Father Tony

Should We Boycott Straight Weddings?

Filed By Father Tony | May 24, 2011 8:00 PM | comments

Filed in: Marriage Equality, The Movement
Tags: boycott, DOMA, gay marriage, heterosexual privilege, LGBT, opposite-sex weddings, Rick Benjamin, same-sex marriage, weddings

wedding2.jpg In his recent article in The New York Times, Not Going To The Chapel, Rich Benjamin makes his case for boycotting opposite-sex weddings until same-sex marriage is the law of the land. He says:

How utterly absurd to celebrate an institution that I am banned from in most of the country. It puzzles me, truth be told, that wedding invitations deluge me. Does a vegan frequent summer pig roasts? Do devout evangelicals crash couple-swapping parties? Do undocumented immigrants march in Minuteman rallies? Heterosexual ladies and gentlemen, please. Don't mail me that wedding invitation. It's going straight to the bin.

When I linked to the article on Facebook, the pro and con reactions were fascinating.

Californian Jeff Stork said: "I don't recognize opposite marriage and haven't since Prop. 8. I wished [Prince] William and Kate a pleasant Civil Union. I do not observe Anniversaries, either."

Texan Chris Blazier said, "Any good liberal who understands the concept of 'white privilege' should be able to see that heterosexuality also confers a nearly invisible privilege..."

I added: "We all remember the days when it was considered a personal 'victory' just to attend a wedding with your same-sex partner. This boycott seems to be a logical next step."

The wonderful Lynette Setzkorn, a straight married woman with countless gay friends and admirers, said, "I can't even imagine what my wedding would have been like without my gay friends there."

Brilliant New York philosopher/blogger Eric Patton opposed Benjamin's argument: "I don't agree. And his analogies are bad. Vegans don't want to eat pigs; Evangelicals (presumably) don't want to swap partners; and illegal immigrants are the specific target of the Minutemen. You can continue to celebrate and affirm your heterosexual friends" marriages (and I don't believe that marriage and having children is just a "lifestyle choice," but that makes me pre-modern, I realize) while fighting to join that institution."

My response to Eric was: "I think there is a difference between a vegan who wants to eat pig, a vegan who is obliged to watch others eat pig, a vegan who pays taxes that support pig-eating, and a vegan who wants the right to eat pig without ever intending to do so."

Jeff added: "Marriage bans pass because basically nice people are goaded into doing an evil thing without thinking of any consequence. This [boycott] allows them an opportunity to reflect on who they have hurt."

The venerable gentleman from New Jersey, Mark Kane, said: "I must say that I totally agree with the author and have been living my life accordingly for the last 20 years. When my then-partner of 15 years and I were called upon to attend a relative's third wedding, I had to explain that since my own 15-year relationship had never been so much as acknowledged, I really didn't think I would have much to contribute to their celebration. I haven't been to a heterosexual wedding since."

Bill Hawley, who blogs at Queer New York, said: "I can't get past this line: 'I'm not a gay-rights activist.' He's never done a damn thing to bring about marriage equality, but he thinks it's OK to insult his longtime friend who's in favor of equal rights for gays by blowing off his wedding. He's too busy to write a letter to his representatives demanding his right to wed; the only thing he's willing to do is lecture his friend - who has no problem with gay marriage! I completely agree with refusing to attend the marriage of an anti-gay-rights relative or acquaintance and letting that person have it over his stupidity and arrogance. But this guy is just an asshole."

New Yorker Scott Gorcey said: "I have practiced this boycott for years with case-by-case exceptions. It's not even about laws for me. It's about basic inequality in the social contract (which is reflected in the law in most states and by DOMA). This stuff is not selfless investment of time and money and well-wishes. Not really. Any straight person who takes part in a marriage celebration does so with the (perhaps unconscious) expectation of reciprocity. Not so for us. At least not where I come from. Yet the expectation that I will participate remains - Fuck that."

Projectors, what do you think? Here's the full Facebook thread.

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I don't believe most of our heterosexual friends and relations will become more supportive if we refuse to attend their celebrations - all we're going to do is hurt them, and drive wedges into our own relationships with them. I don't refuse to attend the birthday party of a friend's kid because I have no children of my own, I don't refuse to attend a First Communion party because I'm not Catholic... and I won't refuse to attend a wedding because I can't get married. That smacks more of sour grapes than it does sending a message.

