give up things they really want for the sake of the marriage. If they get divorced, which is usually horribly messy, they are considered to have failed, even when divorce is the most growth-enhancing option. There is a tendency to use the fact of being married as a safety net, enabling one to get away with behavior that lacks integrity: we’re married, so s/he’s not going to leave me.
Of course committed relationships, with or without the label marriage, don’t have to be that way, and many are not. However, I have never forgotten those hard-won lessons about believing in myself no matter what others are saying, and I value my independence hugely. In any case, I’m not on the front lines of the campaign for gay marriage. I’m going for a model that is conceptually broader. I want love and intimacy, and I want freedom, which means not being tied down. My personal experience illustrates that’s quite possible. I’m not saying it’s easy. It requires a unique level of honesty and responsibility, and it’s made far more difficult by social disapproval. Those of us who are choosing these kinds of options are on the cutting edge of something absolutely new in Western culture. That certainly doesn’t mean they can’t work. They already are working on a small scale.
I hear people saying, but what about the children? In a village type of community, children have half a dozen people, or more, to parent them, and in my opinion that’s much healthier than having only two.
In this day and age, plenty of other people are open to very different models of partnership. Last month, I participated (not for the first time) in a commitment ceremony involving three people. I’m looking forward to the day when we can do that kind of thing in public, and be honored for it.
Marriage is like football—just because I don’t want to play it doesn’t mean that no one else should. I have no doubt that gay marriage will be legalized on a federal level, probably within the next five years, just because the natural process of human evolution is about becoming more and more accepting of differences. The trend to open-mindedness, and the self-empowerment that goes with that, is well under way, worldwide. Even the most reactionary forces have not been able to do more than slow it down. So if you are working to have gay marriage accepted, go for it! I’ll cheer loudly from the sidelines. And I hope that you will do me the same favor as I go for the gold.
Mikaya Heart is an author and a life coach specializing in teaching her clients how to exercise the art of choice. Her memoir, My Sweet Wild Dance, received a Golden Crown Literary Award. www.mikayaheart.org