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


Posted on July 3, 2011, in Gay/Lesbian, Personal Growth, Relationships, Women. Bookmark the permalink. 16 Comments.

  1. What an insightful and informative piece! I understand this article was previously published in the Philadelphia Inquirer and then removed after several weeks. Seems like censorship to me. I am inspired by Mikaya Heart's willingness to open to her own learning – to acknowledge out loud that things change, society changes, we change. We all may want different lives and we can all have that if we come to it with love, respect and a dose of humility. We all need to be heard – shame on you Philadelphia Inquirer.

  2. Oh, I can see why the Inquirer tried to erase evidence of such a non-conformist article! I'm not surprised by that, and because I expect the mainstream to attempt to limit my life experience as a lesbian, I'm not hurt by it either. What saddens me much more is when members of our own queer "community" lash out when we attempt to define our own queerness for ourselves. All the words we can use to reference humans who are non-heterosexual– all the many ways people may be other than straight– display a remarkable wide range of sexuality, intimacy and identification. And yet, still there's an inclination to attack voices that raise issues some folks don't want to hear, as if stating a different option is an attack on some other option. Mikaya's excellent article speaks to some of the backlash faced early in the queer movement by– what to call them?– non-traditional lesbians. In my own hesitation to choose marriage or focus queer movement efforts upon achieving it as 'top priority', I have faced some backlash from those who's vision continues to be about being able to participate in that holy/cultural/legal/accepted institution and have had the "ouch" of taking an unpopular stand on this topic. I don't want to be married– I'd like the legal protections afforded to the married– but I do not want to change the nature of the relationship I'm in or segue into an amorphous "we" whereby my partner and I become interchangeable. Thanks Mikaya, for your thoughtful her-story about why some of us might come to that conclusion and while I'm just a touch young for the experiences in the 70's you describe, I've come to the same decision in my life. I, too, believe that there are many possible approaches to love, intimacy and relationship. I appreciate your courage in speaking to that.

  3. Nicely written Mikaya! I would suggest that anyone who walks outside of perceived "norms" is subject to the same sort of challenges as you explore herein. I don't think writing should be "censored," particularly after having already been published. The issue of equal rights under the law is what I think is pertinent, however. It is not equality of civil rights when the benefits of unions are limited to those who represent "a marriage between 1 man and 1 woman." Further, as "marriage" is a religious/royalist concept, it should have NO standing in civil law. The conflating of a religious ceremony with economic, legal and civil rights is where the wrong turn was initially taken in a society founded on the principle of separating religious imperatives from the rule of a secular law intended to be evenly applied to all citizens. Granted the class of "citizens" has had to be expanded from time to time, but again, a different issue. The confusions as to what is meant when the terms "lesbian," "dyke," and "feminist" are used interchangeably frustrates me, as well. I consider feminism as a political term relating to including all women's voices and opinions in shaping our cultural, legal and economic structures. Lesbian to me means a women whose primary intimate relationships and/or sexual liaisons are with other women. "Dyke" and a new lengthy list of terms that indicate gender fluidity, seem to have more to do with personal manifestations of style and/or sexual personality than with politics or sexual plumbing in my opinion. Thank you for your tenacity.

  4. Sylvia Kinder

    Hi there from Australia. I also came out in the late 70's 1978. However I had already decided that marriage was not for me. I saw myself as a marriage resister and had lived with a man openly for 10 years. At this time it was hard, socially disaproved and often I met with much discrimmination. The arguments are exactly the same as Mikaya has presented. Whilst like in many things lesbians lead I think we should be enlisting enlighted heterosexual women who in Australia should they be single mothers are subject to social securtity checks to see if they have a man living with them or visiting regularly. This man is then seen as the new supporter and she loses her income. Also if you live with your lesbian partner or heterosexual partner you suddenly become defacto (married by the state) and subject to the same treatment as married people. This no matter what your personal arrangements may be. If you lose your job your not entitled to unemployment benefits as your new defacto has to support you. This has made me live alone so I can retain my independance but is totally unfair. Good on you MikayaSylvia Kinder Sydney Australia

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