I can’t believe I’m still writing articles about this, but here we go again. Recently Murray Lipp, a social justice activist in the US, penned an article for the exclusionary named HuffPost “Gay Voices” section titled, “‘Gay Marriage’ and ‘Marriage Equality’ — Both Terms Matter“.
Clearly, not everyone shares the same understanding of the terms “gay marriage” and “marriage equality” and I think it’s crucially important, in the overall quest for equal marriage rights, that the relationship between these terms is explored and articulated.
Just about everyone (even those who have no connection with or interest in gay rights politics) understands what is meant by “gay marriage” — it’s the phenomenon of two people of the same sex getting married, a woman and a woman, or a man and man.
Except it’s not. Gay marriage, is two gay people getting married, not two people of the same sex. If I married my girlfriend I would not be getting gay married, as neither of us are gay. The continual privileging of “gay” to mean QUILTBAG, makes invisible anyone who doesn’t identify as gay.
In general, however, it is the phrase “gay marriage” — and not “same-sex marriage” — which has dominated public discourse when discussion turns to marriage between persons of the same sex.
Which is typically because those who identify as gay have found the term useful, and haven’t pushed back on media using an exclusionary term. Those that spoke the loudest were handed a term that suited their identity and they ran with it. If the media had started with “same sex marriage” the story would be quite different and we’d all be much happier.
In recent years there has been a growing trend by gay rights organizations, and politicians pursuing changes in marriage laws, to downplay the words “gay marriage” and to focus instead on “marriage equality.” While the logic behind this strategy is understandable it has also led to confusion as to what these different labels mean and has resulted in some supporters of same-sex marriage developing an unwarrantedly negative view of the phrase “gay marriage.”
Could that be because “gay marriage” completely excludes those who identify as bisexual, or those trans* folk who don’t identify as gay? I have a very negative view of the phrase “gay marriage” and it is not at all unwarranted. After all, I want to be part of the team, not on the sidelines being ignored as the bisexual community is far to commonly used to.
Adjectives are a key part of language. These important words help to describe differences between similar things. They bring visibility to the diversity that exists in just about every aspect of human existence. Without adjectives language would have considerably less communicative value. Placing the word “gay” in front of “marriage” provides useful descriptive information.
Yup, useful descriptive information that the person using the term doesn’t understand that using exclusionary language is a problem (words matter people). If you want to be an ally to the bisexual community, and bisexuals:
Use inclusive language. Unless you know for a fact that both members of a couple are gay, refer to them as a same-sex couple, not a gay or lesbian couple. Likewise, use “same-sex marriage” rather than “gay marriage”, “LGBT rights” rather than “gay rights,” “the LGBT community” rather than “the gay community”, “pride” or “LGBT pride” rather than “gay pride”, “homophobia and biphobia” rather than just “homophobia”, and so forth. When naming an organization or group, use “LGBT” rather than “gay” if applicable (for example, a “LGBT-Straight Alliance” rather than a “Gay-Straight Alliance”.) [Feministe]
I don’t know how many times people in the bisexual community, and our allies, have to tell people such as Murray Lipp that words matter, and the continued use of “gay marriage” does not include bisexuals and others.
Related to this, campaigns for the legalization of same-sex marriage increasingly downplay the “gay” aspect and focus more on “marriage equality,” which in large part is an effort to avoid having to deal with the very real stigma that is often linked with all things “gay.” While this strategy to neutralize stigma has no doubt helped fuel the success of some of these campaigns, and drawn in more straight supporters, it has also had another impact: the demonization of the term “gay marriage.” It should come as no surprise then that some supporters of same-sex marriage have internalized this and developed a negative view of the term.
I do wonder if Murray Lipp actually spoke to anyone who didn’t like the term “gay marriage” before his article and attempted to understand their objections before just making shit up. I have not internalised homophobia and have a negative view of “gay marriage” because of the stigma attached to the word “gay”. I just really hate being sidelined by people who I thought were on my side.
There are number of reasons why “gay marriage” remains a powerful and very useful way to refer to marriage between people of the same sex. As previously outlined, “gay marriage” has instant recognition value — people know what it means — it’s easy for the mind to grasp and understand the concept. When discussing any issue, and especially when trying to attract supporters for a cause, rapid recognition of this kind is extremely valuable, especially in today’s society in which time and attention spans are limited.
Except… except we’re not all gay. I’m not gay. My girlfriend is not gay. My husband is not gay. My husband’s boyfriend is not gay. By continually using “gay” as an umbrella term, you make it harder for bisexuals to exist. You’re making the only options available straight or gay. Guess what, there are other options, and we’re so very sick of you not paying attention to us. Hello! We’re over here!
“Gay marriage” refers to the actual phenomenon of same-sex marriage, the legal union between two people of the same sex. It’s something which is legal or not in any given part of the world. “Marriage equality,” on the other hand, refers to the equal allocation of rights and benefits to all married couples, regardless of whether those couples are opposite-sex or same-sex. It does not describe a type of marriage. It describes an outcome, an achievement or goal, that being the attainment of equality.
“Gay marriage” refers to the legal recognition of two people who identify as gay being married. Not necessarily all same-sex marriages as we’ve discussed. I’m a big fan of “marriage equality” and “same-sex” marriage, and you should be too if you want to be seen to be an ally to the entire LGBTIQ community.
While it seems like an impossible dream, there is certainly the hope that one day “gay marriage” will be legal throughout the entire world. If that ever happens there will perhaps then be less need to make distinctions between gay and straight marriage.
And this proves my point. For Murry Lipp to even have written this indicates that at no point during this article did he consider those who didn’t identify as gay.
In the comments of this article, which I have contributed to, Murray continues to fail to understand that “gay” is not an umbrella term for QUILTBAG and that his exclusion of those who don’t identify as gay could possibly be a problem. Here is an activist who needs to be educated in being a good queer ally, and ignored until he’s done that education.