After years of hard work it seems the equal marriage battle has been won. Around me people are cheering this historic occasion, but I find it hard to join in wholeheartedly.
I have supported the fight for equal marriage because I knew many couples who wanted the right to marry, and because marriage became the fulcrum upon which the future of gay rights in Canada rested: either we would take a big leap forward or a big leap back. As I attended the rallies, however, it struck me how often my family was excluded from the “party line.”
Without intending any harm, our community leaders slipped into the same usage of the word “family” as those who oppose same-sex marriage. “Family” is not, in our society, a word of diversity or inclusiveness. “Family” is a euphemism for married-couple-with-kids. Yet not all couples have children, not all couples desire marriage and not all people are part of a couple. Many people are single, and some people – like me – have multiple relationships.
Not everyone wants marriage. Polyamory is alive and well in Canada, and no, I don’t mean “that weird cult thing” as someone recently put it to me. I mean adults who have more than one committed relationship at the same time. Open relationships and non-monogamous relationships – not always the same thing – also exist and thrive, especially among queer people. Some people dislike marriage for its historical and social context. To many of us this emphasis on “equal marriage” seems a step back to the 1950s nuclear family, and a very stifling step back.
I am concerned about the harm done to our community by this very conservative view of families. We seem to be losing our pride in diversity, and our acceptance of differences. I am used to people’s reactions when I answer the inevitable, “So, do you have a boyfriend?” question with, “Yes, two.” I know that this takes most people by surprise, as the concept of a 13-year relationship and a six-year relationship co-existing is outside the experience of many.
What I am not used to, however, is the frequently negative remarks I get now. I sometimes get better reactions from a straight crowd than a gay one, to be honest. I have even been told I “should” keep quiet about it, just like the drag queens and leather men “should” stay out of Pride so the media doesn’t focus on them. Are we trading “the norm is to be heterosexual, so be normal” for “the norm is to be married, so be normal?”
While I admire the many people who fought for our rights in the struggle for same-sex civil marriage, and I understand the strategic decision to concentrate all efforts on this one cause, we must now take stock of those left behind. No compromise is without its price, and the price here has been a marginalization of many people and issues within our communities. This does not only affect people who, like me, are in non-traditional relationships or part of the sexual fringe. It affects many other people as well, people who have noticed a definite lack of acceptance in our communities. Have you asked a bisexual man lately how he is received when taking a girlfriend to a community event?
Speaking as a gay man, I have no shame in the history of gay men as “sexual outlaws” nor in the diversity of our sexual practices and relationships today. I am proud of my family of three men, and I am unashamed of my own sexuality. As a member of the gay, lesbian, bisexual and trans community, I am very happy for those couples who desired marriage and can now get the legal recognition they deserve. That fight for marriage, however, did not include my family, nor was marriage a priority for all members of our communities.
My own priority is the fight for removal of sex-negative laws and attitudes, as well as a greater acceptance of sexual diversity. Many other people have also waited patiently for the issues that affect them to be addressed. Will “the community” rally for the many issues affecting the lives of its members, or will it abandon those of us who do not fit into the marriage mould or dare to speak of S-E-X? I honestly don’t know. I would like to think that, as people who have faced discrimination, we would all value and protect diversity and individual freedoms. I fear, however, that the conservative mind-set will have become so entrenched that people will turn a blind eye to those of us left behind.