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07/28/2009

To Kathy we say, well, Bravo. But we do have one thought...

by Jeremy Hooper

Before all else, let us say that Kathy Griffin and all associated with her show deserve nothing less than praise for last night's episode on Prop 8 and California's continuing fight for marriage equality. While it's a fairly safe bet to assume that the majority of Kathy (or even Bravo's) audience is on Kathy's side of the "culture war" fence, it's still a bit of a risk to put out an unabashedly political hour of reality television, regardless of the subject. So we want to first and foremost drive home the main point, which is that we have nothing but love and praise for all who put the show together. Here's a snip:

But that said: We need to talk about the "gay marriage" thing. As in the phrase "gay marriage," which was used throughout last night's episode most any time the subject of marriage equality was addressed. While the unmistakable subject was equality, and the "love is love/ we're all the same" message was made clear, that message was, in our activist eyes, somewhat weakened by the continued usage of "gay marriage" to describe our unions. It feels kind of like describing the Sotomayor confirmation process, but feeling a need to add a Latina qualifier anytime you refer to her nomination: Not necessarily wrong or offensive, but certainly superfluous and potentially reductive.

Now, we're not faulting the show or anyone else who uses the "gay marriage" terminology, as this is the wording that has been used throughout much of this debate (especially in earlier days of the fight). We have in the past and still occasionally do use the phrase, sometimes intentionally and sometimes absentimndedly. We certainly get it: it's in the national vernacular. But what we're seeing happen more and more is that the religious right is starting to use the popular phrase against us, highlighting what they perceive as the differences between our couplings and the "good, pure, decent" form of marriage that heteros enjoy. Take the National Organization For Marriage's Maggie Gallagher (please! ::ba dum dum::). A big talking point of Maggie's is the one that deliberately positions "gay marriage" as an other -- a social construct that is wholly separate from what she sees as "traditional marriage." And she, a tone setter for the entire anti-equality movement, is not alone in doing so. It's smart strategy for the Team Anti-Equality, and they absolutely know it. By framing this debate in this way, and in the process stigmatizing gay citizens and gay love as detached from that of heterosexuals, they can more conveniently poo poo our side's constitutional equality arguments. Because if you listen to their spin, we equality advocates are not seeking a right to which we should already be guaranteed: We are seeking a new world order that creates a radical concept called "gay marriage." For their side, whose arguments are steeped wholly in untruth and fear, perception is everything. So for them, the scary "otherness" of "gay marriage" is key.

Now we want to be careful to say yet again: This is not a criticism of Kathy, last night's powerful episode, or anyone who marches to a "gay marriage" chant. Not at all. We are simply encouraging everyone on our side to focus on the marriage, the equality, and the sameness rather than the supposed differences and gayness. Not only is the concept of civil marriage equality more sellable to a broader swath of Americans: It's simply more accurate!

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Your thoughts

I've taken to using the explicit term mixed-sex marriage to codify the common assumption and make it clear how silly it is to distinguish between marriage for same-sex couples and marriage for mixed-sex couples. If it happens to hearken back to the terms mixed-race and mixed-faith, so be it. ;)

Second, I appreciate the celebrity outpouring of support for GLBT since November 5, but where was all this fanfare and display prior to the election? Sure, there was public support but it was largely speaking to the choir. AFTER it counted we see the support outside of rallies in West Hollywood, Castro, South Beach and Broadway?

I am glad that our community is starting to realize that we can't just speak to the arts community and urban intelligentsia, but why was this even a shocking realization?

Posted by: Dave | Jul 28, 2009 9:24:35 AM

Honestly, there are a lot of other issues I'm worried about more than the term gay marriage. I totally understand what your saying here, but NOM and all those other organizations are always going to make us sound threatening and scary, and we can't always be tip toeing around trying to figure out the politically correct terminology.

Posted by: Callie | Jul 28, 2009 10:52:21 AM

No tiptoeing, Callie. And no attempt to say that this is *the* most important issue.

But I do think it's a point worth noting, and one that could help change the course of this debate.

Posted by: G-A-Y | Jul 28, 2009 11:08:39 AM

I have to agree with Jeremy, Callie. As stupid as it sounds, slight differences in terminology make a big difference. That's just marketing 101 and it's one reason why every single organization opposed to allowing us to marry our consenting, monogamous adult long-term companions uses names like "____ Organization for Marriage," and "_____ Family Institute/Association"

They frame the debate with these loaded terms and we frankly need to be aggressive in re-framing the debate back into Reality Land, where the fictional impact on a house of religion (how oh how do religious organizations deal with the long standing discrimination bans based on religious difference, a much more significant sin in any faith?) does not actually matter in discussions of civil law.

Posted by: Dave | Jul 28, 2009 11:58:21 AM

The term 'gay marriage' ignores transgendered, intersex, and bisexual people, too. Even 'same-sex marriage' is misleading and restrictive in this sense. 'Marriage equality' (or 'civil marriage equality') is the only accurate, all-inclusive terminology.

Posted by: Chris | Jul 28, 2009 1:00:58 PM

I am trying to break myself of this habit and use the phrase "equal marriage" instead.

However, I did just order a t-shirt that says, "If you don't believe in gay marriage, don't marry someone who's gay!"

The overall sentiment trumps the "gay marriage" phrasing, IMHO. ;)

Posted by: Bonnie_Half-Elven | Jul 28, 2009 1:18:42 PM

Maybe it is desensitizing? Maybe the Gallaghers of the world wouldn't be able to use the term "gay marriage" as a derogation, or as a scary new concept, if the population were more desensitized to it. They used to think that "queer" was an insult...

Posted by: Dick Mills | Jul 28, 2009 1:22:36 PM

3 Clicks for Equality. Go to www.NationalMarriageEquality.com to email your representatives for Federal Marital Rights.

Posted by: Leland Traiman | Jul 28, 2009 8:52:11 PM

I understand what you're saying and think you make some good points. I do have one question, though. Is it possible that equality opponents could find a way to make it seem like "marriage equality" leaves the door open for polygamy, the forced marriage of a minor, etc. (the Santorum argument)? As despicable as such a comparison is, it's been done before, and I wonder if the phrasing might leave that door open. At least the phrase "gay marriage" leaves less to interpretation, making clear what the fight is about.

I'm just tossing that out there; I don't really know which phrase is better, or if they both have their strong points. And no matter what words are used, the bigots will try to spin them in whichever way they feel will most serve their interests.

Posted by: Rachel Snyder | Jul 29, 2009 7:02:25 PM

That's a valid point, Rachel. And you're right: The opposition will spin whatever we out out.

Still, I think that in most situations, "marriage equality" or "equal marriage" are the most accurate descriptors for our fight. Maybe "equal marriage for gay couples" is even more fitting, even if a tad verbose. "Gay marriage" puts us in this "other" category, and I genuinely think it stops some potential allies from joining us.

Posted by: G-A-Y | Jul 29, 2009 7:23:15 PM

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