Agreed wholeheartedly! Is the point of going to a wedding that someday you'll be reciprocated at your own? No; the point is to have fun and celebrate with friends and eat their food and dance your ass off with family or good friends or college roommates and catch up. If you remove yourself for that, telling yourself it will somehow teach those straight people (presumably your friends, who want the best for you, der) that you should be allowed the same privilege, you'll be high and lonely on your pedestal for probably no reason at all.

But, DrRandy -- and to be sure, I am not pushing the pro or con here, just pursuing the argument -- your example of First Communion and being Catholic doesn't hold water because if you wanted to become Catholic, no one could stop you. You have the right to become Catholic.

The analogy is flawed, and still not remedied by your own observations, Father Tony. The direct metaphor is "A person who does not believe in X, would not attend an event where X occurs". You are not being asked to attend (presumably) a wedding that entrenches the idea of heterosexual marriage-only, X being "anti-same sex marriage sentiment". If you were, they you have every right to boycott while remaining dignified. But in all likelihood, you are being asked by your pro-same-sex marriage friends to celebrate their union, something that--being pro-same-sex marriage--they would do for you, too.

The piss poor analogy Benjamin gives conflates celebrating heterosexual marriages with automatically endorsing discriminatory practices.

Many same-sex couples can't legally adopt, or both be considered the legal parents of a surrogate child. So are we also willing to pursue the argument that we should boycott the baby showers of our heterosexual friends? Should we likewise boycott Bring Your Child to Work Day? How about boycotting our heterosexual friends' children's birthdays?

All this does is hurt our friends, who are our allies. What this says is "I cannot get married, so I'll be damned if I celebrate that YOU can."

The only time this concept of a boycott makes any kind of sense is if we are being asked by our anti-gay marriage friends or family to celebrate their privilege. Something tells me that many of us won't find ourselves in those kinds of friendships.

I agree with DrRandy (and some of the other posters and people you reference in your piece) - boycotting straight weddings does more harm than good, especially if/when our friends and family support same-sex marriage. When the person getting married supports equality, what good does it do to refuse to participate in their happiness with them?

Kathy Padilla | May 24, 2011 9:04 PM

Hmmm....I haven't had any friends posit not attending same sex weddings or civil union ceremonies in places like MA, DE, CT, NH. Nor would I do so were friends or relatives having a ceremony. I think I'll still attend my nephews wedding this summer, thank you.

In the case of being invited to a marriage by someone who doesn't consider you equal - why would you want to attend even if you could marry? This is silly.

I find Rich annoying. We could use his help phone banking in New York more than we need his ridiculous op-ed on how he doesn't help in the fight for equal rights. This whole "I'm not going to attend straight people's weddings" is almost as foolish as people who say they won't get married until gay marriage becomes a reality. I get the message they're trying to convey but it's the calls and the political actions that we need that are going to make a difference. As Dr. Randy mentions above, heterosexuals will not suddenly become moved to mass action by their gay friends not attending their weddings. If anything, they'll simply be saving a couple dollars.

Refusing to pay taxes, now that's an action that is going to cause some zing!

I not only attend straight weddings, but I officiate them. Who am I to deny God's blessing on two people in love, no matter what their gender?

darksidecat | May 25, 2011 12:18 AM

Well, the last marriage in my immediate family or close friends was my brother's and I went. I also paid for the cake, though I did make some sarcastic remarks to my mother about the irony of the anti-marriage queer Marxist buying a wedding cake. However, I am not sure if I would have been as supportive under other circumstances. You see, my sister in law is from Columbia, and they got married while she was in the US on a visitor's visa (they met while she had a temporary work visa). So, not only was the marriage needed for immigration purposes, none of her family or friends from home could come. I was one of only about a dozen people she knew in the US, so I played nice and went along (I did the filming of the ceremony, which kept me from dealing with the awkward issue of a gendered role like "bridesmaid", but I did politely refuse to participate in "attempting to catch the bouquet").

