Evan Wolfson has a letter up about this year's Freedom to Marry Week and Freedom to Marry Day telling everyone, for the love of Christ, stop saying "gay marriage."
It's interesting that this is often the big message of the movement towards same-sex marriage, telling people what phrase to use, as if it'll actually change the way people perceive same-sex marriage. (For the record, "same-sex marriage" is another one of Evan Wolfson's no-no phrases.) No matter what you call it, it's two dudes or two ladies getting hitched, it's going to bother some people, and, unless we were calling it something horrid, it's best to stick with a recognizable phrase when discussing this issue.
I'll admit, this has a lot to do with the fact that I never liked the phrase "marriage equality" for a lot of reasons, and they're all after the jump.
First, it's a pretty ugly little phrase there. Obviously whoever came up with it wasn't a writer, what with the length and the awkward sounds put together and the need for two stressed syllables. It's bad written, and it's even worse in conversation. Does anyone use this phrase naturally? No one I know, at least.
Second, it's inaccurate. Proponents of same-sex marriage aren't generally seeking marriages to be equal to one another (that would be too much) or equality within marriage (that's, like, feminism or something), they're seeking state and federal recognition of certain types of conjugal relationships as marriages. Fair enough, but if that gets enacted, all marriages won't be equal and all people won't be equal in the institution.
Now, I'm not one of those sticklers who thinks that every phrase that catches on has to be 100% accurate; if it catches on, it catches on. But when it's only around as part of a conscious effort to change the words that people use, it might as well be something that withstands basic scrutiny.
Third, it's not descriptive enough. Anyone who's not already in the know won't understand what it means. The phrase we choose is important in those personal conversations we're all supposed to be having about marriage, but I can only imagine what would happen if I were talking with someone completely unaware of the topic:
Alex: Hey, did you hear about that new marriage equality initiative in New York?
Other Person: Marriage equality? What the hell's that?
Alex: Gay marriage.
OP: Oh, ha, gay marriage. What was that other thing you called it? That was funny.
And so would end the great experiment of separating the "gay marriage" from the "gay."
Which brings me straight into reason number four, that it comes across as vaguely homophobic to me that some would try to separate the concepts of "gay" and "same-sex lovin'" from their calls for marriage.
I know, I know, that's been half the point of that movement so far, what with arguments like "It's not about sex, it's about love." It's almost as if the "marriage equality" people have already given in to the "That's so gay" people and accepted that "gay" has a negative connotation, so to use it would sully their pleas.
But the biggest reason, and I'll fess up to this one, is that "marriage equality" has become associated with a very specific kind of marriage advocate who generally sees marriage as not just the most important gay issue out there but the only gay issue out there, who doesn't see the fight for same-sex marriage as part of a larger movement to recognize non-heteronuclear family structures or expand the benefits associated with marriage to those who don't want to get same-sex or opposite-sex married, and who thinks that once marriage is won with a few other smaller pieces of legislation, it'll be time to close up shop and go home.
Yes, you're right, there's no reason it has to be associated with an insular and short-sighted gay rights politic, but if Wolfson can speak to the representations "same-sex marriage" has for millions of people he's never met, then I can definitely speak to my personal reactions to "marriage equality."
The thing is, there really isn't benefit to changing anyway. No matter how many times I've been told to use "marriage equality" by someone or another, I have yet to see any data supporting the fact that it's actually helped expand same-sex marriage (and if anyone knows of anything, please mention it in the comments!). It wouldn't be that hard to find, just poll a group of people and ask them if they support "gay marriage," another group asking them if they support "marriage equality," and maybe another one with the phrase "same-sex marriage" or "freedom to marry." See how the results differ.
Even Wolfson admits that "marriage equality" isn't the key to change:
Even without clear terminology always prevailing, people are getting it. Public support for marriage equality is growing faster than ever before. In just over 10 years, according to the Gallup poll, support for marriage equality has jumped almost 20 percentage points, while those against fairness decreased 15 percentage points in the same time period. Imagine the rate of progress we could see if people understood this not as creating "gay marriage," but, rather, ending the denial of the “freedom to marry” and letting couples committed to one another in life share the legal commitment of marriage.
20% increase in support? That's a lot with almost no one talking about "marriage equality." But we can't "imagine the rate of progress" if everyone used "marriage equality" because the parameter is so abstract and tangentially related to the things that have been influencing that change, like media representation, people coming out, etc., that the point seems moot.
And then there's the "We don't call it 'black marriage'" argument:
Fittingly, as we mark the 60th anniversary of that courageous court decision, other couples now stand before the same court which will hear argument on March 4, 2008. Those couples are not seeking "gay marriage," any more than Mrs. Perez sought "black marriage," or her husband sought "Latino marriage."
No, but people would generally refer to what she wanted as "interracial marriage," which violates the don't-put-an-adjective-in-front-of-marriage rule, and she got it well before the public was "ready" for it. So it isn't that important.
Whatever, I'll stick to "same-sex marriage" when discussing the issue until I find a compelling reason to change. It gets right to the point and is inclusive of bisexuals who might want in, and the alliteration is icing on that cake.