Same-sex weddings: Challenging (and carrying on) tradition

—Karen M. Dunak

Same-sex couples, finding marriage now a legally recognized option, may move deliberately toward the world of weddings. In the aftermath of the DOMA decision, many observers (myself included) have speculated about the potential payday such celebrations may yield for the wedding industry. But this assumption, to some degree, assumes that queer weddings will follow the format of straight weddings. In reality, however, the gay couples face endless possibilities when it comes to their styles of celebration. And the New York Times chronicles that with this article, “Free to Marry, and Not Bound by Rites.”

There are so many smart points made in this article – I encourage everyone to read it. And there are so many great, quotable lines. I’ll limit myself to this one:

Mr. Solomon wrote in an e-mail that he and Mr. Habich “wanted to have a wedding that echoed the weddings of our parents and of others,” but without parroting heterosexual customs. “Everything traditional was nontraditional simply because we were both men,” he said of their civil ceremony, which was followed by Christian and Jewish ceremonies. “The more of a ‘wedding’ it was, the more revolutionary it was.”

YES. This is a major point I make in my book As Long as We Both Shall LoveFor those who critique marriage as a conservative goal and the celebration of a wedding as a mark of conformity, when a couple (two men or two women) who looks nothing like the expected couple (one man and one woman) take on these alleged hallmarks of conformity, they are immediately challenged and thereby robbed of their conformity.

The gist of the article is that same-sex couples have the opportunity to celebrate in as traditional or as non-traditional a style as they wish. Of course, I argue that couples – not just same-sex couples – have been doing this for years. The tradition that gay couples will carry on in their celebrations is the larger postwar wedding tradition of couples using the wedding to communicate their views of love, marriage, and partnership.

Karen M. Dunak is Assistant Professor of History at Muskingum University in New Concord, Ohio. She is the author of As Long as We Both Shall Love: The White Wedding in Postwar America (NYU Press, 2013).

[This piece originally appeared on the author's blog here.]

The secret history of gay marriage

Excerpted from As Long as We Both Shall Love: The White Wedding in Postwar America by Karen M. Dunak.

On October 10, 1987, nearly 7,000 people witnessed a wedding on the National Mall in Washington, DC. Men and women cheered and threw rice and confetti as family, friends, and community members took part in the largest mass wedding in American history. After the celebrants exchanged rings and were pronounced newlywed, guests released hundreds of balloons into the air. Brides and grooms, dressed in formal wedding attire, cried and embraced after an “emotional and festive” ceremony. Like so many brides and grooms, participants identified the wedding day as one of the happiest, most meaningful days of their lives.

But this was no ordinary wedding. And these were not typical brides and grooms. This wedding held special significance for its participants. Beyond the “mass” nature of the celebration, something else was unique. The newlyweds that fall Saturday paired off as brides and brides, grooms and grooms. “The Wedding,” as it came to be known, marked the symbolic beginning of nearly 2,000 same-sex marriages. Rejecting the idea that a wedding—and by implication, a marriage—should have one male and one female participant, the grooms and their grooms, the brides and their brides presented a striking picture.A wedding, a fairly conventional affair, became a site of radical protest. Layered in meaning, “The Wedding” celebrated the personal commitments of those being wed. At the same time, it was a direct political act that challenged the legal, religious, and social barriers against same-sex relationships. Like couples before them, gay men and lesbians found they could use their weddings to make a statement about the world and the place of their relationship in it.

Designed to reflect an alternative approach to love and marriage, “The Wedding,” part of the 1987 March on Washington for Gay and Lesbian Rights, rejected the narrow definition of marriage that limited the relationship to members of the opposite sex. “The Wedding” likewise rejected a narrow view of the standard wedding celebration. Dina Bachelor, metaphysical minister, hypnotherapist, and “Wedding” officiant, designed a new-age style ceremony. Bachelor recognized the uniqueness of the celebration and chose her words and actions carefully. Standing under a swaying arch of silver, white, and black balloons, Bachelor omitted any mention of the customary “honor and obey, till death do us part.” Including observers in the celebration, she asked witnesses to join hands and encircle the celebrants. For participants, “The Wedding” was not about fitting into a pre-arranged style. Instead, it was about expanding the celebration to include various approaches to marriage and family. Like alternative wedding celebrants of the 1960s and 1970s, same-sex partners recognized the flexibility of the wedding and used the celebration to express their views about life and love. Bachelor likewise noted the celebration’s significance and concluded the event by stating, “It matters not who we love, only that we love.”

Gay community leaders emphasized the political component of the celebration. Drawing on the activist view that the personal was political, the public pronouncement and celebration of a long-ridiculed personal lifestyle served as the ultimate political statement.Those present rejected the shame associated with their relationships and proved that many same-sex couples shared long-term, committed relationships. Courageously displaying their individual love and their membership in a community of likeminded gay men and lesbians, “Wedding” participants did not demand a social inclusion marked by assimilation or guarded emotions. Rather, they demanded full acceptance of their lifestyle and relationship choices. Reverend Troy Perry, a minister evicted from the Pentecostal Church of God for his own homosexuality and founder of the Universal Fellowship of Metropolitan Community Churches, spoke to this desire for openness and acceptance as he rallied his congregants with a shout of “Out of the closets and into the chapels!”