But I think that the larger issue is that traditional heternormative lifestyle milestones are centered and elevated over other ways of living and being. It isn't just the same sex marriage ban, it is the underlying social attitudes that lead to such a ban and how they related to this institution. Marriage is seen as precious, special, and better-that is a problem in and of itself.

I'm in the wedding party for one of my best friends next year. The whole thing is essentially meaningless to me. Everything that I'll be doing is to support her in what she wants. It's not only being gay, but being single and nowhere near ready for a lifelong commitment that makes me feel disconnected from the meanings of marriage and weddings. However, her wedding day isn't about me. It's also in a Catholic church, and as a gay atheist who hates that the Catholic Church harbors abusers, I'll be standing up for my friend.

I'm a little disappointed that you also didn't mention potentially boycotting gay marriages until there is an end to LGBT homelessness, Job discrimination, discrimination from within the community towards other groups in the community, plus probably a whole laundry list of other things that I'm sure many others find more important then putting the cart before the horse.

And to go a step further, non trans gay people have housing and job protections in New York State (and pretty much threw trans people under the bus to get them) so should trans people in that state not work for gay-owned firms or support gay specific rights? Are gay people refusing to live in areas where black people basically can't rent or buy housing... are gay people boycotting taxis in NYC because black people are often refused cab service?

Thank you for this Amy and Gina. These arguments are much more useful for me than the others that kind of defend straight people. I think Rich Benjamin is being a big brat and not recognizing all the systems he happily or unconsciously takes advantage of that excludes others. The whole system is f****d and we all have to or are positioned to play into it in varying ways so why make things weird with your friends... just ask them to recognize their privilege in some way (and if they care about you they will... although I know a lot of people who have tried this with their siblings (myself included) and get "this is our day we don't want to make it political"), get drunk and eat delicious food jeez

I think it depends on who is getting married. When my right wing niece got married, I used the excuse of our nixed nuptials to beg off. When I know the person fully supports our rights, it's not a big deal.

Exactly. And how many of these boycotters would feel ashamed if at the wedding, their pro-same sex marriage heterosexual friends actually set up a fund requesting donations to support marriage equality? What if every time a congratulatory relative or friend made a remark about "normal marriage" or "sanctity" symbolized by their union, they corrected them and told them that they believed ALL people should be free to marry, regardless of sexual orientation?

Benjamin's article discusses passivity and how his poor friend Zach is just another passive agent in this discriminatory political battlefield. But the friends I have are NOT like that (if Zach even is). The friends I have recognize their privilege and speak out and advocate against discrimination. And it's because of that that I am more than happy to celebrate their union.

Dear Luminum, To reframe your response: activism should be conditional. It should be aimed at some people (the bad guys) and it should involve some actions but not others (no boycottings, but setting up a fund requesting donations at a straight marriage is okay. What is interesting in this discussion is what is not being said: would the folks who dislike the idea of boycotting straight weddings also be those who dislike ACT-UP and Dan Choi. Are they the folks who never raise their voices in civil disobedience? Or are they folks who are usually rabid in their defense of LGBT rights - except when it hits them in their own backyard and takes the wedding cake out of their mouths? Are these the folks who like only convenient activism?

Frankly, this assumes that the idea of "no one get married!" is a meaningful form of activism at all. As I discussed above, it's about as meaningful for straight people to decide not to get married until same-sex couples have the same rights as it is for straight people to choose not to adopt or have children until same-sex couples have the same rights. It's a nice show of solidarity, but I want my straight friends to get married and have children if they want to.

Should I also expect for them not to give blood or be organ donors, too?

Apparently the litmus test of being sufficient enough of an activist is self-denial, and worse, the expectation of others is self-denial. It simultaneously smacks of selfishness demanding that others necessarily champion causes that quite frankly, are a matter of choice in the multitude of causes that exist in the socio-political realm. Sure you may support marriage equality, but I don't think you support it ENOUGH. And quite frankly, short of being queer and wanting same-sex marriage for one's self and one's partner, I doubt any heterosexual could ever be definitively invested "enough" (will anyone outside of any minority ever be invested as personally as a member of the minority?). It's a no-win situation, that sets up every heterosexual ally to be considered "not good enough" in some way. No, better to group them all together, the heterosexual allies and enemies, and punish them all with our "message".

