2 min

Memo To: Talkers

Re: Language

More and more, the generic use of the word marriage to cover every conceivable homosexual coupling is common. After our much publicized commitment ceremony at Montreal’s gay Pride this month, people congratulated my partner Rene and I on winning our court battle for civil marriage!

Older folk can remember that, back in the 1950s, we would describe our relationships as marriage. But this was camp, playing on the official myth of the temporary nature of our relationships, applying heterosexual terms to our own reality.

Now, in 2001, everyone is chattering about marriage as if queers had access to it. I am an official campaigner for access to the civil contract called marriage (our court hearing will be this fall). But what I read and what I hear are not the same thing that we are fighting for.

Recently Montreal’s La Presse ran an article headlined “First gay marriages in Germany.” I was completely taken in. By the end of the first paragraph, it was obvious that they were talking about a kind of registered conjugal relationship with some, but not all, of the benefits and responsibilities that German het married couples share, without the dignity of the title marriage.

Last week, in the tabloid Le Journal de Montreal, readers were informed that a motorcycle gang member, now serving a life sentence for multiple murders, is complaining about not having visiting rights with his “husband,” who’s doing a spin in another prison. It seems they were married last April in a commitment service.

In heterosexual circles, there seem to be two forces at work.

Misusing the word marriage to describe any, even the smallest, legal recognition that they are forced to give us allows the majority to pride itself on how liberal they are, how open. It probably stems from an unconscious desire to simply avoid any discussion of that most indelicate subject (our sex lives) using the politest of terms. Or it could reflect a desire to shut us up about the discrimination we live with (they have marriage, what more do they want?).

The other force driving this revisionism is more perverse. This constant repeating of the word marriage in connection with homosexual serves very well those who wish to generate fear about the homosexual peril which, until recently, could only be described by Biblical references. But with partnership registration in Nova Scotia, on top of common-law relationship recognition for queers across Canada, the Bible-banging set now have contemporary images to illustrate the rising tide of sodomy.

In the queer community, I think this new use of the word marriage is more complex and multipurpose. These days, many use marriage as a kind of shorthand for a committed, enduring relationship that should be treated with respect. It also strikes me that we are playing with the traditional concept of marriage, stretching it to fit our big feet.

For some, it is a political statement. A Toronto lesbian feminist lawyer I know refers to her lover as her wife and to their coming commitment ceremony as their marriage. In other words, damn it, if you will not grant it, we will simply appropriate it.

Now, most marriage activists like me are supposed to correct these misuses of the legal term marriage.

But we queers have our own ways of depicting our reality, stealing the Bible bangers’ thunder and painting our own soundscapes. Is this wrong or are we doing harm to our cause of total equality? I think not. In the end, we must remember that we are queer, trained by our environment to never play anything quite straight.