Hosting “The Wedding” in front of the Internal Revenue Service’s building was a symbolic choice meant to protest the tax office’s refusal to accept taxes jointly filed by same-sex couples. As activist Sue Hyde recalled, couples participated in “The Wedding” “both to protest discrimination against them and to celebrate their love and commitment to each other.” Challenging conventional views of family and marriage, groom and “Wedding” organizer Carey Junkin of Los Angeles echoed “The Wedding’s” official slogan when he said, “Love makes a family, nothing else.” Adding his own sentiment, he stated, “We won’t go back.” Marriages celebrated that day held no legal standing, but that did not diminish the emotional impact of the event. The community of couples who wed accomplished their political objective by making their private relationships part of the political discourse. The very public, very political event demanded recognition of the legitimacy of the relationship between two brides or two grooms.

As for “The Wedding” participants (composed of more male than female couples, suggesting an ongoing discomfort with weddings and marriage among politically active feminists), they expressed warm praise for the celebration, as well as a sense of anger that any members of the gay or lesbian community would criticize their decision to wed. Dressed in suits, tuxedos, and wedding gowns, albeit with little regard for normative notions of gender, the celebrants saw the day as an important turning point in their lives and relationships. Despite their unorthodox appearances, many participants noted that they would have been comfortable with an even more “traditional” ceremony. The only registered disappointment pertained to the desire that the ceremony might have been more explicit in regard to monogamy or couples’ exclusivity. The mass “Wedding” was not intended to replicate heterosexual marital relationships or wedding celebrations, but the importance given the celebration and the desire for expression of personal preference—be it for a more or even less traditional form than the ceremony before the IRS—hinted at possible similarities between same-sex weddings and their opposite-sex counterparts.

While “The Wedding” looked unlike the individual white weddings celebrated by heterosexual couples, the event incorporated familiar elements of the wedding ceremony. Most participants wore some sort of special dress; an authority figured presided over the celebration; and guests bore witness to the event. The relationships may have seemed atypical or strange in the eyes of the mainstream observer, but there could be no question as to what had transpired that October day. The familiarity of the wedding served as a valuable political tool even as it fulfilled the personal desires of same-sex couples who wished to share their lives together. For a population who had the option— admittedly the very unpleasant option—of invisibility, the choice to make public the intimacies of private life was a political statement in and of itself.

Same-sex weddings transcended the “difference vs. accommodation” debates often raised in subcultural groups and hotly contested within the queer community.8 In the years following the celebration of “The Wedding,” gay men and lesbians expressed a blend of intentions and motivations with their celebrations. The flexibility of the wedding, continually tested by the heterosexual marrying population in the decades since World War II, likewise served the personal as well as the political objectives of queer couples. Moving from the mass to the individual, weddings legitimated and celebrated relationships that had long been deemed wrong or strange and had thus been cloaked in secrecy. Such celebrations allowed men and women to celebrate their private lives in a public style and with the sanction of chosen and accepting family and community members. By publicly celebrating their relationships, queers challenged a political system that refused to recognize their right to wed.

Like the weddings of those before them, the white weddings hosted by same-sex couples in the 1990s and in the early years of the new century seemingly adhered to a standardized form of celebration. The similarity between opposite-sex and same-sex events, of course, was noticeable in the continued reliance on a wedding industry and adherence to wedding norms: formal dress, recitation of vows, and elaborate receptions. On the surface, this suggested a kind of queer accommodation to the standard form. Even though a gay couple might purchase a cake topper that featured two grooms, the couple still purchased a cake topper. The prerequisites of a wedding had tremendous staying power. But same-sex couples shaped their weddings in ways specific to their relationships and cultural identifications. Ceremonial alteration and amendment, whether slight or pronounced, reflected the beliefs and desires of same-sex couples.

Queer couples, like other brides and grooms, negotiated tensions created by family, cost, and the overall wedding planning procedure. Unlike heterosexual couples, same-sex brides and grooms challenged existing authority in the very act of celebrating a wedding. Couples celebrated the communities from which they came, to which they currently belonged, and those they created, if only for their weddings. They exerted individual authority over their ceremonies not only in their selection of music, dress, and wedding style, but also in their very direct rejection of a legal system that denied them access to the rights and privileges of marriage. They publicly celebrated relationships long denied public recognition. Weddings could be and could say whatever the celebrating couples wished. As various states began to recognize same-sex marriages, acceptance of same-sex unions extended even beyond the queer community. Weddings both affirmed the political victory achieved by those who had long advocated on behalf of equal rights and marked the triumph of personalization in American wedding culture.

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The men behind the March: Randolph and Rustin together again

Bayard Rustin (right) with A. Phillip Randolph on the cover of Life magazine, September 6, 1963—Cynthia Taylor

With the 50th anniversary of the1963 March on Washington demonstration in the media’s spotlight, and especially of its heavy emphasis on Martin Luther King’s “I Have a Dream” speech, this light has also shined on the real strategic planners and originators of the actual 1963 March: A. Philip Randolph and Bayard Rustin. Together, Randolph and Rustin made an indefatigable team of seasoned civil rights activists that enabled Dr. King’s now famous speech to be remembered so vividly fifty years later.