The way Zach responds to Rich is exactly what it is--Rich politicizing Zach's marriage. Rich accuses his friend of being thoughtless and tacitly supporting the inequalities between them. He accuses Zach of making a political statement, when in fact, there is no political statement (...insofar as any of us can tell, anyway. Who knows, maybe Zach doesn't give a rat's ass about same-sex marriage. Maybe he's actively against it. Maybe he's rabidly for same-sex marriage.) Zach points out that Rich is essentially conflating his decision to enter into a legal union with his partner with some political acceptance of the status quo.

It spins "marriage" as an inherently discriminatory institution, one that if accessed, necessitates compliance with its discriminatory requirements.

But if you believe that, then you've already conceded the fight over what marriage "is" to the other side. It means that you agree that marriage is a social contract between one man and one woman; you've accepted their terms. Rather than working to rebuff their definition because it is incorrect, you concede that in fact you are trying to actually redefine marriage. Sure it may be because you want to redefine it to be morally just, but you've surrendered the home turf of their definition of "history" to them. And that's exactly what the other side has always tried to portray our efforts as.

But if you believe that marriage is something accessible to all as a "next step" of further commitment to a relationship and so does the couple, a boycott is illogical because what you are abstaining from has nothing to do with what it keeping us from being viewed as equal citizens. What they are celebrating is the "true" definition of marriage and not the definition touted by bigots. They are just able to access it now, while we cannot.

In my view then, celebrating the marriage of my two pro-equality heterosexual friends anywhere is the same as celebrating the marriage of my two homosexual friends in CT, VT, DC, IA, MA or NH. Because I live in a country where I cannot be legally married to my partner, should I boycott the heterosexual wedding I was invited to? Because I live in a state where I can't be legally married to my partner, should I boycott the same-sex wedding I was invited to in MA where there IS marriage equality? Or what if I was invited to a heterosexual wedding that takes place in MA? Should I boycott that? Should queer people living in MA boycott straight weddings in-state and out of state? Or just out of state? The logic behind why one should boycott, as outlined by Rich Benjamin, fails to hold water.

Exactly. And how many of these boycotters would feel ashamed if at the wedding, their pro-same sex marriage heterosexual friends actually set up a fund requesting donations to support marriage equality? What if every time a congratulatory relative or friend made a remark about "normal marriage" or "sanctity" symbolized by their union, they corrected them and told them that they believed ALL people should be free to marry, regardless of sexual orientation?

Benjamin's article discusses passivity and how his poor friend Zach is just another passive agent in this discriminatory political battlefield. But the friends I have are NOT like that (if Zach even is). The friends I have recognize their privilege and speak out and advocate against discrimination. And it's because of that that I am more than happy to celebrate their union.

Exactly. And how many of these boycotters would feel ashamed if at the wedding, their pro-same sex marriage heterosexual friends actually set up a fund requesting donations to support marriage equality? What if every time a congratulatory relative or friend made a remark about "normal marriage" or "sanctity" symbolized by their union, they corrected them and told them that they believed ALL people should be free to marry, regardless of sexual orientation?

Benjamin's article discusses passivity and how his poor friend Zach is just another passive agent in this discriminatory political battlefield. But the friends I have are NOT like that (if Zach even is). The friends I have recognize their privilege and speak out and advocate against discrimination. And it's because of that that I am more than happy to celebrate their union.

How about protesting divorce proceedings.

Ted Hayes Ted Hayes | May 25, 2011 11:10 AM

"Do devout evangelicals crash couple-swapping parties?" Hey, they're probably the ones throwing them!

I got married on a loophole - my erroneous birth certificate assigned me as male, which means that I could legally marry a woman in New York. I have friends who cross the border into Connecticut to get merried, and they're legally married in NEw York (because while New Yorks court of appeals has held that we can't have gender-neutral marriages officiated here until the legislature acts, it has also recognized (at least in some circumstances) that since New York does not have a maxi- or mini-DOMA, it will give full faith and credit to gender neutral marriages from out of state. (Our wedding ceremony, while it was beautiful, meaningful, drew from Christian and Jewish traditions and was performed at a U/U/ church, also served as a political platform - we had our state senator among the just over 100 in attendance, and she underscored her understanding of just how absurd the current law is.)

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