The Privilege of “Normal-ish” Gays and Lesbians

I recently read a thought-provoking essay by a blogger I admire
very much. It made me confront and re-examine many of my beliefs. I
don’t agree with everything this blogger wrote, but the essay added
more nuance to my position on marriage equality and my beliefs
regarding the implications that the marriage equality movement has
for non-traditional families.

In this
, Angry Brown Butch describes feeling unsettled upon
reading a newspaper article about the recent same-sex weddings
taking place in California. Basically, the referenced article
discussed “gay leaders” warning the LGBT community to “be aware” of
the images they would potentially be supplying to the other side-
meaning those who opposed marriage equality. In other words, the
leaders were essentially saying no dudes in dresses. Why? As Angry
Brown Butch writes:

“Because the marriage equality movement is largely
predicated on the notion that us queers are just like ‘everyone
else,’ meaning mostly white, mostly middle-class or up, gender
conforming monogamists. You know, the non-threatening queers. The
rest of us should apparently find a nice closet to go hide in for a
while, lest we threaten the rights that are apparently meant for
the more upstanding, respectable members of the
LGsomeotherlessimportantletters community.” 

It’s true that the marriage equality movement is predicated on this
notion that gay people are “normal” and just like straight people.
By necessity, due to the nature of the resistance to marriage
equality, the marriage movement must predicate itself on this
notion in order to make even small civil-union-sized gains. For
instance, take but one example
of a “marriage defender” who cites several
long-term-but-non-monogamous gay couple who want to marry. This
“marriage defender” will then argue that monogamy is an essential
feature of marriage and will use the fact of these gay couples’
non-monogamy to argue that the “gay community” as a whole does not
know what marriage is.  And further, that prevalent non-monogamy
among gays is yet another reason why gay people should not be
allowed to marry.

Personally, I think that in the struggle for marriage equality,
marriage equality advocates who do value monogamy and who do think
the state should sanction marriage are sort of caught in the
middle. On the one side, we have often-bigoted “marriage defenders”
pointing to drag queens in dresses saying “look at how immoral and
confused gay people are.” They point to high rates of HIV and STDs
among gay men and say “gay people spread disease.” In other words,
most “marriage defenders” point to people who are not me in order
to make generalizations about me, thereby rendering my experience
in the world invisible. It’s certainly not right for bigots to make
moral judgments about members of our community, and it angers me.
But what also angers me is that “marriage defenders” refuse to
acknowledge that “normal-ish” gay people also exist.

I know, woe is me, right?

Yet, on the other side, we have- for lack of a better term-
“non-conforming” members of the LGBT community declaring that
marriage equality activists don’t care about “non-conforming”
queers.  Rather, we ignore those “bad” gays, take advantage of our
“normalcy” privilege, and selfishly seek equality for ourselves.
Admittedly, my first instinct upon hearing such a claim is to
become defensive. I do care about and respect all of
those in the LGBT community and I hate the anti-gay propaganda that
our opponents spread. Yet, upon reflection, I have to agree with
Angry Brown Butch’s statement about marriage equality, which:

“has never been and can never be about true equality
and justice for all people who fall within the LGBT spectrum.
That’s because legal marriage is about sanctioning and rewarding
certain kinds of relationships while disqualifying and demeaning

Confronting our own privileges is not supposed to be comfortable or
easy. Yet doing so is something I continually try to do.
Personally, I value monogamy and, in spite of my Marxist tendencies
(hee-hee), consider myself one of those “normal-ish” gays.
Marriage, to me, is generally two loving committed adults in a
sexually monogamous relationship. Accordingly, in seeking
state-sanctioned marriage equality, I have sought to prove my
“normalcy” to “marriage defenders.” We’re not all
like them, I have argued, pointing to non-monogamous
gays. But at the same time, I am able to value other people’s
experiences in life regarding non-monogamy, gender conformity, and
family formation.As one who is denied marital rights, I see how
strongly society values the marital relationship and how
loving-yet-non-marital families and relationships are demeaned and

I also know that vast amounts of resources are dedicated to
opposing the right of people like me to marry and that, therefore,
accounts for why the marriage equality movement has, to the chagrin
of many,“devoted
so much time and attention and resources”
 to the cause.  Yet,
just because marriage equality advocates are spending time, money,
and resources to the cause it doesn’t mean the LGBT community at
large is not addressing other important issues the community faces.
To suggest otherwise is to make a claim strikingly similar to that
of a “marriage defender” whose claims about the “gay
community” I have previously addressed. The LGBT community is not
monolithic and many of its members of all races, incomes, genders,
and identities are trying to address the injustices imposed upon
our community and our families.  Marriage equality is but one
issue our community is facing.  But I will not stop advocating for
full equality just because our community is also facing other
important issues.

That being said, I am willing to reconsider my approach and some of
my beliefs.   I definitely believe that so long as the state is
doling out marriage licenses with a host of attendant privileges,
benefits, and rights, it should not do so on a discriminatory
basis. Or, it should have really good reasons for doing so. (That’s
a really big “or,” I know). The denial of these rights has very
real consequences to families from a legal and financial
standpoint. At the same time, I

“question whether fighting for marriage as a state-run
institution is the best strategy for queer liberation more
broadly….Instead of linking state benefits like healthcare,
housing and welfare to marital privilege, they should be detached
from marriage and available to all, regardless of marital or
citizenship status. Rather than furthering the norm of two partners
acting as a single economic childrearing unit, we argue for a
movement that embraces multiple meanings of family, and recognizes
that marriage and domestic partnership are not always optimal or
desired choices. Finally, we believe we can better serve
marginalized communities by fighting against all state regulation
of sexual and gender choices, identities and

Tangibly and practically, I’m still searching for what this means
to me. Take away the state’s power to say what “marriage” is?
Maybe. De-couple the numerous benefits of marriage from the legal
status of “marriage”? Perhaps. Law
professor Katherine M. Franke has made a strong case
to Angry Brown Butch’s, that “marriage equality for same sex
couples must be undertaken, at a minimum, in a way that is
compatible with efforts to dislodge marriage from its normatively
superior status as compared with other forms of human attachment,
commitment and desire…. we must unseat marriage as the measure of
all things.”

I realize that is a scary statement for many “marriage defenders”
to hear.  Yet, these are discussions that those on all sides of
the marriage debate need to keep having. And, they should take
place free from propaganda, free of scare tactics, and free of
over-generalizations and simplistic thinking. I will continue
seeking knowledge and opposing ideas. And, perhaps most
importantly, I give myself permission to change my mind.

The floor is yours.