Through the media attention on this anniversary, it has been gratifying to once again see the cover of Life magazine (September 6, 1963) with Randolph and Rustin standing in front of the Lincoln Memorial. At the time of the March, most Americans had viewed these two men as the real stars of the occasion. The 1963 March for Jobs and Freedom was actually the realization of their long-time “dream” to have a dramatic and peaceful demonstration that emphasized the need of all black Americans for economic opportunities and jobs, as well as the more elusive ideal of freedom.

At the time of Randolph’s death in 1979, Rustin described his relationship with Randolph in a variety of ways: father, uncle, adviser, and defender. Yet, Randolph’s and Rustin’s civil rights collaboration got off to a shaky start. As a leader in the youth division of the original March on Washington Movement, Rustin publicly criticized Randolph for calling off the first march scheduled for July 1, 1941. After the war, in 1948, Randolph and Rustin worked together again on a civil disobedience league called the “Committee to End ‘Jim Crow” in the Armed Services.”

When Randolph disbanded the league after President Truman issued Executive Order 9981 which eventually led to the desegregation of the services, Rustin recalled how “a number of ‘Young Turks’ and I decided to outflank Mr. Randolph,” denouncing him in the black press as “an Uncle Tom, a sellout, a reactionary, and an old fogey out of touch with the times.” Afraid that Randolph would not forgive his “treachery,” Rustin avoided Randolph for two years. When Rustin finally mustered the courage to visit Randolph in his New York office, he described the renewal of their friendship in this way:

As I was ushered in, there he was, distinguished and dapper as ever, with arms outstretched, waiting to greet me, the way he had done a decade ago.  Motioning me to sit down with that same sweep of his arm, he looked at me, and in a calm, even voice, said: ‘Bayard, where have you been? You know that I have needed you.’

From then on, Randolph and Rustin worked together as the key architects of the modern civil rights movement of the 1950s and 1960s. In 1953, after an incident in Pasadena California when Rustin, an openly gay man, was busted on a morals charge of sexual misconduct, Randolph stood by him and without his friendship, support and considerable influence, Rustin might have been completely ostracized from the civil rights community. Randolph declared “if the fact is, he is homosexual, maybe we need more of them; he’s so talented.”

In 1956, Randolph and Rustin, along with Ella Baker and Stanley Levison, formed an organization called “In Friendship,” a fundraising group committed to providing “economic aid to victims of race terror in the South,” especially for supporters of the Montgomery bus boycott.  The group agreed that Rustin, with his extensive experience in nonviolent techniques, could best evaluate the situation in the early days of the boycott. In his brief time there, Rustin worked effectively with the young and inexperienced boycott leader, Martin Luther King. Behind the scenes, Rustin advised Dr. King with his speeches and sat in on many of the boycott’s strategy meetings. Both Randolph and Rustin threw their considerable influence behind King’s emergent leadership of the newest phase of civil rights activity, as Rustin believed “from the Montgomery bus boycott in 1955, for the next two years following to May 1957, [the three year anniversary of the Brown decision] the center of gravity and the center of activity for the whole civil rights movement was the church people and ministers of the south.”

Between 1957 and 1963, this newly formed Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC), joined forces with the NAACP, and various labor and working-class groups linked to A. Philip Randolph and other labor leaders to make civil rights history, culminating in the spectacular success of the peaceful August 28, 1963 March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom.

By 1963, A. Philip Randolph was nearing the end of his long years of labor and civil rights activism. In his final tribute to Randolph, Rustin remembered their historic collaboration of that day in the following way:

As the assembly slowly dispersed from the Lincoln Memorial, Rustin saw the tired ‘old gentleman’ standing alone on the podium, looking out on the departing crowds.  As Rustin walked up to Randolph, he was surprised to find ‘tears streaming down his cheeks’ the first time he had even seen Randolph show his emotions.  Indeed, Randolph was so overcome with the power of that one-day event, in which the black community and the white liberal community came together in their demand for equal treatment under the law, that he ‘could not hold back his feelings.’

How great that the 50th anniversary of the March has brought two forgotten heroes behind the movement, back into public memory.

Cynthia Taylor teaches American history and religion in the school of Art, Humanities and Social Sciences at Dominican University of California. She is the author of A. Philip Randolph: The Religious Journey of an African American Labor Leader (NYU Press, 2005).

It’s bigger than hip-hop

—Andreana Clay

Last weekend, I taught a course at the Center for Research and Education on Gender and Sexuality (CREGS) on the ethical dilemmas related to fieldwork with LGBTQ youth of color.  As often happens because of the title of my book, The Hip-Hop Generation Fights Back, the conversation, inevitably, turned to hip-hop—and, specifically, how to talk to teenagers about the misogyny, homophobia, and sexism associated with hip-hop. This is a conversation with which I’m quite familiar and have quick answers to, sort of. My stock answer is to not confuse hip-hop as the only misogynist/sexist/homophobic culture we’ve got going on in the U.S. It’s a subset of popular culture in general, and American culture more broadly.

But that answer doesn’t often satisfy.

