I like Rachel Maddow. I really do - I find her television show entertaining, I found her Air America radio broadcasts intellectually stimulating, and I generally think of her as a positive, vocal member of the gay community. But while reading the cover story feature on Maddow in the new issue of The Hollywood Reporter, I found myself confused. One section of the article discusses Maddow's reactions to some states' passage of marriage equality:
Maddow keeps an apartment in Manhattan, but she decamps to the solitude of Northampton, Mass. on weekends, where she lives with her girlfriend of 12 years, artist Susan Mikula, and Poppy, their black Labrador. The couple met in 1999 when Mikula hired Maddow to dig tree stumps out of her front yard. "It was love at first sight," says Maddow.
Gay marriage was legalized in Massachusetts in 2004, but Maddow says she and Mikula have no immediate wedding plans. "We know a lot of people who have gotten married but I don't think we feel any urgency about it."
Later she admits that she's actually ambivalent about the cultural impact of gay marriage.
"I feel that gay people not being able to get married for generations, forever, meant that we came up with alternative ways of recognizing relationships," she explains. "And I worry that if everybody has access to the same institutions that we lose the creativity of subcultures having to make it on their own. And I like gay culture."
The LGBT community of Maddow's generation is one that has only really begun to "win" legal relationship recognition in the last 10 years. Partners are in their thirties or forties, and they often began dating years earlier, when marriage equality was not even on the legal radar.
That's distinctly different from my generation. My gay and lesbian peers are in their early 20s, and they're beginning to enter more serious, long-term relationships. Marriage is no longer a hypothetical - no longer something that may be an option. That distinction provides a new way of framing our relationships, one where marriage is just as viable a choice as it is for our heterosexual peers.
My generation's realistic access to marriage isn't the only thing that's changed. I did the secret gay dating thing during my senior year of high school, yes, but I wasn't teased or picked on or labeled "queer" as a form of insult. I came out to my relatively conservative parents to little fanfare almost three years ago, and this summer I brought my boyfriend home to meet the even more conservative extended family - Grandmom and all! - without anyone even batting an eye (in fact, my aunt chose him as a Beer Pong partner and hugged him goodbye). My friends are mostly straight, but my references to being gay don't make them cringe, as I once feared they would.
Does the pervasive acceptance of homosexuality in my life translate to my personal erasure of gay culture?
Maddow's reflection makes me question: How important is this "gay subculture"? What does it even mean, and what purpose should it serve? Perhaps my inability to pinpoint the subculture is exactly the issue that she's talking about...
Let's return to the marriage discussion, one of the most clear-cut, legislative differences between same- and opposite-sex relationships. That distinction very well may not exist by the time my peers and I would even consider the idea of settling down.
I'm not saying that I'm personally going to pursue marriage as an endgame, and I don't view it as the pinnacle of what a happy, healthy relationship looks like. I've read the anti-marriage arguments - the idea that marriage is an unjust system that's little more than a contractual economic agreement - and I've been somewhat swayed.
But if I or other gay people my age were to marry, as I'm sure many eventually will, would that be so bad? Haven't decades of older members of the LGBT community been pushing for tolerance and acceptance and recognition partly so that future generations could have marriage as a legal option?
Would it mean that we'd be contributing to the destruction of alternative relationship recognition? Can't opposite-sex couples also champion alternative forms of relationship recognition?
Most importantly - and I ask this because I genuinely don't know the answer, not because I'd like to be flippant - on the community's road to "equality," is it contradictory to also desire a degree of separation, a maintaining of "the gay subculture"?