Most Gays Embrace Right to Marry, But Others Ask, `Why?'
Mon Feb 28 13:04:07 EST 2000
from: Smart Marriages
Most Gays Embrace Right to Marry, But Others Ask, `Why?'
Elaine Herscher, Chronicle Staff Writer San Francisco Chronicle
Tuesday, February 22, 2000
CALIFORNIA -- For some gay people, the freedom to marry means acceptance
and access to many of society's most tangible benefits. For others,
marriage is a chimera that threatens to enslave gays and bleach the color
from their culture.
Right now, Californians are debating whether same-sex unions threaten the
sanctity of heterosexual marriage. Advocates of Proposition 22 on the
7 ballot say they do; the gay community argues they do not.
Whatever the outcome of the election, gays will still not be able to
But the debate has raised another question in the gay community: While
should not be excluded from anything in society, is marriage really such a
The majority of gay men and lesbians have said yes in every poll.
Eighty-one percent told the Advocate magazine they would marry if they
But a minority questions why gay people, who have worked so long to create
their own institutions, would push so hard to join one as confining as
``I call (what we have now) a freedom from marriage,'' said Bill Dobbs, a
gay activist and lawyer in New York. ``Without marriage, we've created a
pretty interesting and vibrant gay and lesbian culture.''
The great societal shifts in marriage and family life -- such as
of divorce and unwed mothers -- led to acceptance of gays, Dobbs argues.
Why not, he says, keep pushing for more progressive and flexible options
instead of demanding a seat at a ``stultifying'' table where people get
benefits but lose freedoms, and where half the time, divorce is the end
``Marriage will divide gay people into those who are married and those who
aren't. It's about shaming those who are not married,'' Dobbs said. Gay
people have been shamed enough, he argues.
``I want a world that enables people to put their relationships together
many different ways,'' Dobbs said.
Evan Wolfson, Marriage Project Director at Lambda Legal Defense and
Education Fund in New York, says gays who think marriage would impinge on
them should step aside and let others choose for themselves.
``Marriage as an institution has evolved to be less discriminatory,'' said
Wolfson, in San Francisco earlier this month to accept an award from Mayor
Willie Brown for his work on behalf of same-sex marriage.
Wolfson noted that in 1948, California became the first state to allow
people of different races to marry. Vermont is deciding now how to offer
equal benefits to same-sex couples without calling it marriage.
``Society has changed the definition of marriage while preserving the
concept of a structure in which people can pool their resources, shape
their lives and plan together,'' Wolfson said. ``Our society believes that
all people are equal, and marriage is one of the central social and legal
institutions of this society that makes a real-life difference for
Proponents of gay marriage argue there are so many benefits of wedlock --
about 300 in California and more than 1,000 in federal law
--that demanding nothing short of marriage is the only way to gain equal
protections and become equal citizens.
To gain protections that any man and woman can receive by simply saying,
``I do'' -- like jointly owning property or receiving their partners'
pension benefits -- lesbians and gay men have to hire lawyers, pay tax
penalties and generate mountains of paperwork. And whatever they do, they
cannot gain everything that marriage bestows.
Nancy Polikoff is sympathetic to that view; her female partner gets health
benefits connected to Polikoff's job. Still, the notion that all the
goodies should come with marriage -- and only marriage
--is wrong, the American University law school professor says.
``It essentially perpetuates the notion that marriage is the universal
to which everyone should subscribe,'' Polikoff said. ``I think we would be
moving in a more just direction as a society if we unhook those benefits
from marriage and attach them to family units, however they're defined.''
Gay activist Jim Eigo of New York puts his argument against marriage this
way: ``What's the use of being queer if you can't be different?
``Why are current mainstream gay organizations working to strike a bargain
with straight society that will make some queers less equal than others?''
Eigo wrote in an op- ed piece questioning marriage. ``Wouldn't it make
sense for us to try to figure out how to relieve heterosexuals of the
outdated shackles of matrimony? Why is the gay `leadership' so bent on
including us in the pain?''
San Francisco Supervisor Mark Leno counters that gay people should never
satisfied with being excluded.
``I've always thought, in the 30 years I've been out, that our liberation
movement should allow for everything,'' Leno said.
He pointed out that when a married person dies, the surviving spouse gets
that person's property tax-free. A surviving spouse in a same-sex couple
who inherits through a partner's will gets hit with an inheritance tax and
new, possibly prohibitively expensive, property taxes.
``Heterosexuals who are married for a day don't have to go through that,''
Leno said. ``Same-sex couples who've been together for years do.''
Dub Blackwood confronted the financial dilemma and decided that after
decades in a relationship, he would get married -- because he is
heterosexual and he can.
``We made a conscious decision not to be married for 31 years,'' Blackwood
said. During that time, he and his partner, Ruth Clifford, decided not to
let the government intrude into their lives any more than necessary. ``In
way, it was that little hunk of anarchist thought we all carry around.''
But now Blackwood is 67 and facing a serious illness, and in the event of
his death, his partner would stand to lose their home in Berkeley. So the
day before Valentine's Day, they got married -- and instead of gifts,
their friends and family to donate to the No on Knight campaign against
©2000 San Francisco Chronicle Page A13
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