No, most folks (particularly those of us that work with youth) are quick to defend their stance that hip-hop itself is much more homophobic, sexist, and misogynist. Hip-hop and hip-hop alone. And this, for me, is where the confusion (and frustration) lies.

I don’t disagree that rap music, which is what people are usually targeting as oneaspect of hip-hop, can be all of these things. And I’m not defending homophobic and misogynist lyrics. In fact, like other hip-hop feminists, I have an ongoing, staunch critique against them. But to think that hip-hop is all of these things is often the easy answer: it’s a quick way to write it off, to criticize it, and to then rejoice when a rapper like Macklemore comes along to “call that out.”  You know, because no one else within hip-hop has done so before. But, folks might assume this to be true only if they have little understanding of what hip-hop really is.


I’m not going to talk much about Macklemore and “Same Love,” here, as Karen Tongson sums up much of what I think about it, the overall flow, the stance it takes, and the role it is supposed to play in a critical and much-read blog post. If you haven’t yet, you should read it—it’s part of the reason I was asked to gear my solicited writing of this Pride month post toward Tongon’s post, the subsequent response and her response to the response.

But, in addition to the sonic critique, I’m also interested in Macklemore and everyone else, for that matter, painting himself as a savior and calling out, what he believes, is the stereotypical homophobia in hip-hop. Drawing on his frustrations with the genre and the “need for accountability,” I might be able to get behind this stance a little more if Macklemore and his fans, including Ellen Degeneres, didn’t act like this was the first time hip-hop launched this critique.

This may the first rap by a straight ally to explicitly come out in support of “same love,” but the overwhelming support of Macklemore and this song completely ignores—how many times do I have to say it?—queer hip-hop.

DJ Invincible anyone? Deep Dick Collective? Yo Majesty? Or, even the more popular Goddess and She? And, if we take it outside of simply rap and look at the entire genre of hip-hop, which if they’d take the time to actually explore it as a genre, folks might recognize others who have critiqued not only homophobia, but the misogyny and sexism that some rappers choose to spew. For instance, how quickly we forget that when Frank Ocean declared his love for another man last year, Russell Simmons, Busta Rhymes, and others come out in support of Ocean.

Or what about Kanye West? Say what you will about him in other respects, but in 2005—nearly a decade ago—he declared his support for his openly gay cousin, friends close to him and a larger queer community in his plea for his fellow rappers to cut out homophobia. The next year, filmmaker Byron Hurt’s love letter to hip-hop “Beyond Beats and Rhymes” decisively took on hip-hop, homophobia, and misogyny (which Macklemore espouses, but from what I’ve seen, fails to do) by actually having a conversation with rappers, producers, and members of the hip-hop generation, LGBTQ folks included. And, given that rap and other aspects of hip-hop ultimately comes down to performance, we can even draw on the queer presence in hip-hop dating back to Queen Latifah, MC Lyte, and Me’shell Ndegeocello, who inserted a swift critique of misogyny and homophobia simply by their presence. Not to mention hip-hop journalists dream Hampton, Davey D and Greg Tate who have long provided a space for critique by directly challenging homophobia and sexism in their writing.

Am I making my point? Or, do I also have to mention those of us queer people of color who have been committed to hip-hop since the beginnings, etching our way into the scene when there wasn’t a place—at clubs, house parties, concerts, and in our headphones. Knowing that there were something larger there, something representative of us without, perhaps, explicitly saying so. Like everything else we navigate everyday, including the LGBTQ(IA) community. And by the way, where’s the switch off? We are in the middle of a major media criminalization of murder victim Trayvon Martin, a member of the hip-hop generation. Where’s the calling out of the violence directed at young Black men—yes, sometimes present in hip-hop—by our allies, which includes the LGBTQ community? The arrow goes both ways.

It’s long been time to expand this discussion of hip-hop, homophobia, and misogyny that we so heavily rely on and point to. Because the conversation, the solution, is really much, much bigger.

Andreana Clay is Associate Professor of Sociology at San Francisco State University and author of The Hip-Hop Generation Fights Back: Youth, Activism, and Post-Civil Rights Politics (NYU Press, 2012).

Thrilled, but still uneasy about living in a Bible Belt state

—Bernadette Barton

I am excited and happy about the Supreme Court decisions ruling DOMA unconstitutional and overturning Prop 8. Since Prop 8 was dismissed on standing, this means gay people can get married in California, but it does not automatically overturn all the other state marriage bans. Like many folks, I watched the Supreme Court decisions roll out on Facebook in a sea of red profile equality signs accompanying status updates about first DOMA and then Prop 8.

A former student of mine messaged me while the decisions were unfolding that he was getting hate mail on Facebook for posting his happiness that DOMA was ruled unconstitutional. My partner, Anna, elated, texted me all morning yesterday. In one she wrote, “If we were married, I think we could actually file our taxes together come next April!” Attorney friends earnestly explain what it all means for us in short Facebook posts. The Human Rights Campaign declares that “30% of Americans now live in states with marriage equality.” But Anna and I live in a Bible Belt state and are not included among the 30%. I try to shrug off my uneasiness. Nothing and everything has changed.

