It is Freedom to Marry Week – Just Don’t Say “Gay Marriage”!

We’re thrilled to bring this guest
post by Evan Wolfson, the executive director of
to Marry

As Americans across the country celebrate
Freedom to Marry Day
, seizing the opportunity to have
conversations with family members, friends, and coworkers about the
importance of ending same-sex couples’ exclusion from marriage,
hopefully they’ll talk a lot about gay couples and why marriage
matters – without saying
“gay marriage” and “same-sex marriage.”
their kids and loved ones
, and those of us who favor equal
justice in America are not working to win “gay marriage.”  We are
working to win the freedom to marry, ending the current unfair
denial of marriage to those who are already doing the work of
marriage in their own lives.

Phrases such as “gay marriage” or “same-sex marriage” imply
that same-sex couples are asking for something other than
marriage.  They imply that same-sex couples deserve something
different or lesser than the
security, protections, safety-net
, and respect that married
couples cherish.  And they play into the
right-wing’s fear-mongering
that gay people are a threat to
marriage, that equality and inclusion would somehow unacceptably
“redefine” the law (in a country dedicated to those very values),
and that “Defense of Marriage” is the answer to committed couples
seeking to participate in a precious institution.

Marriage is not defined by who is excluded from it, and
gay people are not the first to challenge its denial
.  This
year we celebrate the 60th anniversary of the first court ruling
striking down race restrictions on who could marry whom.  In
Perez v. Sharp, the California
Supreme Court held that “the essence of the right to marry is
freedom to join in marriage with the person of one’s choice.” 
court explained
that “human beings are bereft of worth and
dignity by a doctrine that would make them as interchangeable as
trains”; when you are
denied the freedom to marry the person precious and irreplaceable
to you
, it’s not like you can just catch the next one.

Fittingly, as we mark the 60th anniversary of that courageous court
other couples now stand before the same court which will hear
argument on March 4, 2008
.  Those couples are not seeking “gay
marriage,” any more than Mrs. Perez sought “black marriage,” or her
husband sought “Latino marriage.”  They all claim, and deserve,
marriage itself, the freedom to marry, which the U.S Supreme Court
in Loving v. Virginia, noted “has long
been recognized as one of the vital personal rights essential to
the orderly pursuit of happiness by free men.”

As we speak out about
why marriage matters
and how the denial of marriage
harms couples and kids
, undermining our nation’s commitment to
fairness and freedom, we’ve seen states move in the right
direction, but
falling short of equality
.  States such as California,
, New
, Oregon, and
Vermont have
created new legal mechanisms, called partnership or civil union, to
provide parallel legal protections and responsibilities for gay
people and their families.  These new mechanisms – “gay
marriage” – are better than nothing, but
no substitute for marriage itself
.  Happily, in each of these
states the debate continues and awareness is deepening that the
work is not done, civil unions don’t work, separate is not equal,
and it’s time to finish the job of ending exclusion from marriage,
not just repackaging it.

Even without clear terminology always prevailing, people are
getting it. 
Public support for marriage equality
is growing faster than
ever before.  In just over 10 years, according to the
Gallup poll
, support for marriage equality has jumped almost 20
percentage points, while those against fairness decreased 15
percentage points in the same time period.  Imagine the rate of
progress we could see if people understood this not as creating
“gay marriage,” but, rather, ending the denial of the “freedom to
marry” and letting couples committed to one another in life share
the legal commitment of marriage.

Freedom to Marry Day, February 12th, aptly falls in the midst of

Freedom to Marry Week
, February 10-16.  It’s one more chance
for gay and non-gay people to reach out to their circles –
families, friends, co-workers, neighbors, and fellow citizens –
and make the ask that moves people to action.  Freedom to Marry
Week is held every year, right around President Lincoln’s Birthday
and Valentine’s Day, and Freedom to Marry provides
tools and ideas
to help everyone find a way to connect and make
a difference.

Much as we want people to understand that the words gay and
marriage do belong together, we don’t want “gay marriage.” 
It’s the freedom to marry that matters – for all of us – and
the way to secure it is by talking to others.  And it’s the
personal ask – each one of us raising our voice and not just
assuming that those around us are there, or can’t get there –
that makes all the difference.  Turn to the people in your life
now, and say, “Happy Freedom to Marry Week!”