When we talk about the recent victories in Delaware and Rhode Island or the hopefully impending repeal of DOMA and Prop 8, are we talking about “gay marriage” or “marriage equality”? Or both?
LGBT activists have taken lately to using the latter term over the former, myself included. The standard argument is that all marriages should be treated equally, so there’s no sense in distinguishing “gay” ones from straight ones. But HuffPo columnist Murray Lipp doesn’t agree, arguing that there is value in specifying which marriages are between couples of the same sex.
His primary argument in defense of the phrase “gay marriage” is that it brings visibility to same-sex unions, upending the assumption that marriages are inherently heterosexual. Plus, the term is well-known and easily recognizable. Here’s why he wants us to use both “gay marriage” and “marriage equality”:
“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.
When a same sex couple marries, yes it’s a “marriage,” but it can also be described as a “gay marriage” — the adjective “gay” adds further descriptive value which may have significant communicative utility depending on the context. Using the word “gay” helps specify difference but it does not imply “better than” or “less than.” Furthermore, when a same-sex couple marries that marriage is not called “marriage equality” — the term does not describe a type of marriage.
The attainment of “marriage equality” is impossible without “gay marriage” first being legalized. When a given state or country legalizes same-sex marriage and additionally provides equal rights and benefits to all married couples irrespective of whether a couple is same-sex or opposite-sex, then it can be said that “marriage equality” has been achieved in that region. While “gay marriage” is now legal in various states of the USA, “marriage equality” has not yet been achieved in the USA nationally as the federal government does not recognize same-sex marriages.
I’m not certain I totally agree with this, mostly due to the portion I bolded above. I am hesitant to focus too explicitly on the difference between a “gay marriage” and a “straight marriage,” particularly because the premise of the fight for marriage equality is that all marriages are the same, gay or straight. Or is pointing out the existence of these “different” marriages key in eventually having them treated equally?
Clearly I need to better organize my thoughts, but only because there’s a lot to say about this. What’s your take on this topic?