While I am distracted by my apprehension about living in a Bible Belt state, I tell myself to focus on the concrete. Issues of gay rights are progressing at a galloping pace – excellent! I will be celebrating in the oldest gay bar in Lexington with some of my closest friends, kicking off our Pride week celebration with a drag show – fun!  And this revolution will include lots of dancing.

Bernadette Barton is Professor of Sociology and Women’s Studies at Morehead State University in Morehead, Kentucky. She is the author of Stripped: Inside the Lives of Exotic Dancers (NYU Press, 2006) and Pray the Gay Away: The Extraordinary Lives of Bible Belt Gays, (NYU Press, 2012).

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Altar-ed Expectations

—Suzanna Danuta Walters

So the verdict is in and the celebrations have begun. Striking down the odious Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA), and allowing the challenge to Prop 8 to stand so Californians can get married, is simply the right thing to do. As I listen to the coverage, I can’t help but be caught up in the excitement, even as my feminist resistance to the marriage mania remains unassailable. As a lesbian who came out in another era, I couldn’t have imagined it happening and, more importantly, I couldn’t imagine the more generalized shift in public attitudes towards gays.

But some of the language of the pundits and celebrants reminds me of why I’ve been so frustrated at the centrality of marriage to the gay rights movement. We are being told this decision makes us “more equal,” and our families “more legitimate.” That this is the culmination of the long march of progress and we just need to get those other states to kick in and we’ll live in a happy rainbow world of official homolove.

But love is not more legitimate or good or valuable if the state makes it official, and garnering a basic victory is not the same as making the world a more genuinely amenable place for sexual difference. Girlfriend, listen up: this is a simple civil right that we shouldn’t even have to fight for, a right to enter a kinda problematic institution that was historically rooted in ownership and gender inequity. Put that on your wedding cake.

Marriage rights are not synonymous with full citizenship or true belonging. So as I listen to the victory speeches I have a smile on my face, but I also hear the voices of my friends who have pledged that we will not take part in this rush to the altar. I hear the voices of the poor, the disenfranchised, the gays of color for whom marriage is hardly the golden egg or prized victory.

I am sickened—again and again—by the wedding industry that bilks billions out of those who need these resources for health care and housing and everyday life. I shudder at the resources (both of the movement and of individuals getting married) that go into this industry, while HIV/AIDS remains a national crisis. I am reminded, again, of the vexed history of this institution and its stubbornly gendered and racialized parameters. And coming as this does on the heels of the despicable gutting of the Voting Rights Act, well, that makes this victory more than a little bittersweet. Don’t get me wrong, I’ll drink some champagne even if I won’t rush to the altar. But let’s not imagine that this is all we can imagine.

Suzanna Danuta Walters is the Director of Women’s, Gender, and Sexuality Studies at Northeastern University and the author of All the Rage: The Story of Gay Visibility in America and the forthcoming The Tolerance Trap: Moving Gay Rights Beyond Acceptance (forthcoming from NYU Press, 2014).

Queers and class

—Lisa Henderson

This Pride Month, let’s think about queers and social class.  The recent report, A Broken Bargain: Discrimination, Fewer Benefits, and More Taxes for LGBT Workers makes clear that even if same sex marriage were supported by the Supreme Court, we’re a long way from what political writer Scott Tucker calls the “equality of kinship.”  Equal kinship would mean a fair distribution of money, laws, and other resources to enable people to choose and sustain the relationships we need and want.

Meanwhile, for 40 years gay activism has taken shape amid a period of wealth inequity that would make 19th century robber barons blush.  The upshot?  Queers are at an economic disadvantage, with little economic voice among power brokers.

The good news is that queer history in the United States speaks to friendships and political work across class lines. Love and Money: Queers, Class, and Cultural Production returns to those stories and histories to offer a spirited ideological alternative to the idea that queers have made it when we, too, can discriminate economically in league with heterosexuals.

Queer Americans do talk about social class, if you listen, and organize through such groups as Queers for Economic Justice and the Sylvia Rivera Law Project. Queer class solidarity has begun again—something to celebrate and support this June.

Lisa Henderson is Professor of Communication and Chair of the Department of Communication at the University of Massachusetts Amherst. She is the author of Love and Money: Queers, Class, and Cultural Production (NYU Press, 2013).

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On the uneasiness of living in a Bible Belt state

—Bernadette Barton

Some possible outcomes for the upcoming Supreme Court rulings.

Like many gay Americans, I am waiting, slightly breathless for the Supreme Court rulings on DOMA and Prop 8.  The Human Rights Campaign recently laid out an elegant graphic explaining all the potential outcomes of the cases.  As a resident of Kentucky, a state which passed an anti-gay marriage amendment in 2004 and still lacks statewide employment and housing non-discrimination protections even though “83% of Kentuckians believe that gay and transgender people should be protected from discrimination in the workplace, in housing, and in public accommodations” according to a 2011 telephone survey, the only way I will be personally affected is if Prop 8 is ruled unconstitutional and the court also overturns all the state marriage bans.

A native of Massachusetts, I have lived in Kentucky for the past 21 years.  From 2006-2012, I researched and wrote Pray the Gay Away: The Extraordinary Lives of Bible Belt Gays, a book that explores the intersection of conservative Christianity and homosexuality from the perspective of gay people from Bible Belt.  In addition to collecting the stories of Bible Belt gays, I had many personal encounters with conservative Christians and experienced first-hand their influence in the region.  For example, I joined a Curves in 2003 and battled weekly whether or not to ask the manager to change the Christian music playlist during my work-outs.

While writing Pray the Gay Away I never doubted my choice to live in Kentucky.  Faculty jobs were scarce and becoming scarcer, and the university community seemed to me to be comparably progressive across the United States.  Bible Belt gays are often framed as victims, a myth I work hard to dispel in Pray the Gay Away, and a common question interviewers ask me is: “Why don’t they move?”  The assumption underlying this question is that certain geographic areas (the rural, the southern, the red) are uniformly hostile to sexual minorities, and the obvious answer to this is for such folks to move.  But, the rural, the southern, and the red states are more complex than such an assumption allows, and the ties keeping a Bible Belt gay in a region lacking institutional protections are numerous –family roots, partners, jobs, not to mention many folks’ personal preferences simply to live in less crowded, hectic areas.

Over the past several years, completely immersed in understanding the lives of Bible Belt gays and portraying them with compassion, I noted gay marriage victories trickle down in other places: Massachusetts (2004), Connecticut (2008), Iowa (2009), New Hampshire and Vermont (2009).  Then, in 2012, as I was wrapping up Pray the Gay Away, the first sitting president, Barack Obama, announced his support of same-sex marriage and several other states (Maryland, Maine, Minnesota and Delaware) legalized same-sex marriage.

Watching all this rapid change from my home in Kentucky, my world began to feel a little bleaker.  While issues of rights for gay Kentuckians had not exactly gone backwards (though the Kentucky General Assembly did pass a “Freedom of Religion” Bill in the Spring of 2013 that may undermine civil rights protections for gay people), our line of progress has flattened.  At the same time, for gay people in other parts of the country, the line is peaking rapidly.  Thus, the gap between these lines – for example, institutional rights and protections for gay people living in Minnesota versus Kentucky – is sharply widening, and this makes me feel a little uneasy about my choice to live in the Bible Belt.

So I wait for the Supreme Court decisions, and wonder how the outcome will shape the landscape of gay rights.  Will we become even more fixedly two Americas for gay people: one that supports its gay residents, and one that continues to push gay people into the toxic closet?  If so, have I chosen the wrong America? I poke at my uneasiness like picking a scab.  On the one hand, I appreciate being on the front lines of social change, and believe my voice is useful serving first generation college students from Eastern Kentucky.  On the other, I contemplate the possibility that, relative to my gay peers in other places, I am living in a less hospitable place and this observation sits uncomfortably upon me.

Bernadette Barton is Professor of Sociology and Women’s Studies at Morehead State University in Morehead, Kentucky. She is the author of Stripped: Inside the Lives of Exotic Dancers (NYU Press, 2006) and Pray the Gay Away: The Extraordinary Lives of Bible Belt Gays, (NYU Press, 2012).

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What about the children?

—Carlos A. Ball

It is in many ways appropriate that the Supreme Court will be issuing its two same-sex marriage rulings—one challenging the Defense of Marriage Act and the other California’s Proposition 8—by the end of the current LGBT Pride Month. Although it is difficult to predict what the Court will do, it is likely that the Court will grapple in some way with the relationship between recognizing same-sex marriages and the well-being of children.

One of the most telling moments during the oral arguments in the two cases that took place last March was when Justice Anthony Kennedy, who may very well cast the deciding votes, noted that there were about 40,000 children in California being raised by same-sex couples and that these children were vulnerable to an “immediate legal injury” when the government refuses to allow their parents to marry. Kennedy then asked Charles Cooper, a former assistant attorney general during the Reagan administration and the lead lawyer defending Proposition 8, whether it was not correct that “the voices of those children is important in this case.”

Cooper’s answer revealed much about the internal contradictions and moral limitations of the arguments raised by marriage equality opponents. Cooper’s response to Justice Kennedy’s question was twofold: first, he claimed that there was “no data” showing that the children of same-sex couples are harmed if their parents are not permitted to marry; second, Cooper argued that a law, such as Proposition 8, can “be sustained even if it operates to the disadvantage of a group, if it…otherwise advances rationally a legitimate state interest.”

There are (at least) two problems with Cooper’s response. First, there is a deep contradiction between contending, as marriage equality opponents routinely do, that the most important reason why society recognizes marriage is to promote the well-being of children, and then suggesting that whether same-sex couples are permitted to marry has no impact on their children. In fact, the federal judge who heard the evidence introduced by both sides during the Proposition 8 trial concluded in 2010 that the children of same-sex couples benefit in meaningful ways when their parents are permitted to marry. Even David Blankenhorn, the president of the Institute for American Values, and the only witness called upon by Proposition 8 supporters to testify during the trial about child welfare considerations, acknowledged that “adopting same-sex marriage would be likely to improve the well-being of gay and lesbian households and their children.”

Second, Cooper’s response illustrates how marriage equality opponents are willing to use the children of lesbians and gay men instrumentally, that is, they are willing to use them as means to promote (what the opponents believe is) the social good. Cooper essentially told the Court that even if the 40,000 children of same-sex couples in California were harmed or disadvantaged because the state prohibited their parents from marrying, that was a constitutionally permissible price to pay in order to promote “traditional” marriage. Although such a cavalier attitude toward the well-being of children would be troubling in any context, it is particularly so coming from a lawyer representing a movement that supposedly seeks to “defend marriage” based in part on the need to promote child welfare.

One hopes that the Court keeps children and their well-being in mind when it rules on the constitutionality of Proposition 8 and DOMA. If the Court does so, it will be marriage equality opponents who will be at greatest risk of losing the cases.

Carlos A. Ball is Professor of Law and Judge Frederick Lacey Scholar at Rutgers University, Newark. He is the author of The Right to Be Parents: LGBT Families and the Transformation of Parenthood (NYU Press, 2012), and his previous books include From the Closet to the Courtroom and The Morality of Gay Rights.

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Government to promote marriage a caring society

—Melanie Heath

It is always striking when conservatives and progressives agree. On Fox News earlier this year, psychiatrist and Fox news contributor Keith Ablow weighed in on whether the government should get out of the marriage business. In response to the Supreme Court cases considering the constitutionality of California’s ban on gay marriage and challenging the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA)—the federal law that makes it possible for the government not to recognize same-sex marriages in those states where they’re legal, Ablow states, “I don’t think states nor the federal government should be involved in marriage at all.” He argues that it should not be the government’s concern to decide whether two people of the same gender marry.

This privatization argument mirrors one made back in 1997 by libertarian David Boaz in his Slate article titled “Privatize Marriage: A Simple Solution to the Gay-Marriage Debate.”  The article points out that privatizing marriage will “put gay relationships on the same footing as straight ones, without implying official government sanction. No one’s private life would have official government sanction–which is how it should be.”

The conservative-libertarian perspective is not too dissimilar from the progressive stance taken by a particular group of lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) and allied activists, scholars, and community organizers. In their 2006 statement Beyond Same-Sex Marriage, the signatories contend that all families will benefit from “separating basic forms of legal and economic recognition from the requirement of marital and conjugal relationship.” In other words, the government’s job is not to define marriage or what counts as “legitimate” family but to support the diverse forms of family life that allow its citizens to provide care for one another. The statement makes explicit that marriage is not the only worthy form of family or relationship but should be available to those who find it the most meaningful. Society needs to establish ways to recognize kinship relationship, households, and families other than conjugal partners.

While these two positions exhibit surface agreement, there is a deeper philosophical difference in the reasons why conservatives and progressives promote the idea that government should stay out of the marriage business. The conservative-libertarian view prefers to keep the government out of the “caring” business altogether, tending to support the idea that health and caring issues relating to the poor, disabled, children, and elderly should be to left to the private realm of non-profits, charities, and families. Government welfare programs, according to this philosophy, just get in the way of providing effective care to the poor and needy.

Further, according to this argument, state-assisted child-care and parenting planning amount only to government interference in private lives. Because conservatives want to cut taxes, especially for the wealthy, they never opt to expand government support for the needy or to offer universal benefits, measures that would ultimately increase taxes. Emblematizing the conservative approach to care is George W. Bush’s Office of Faith-Based and Community Initiatives. Built on the philosophy of regulating caring to the private realm, its promise was to invigorate civil society by encouraging churches and charities to be “little armies of compassion.” In this market fundamentalist approach, a caring society places the onus on the poor to help themselves (or to find someone to help them) since they are, according to this rhetoric, to blame for their poverty.

In contrast, progressive arguments want to see an expansion of government involvement in a caring society. This perspective views the privileging of marriage—whether for heterosexuals or non-heterosexuals—as problematic because it discriminates against those who do not fit the two adults plus children model. Authors of the Beyond Same-Sex Marriage statement argue that legalizing same-sex marriage to end discrimination against lesbians and gay men does not go far enough to solve structural social inequalities. It is a travesty that lesbians and gay men are unable to receive the many benefits that are connected to marriage—including health insurance, Social Security survivor benefits, and favorable tax treatment. But the focus on legalizing same-sex marriage furthers the privatization of care work, and will likely continue to marginalize those who do not have the resources to provide and/or receive care.

After the Personal Responsibility and Work Opportunity Act became law in 1996, federal and state marriage promotion policies became part of our social fabric, seeking to promote heterosexual marriage as a solution to social problems such as single motherhood and poor childhood outcomes for children in low-income families. In my book One Marriage Under God, I uncover the social consequences of marriage promotion policies on the ground as these programs spend welfare dollars to offer free marriage workshops to predominantly middle-class, white couples. These policies demonstrate again the problematic ways that the government is involved in the marriage business. In this case, marriage promotion programs fail to address the structural and economic foundations of poverty that are barriers to marriage, and most programs do not target low-income individuals who are less likely to marry.

The debate over what role the government should play in the marriage business is crucial to undertake at this stage in history. Americans need to think carefully about how marriage creates a privileged status for some while leaving numerous others (queer or not) without equivalent social support.

Melanie Heath is the author of One Marriage Under God: The Campaign to Promote Marriage in America (NYU Press, 2012). She is associate professor of Sociology at McMaster University in Ontario.

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Race and gay pride

—Martin Joseph Ponce

Broadly speaking, my book Beyond the Nation: Diasporic Filipino Literature and Queer Reading provides a history of Filipino literature in the United States from the onset of U.S. colonialism in the Philippines at the end of the nineteenth century through the contemporary moment. Framing the literature in a transnational context shaped by U.S. (neo)colonialism and migration, it focuses in particular on the ways that gender and sexuality are integral to Filipino racializations, social formations, and state and cultural nationalisms as well as to manifestations of U.S. empire and terms of assimilation at specific historical junctures.

Although I discuss the work of several writers who self-identify as gay or queer and consider the depictions of queer characters in various literary texts, the book as a whole doesn’t seek to document a history of non-normative Filipino sexualities or desires in literature. Rather, it attempts to theorize and enact a queer reading practice that attends to the constitutive articulations of gender, sexuality, and eroticism to race, nation, and diaspora. As such, it would seem to bear a tangential relation, at best, to Gay Pride.

Indeed, insofar as the book seeks to contribute to the growing, diverse bodies of scholarship associated with queer of color and queer diasporic critique, it is less concerned with the development and consolidation of sexual identities than with the gendering and sexualization of race (Filipinos/as as savage, effeminate, hypersexual, hyperfeminine) and with the freighted political meanings that gender and sexuality assume when placed in comparative international contexts (liberation vs. repression, modern equality vs. patriarchal hierarchy). Both of these historically shifting but persistent conditions—the production of racial difference in part through gender and sexual deviance from white colonial norms, the production of U.S. exceptionalist discourses in part through (illusory) ideals of gender equality and sexual freedom—place diasporic Filipino writers in vexed positions. Namely, they must contend simultaneously with imperialist denigrations of colonial bodies and aptitudes as well as with nationalist recuperations of normative bodies and aspirations.

However distant they may seem, these ideas come to mind when I think of Gay Pride. While I imagine that for many LGBTQ folks the revelries represent a unique time of the year when all manner of things queer are welcomed, encouraged, and (dare I say it) rendered normal, I tend to see and experience the event as a discomfiting moment when the racialization of non-normative sexualities comes to the surface. Or put conversely, it is when every Pride participants’ sexuality is up for grabs and the default straightness of everyday life is suspended that racial differences and the ambiguous, deviant sexualities they signify become all the more apparent.

Moreover, the specific circumstances that enabled the emergence of Gay Pride in the first place and that we’re supposedly (supposed to be?) commemorating—Stonewall, the Village, New York, the Sixties, and so on—leave me wondering if these particularities are being strategically forgotten or rewritten by the Gay Prides taking place throughout the country and around the world. To avoid further entrenching the association of “modern” gayness with white U.S. sexceptionalism, metronormativity, and capitalist entertainment spectacles, I can only hope that this annual event is being remade dozens of times over, cross-cutting global gay and lesbian imaginaries and practices with local histories and politics, demographics and desires, fabulosities and festivities.

Martin Joseph Ponce is Associate Professor of English at The Ohio State University.

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No more of the “Same”: A response to the responses

—Karen Tongson

A little over a week ago, the folks at NYU Press approached me about writing something for their blog, From the Square: something that addressed the “continuation of [my] work’s themes, or an op-ed piece related to LGBT issues” for June, aka National Pride Month. Because I’ve had a great working relationship with the press as an author and as a book series editor, I agreed to write a brief “thought piece” about a song I’d recently heard on the radio. About my visceral response to hearing its message, what it sounded like, and how it addressed—or failed to address—a queer pop politics resonant with my own point of view.

I wrote the piece with a very specific audience in mind: queer studies scholars, and folks who happened to have read my book, Relocations: Queer Suburban Imaginaries. You know, the typical readers of an academic press blog, which in my mind tapped out at a couple of hundred self-selecting folks, max. I wrote the piece with an eye (and ear) towards subtlety and nuance, as many academics—specifically literary and gender studies scholars like me—are wont to do.

I wrote about how Macklemore’s Billboard Hot 100 hit (which never broke the Top-40), “Same Love,” struck the wrong chord with me, because it opened with someone speaking from a gay/questioning perspective, before immediately discarding the possibility of a gay/questioning rapper by reinforcing the narrator’s heterosexuality and love of girls.

Regardless of how odious I found “Same Love,” and as much as Macklemore and Ryan Lewis aren’t pop stars who appeal to my personal tastes, my own, very short blog piece ended on an emotionally sincere and positive note. I described how Mary Lambert—the queer female artist who sings the vocal hook—moved me to tears with her voice and some, if not all, of the lyrics she sang. The takeaway (for those who didn’t read to the end, or had trouble parsing through my obtuse academic language inappropriate for a venue like an academic press blog) is that we find emotion, affiliation, and resonance in the strangest of sources, even when we are otherwise not inclined to do so. I liked Lambert’s hook and what she stood for as much as I chafed at Macklemore’s and Lewis’ message and performance.

And yet many readers fixated on the things I said with sarcasm and humor about Macklemore, Lewis and the privileged position from which they speak as white, heterosexual (as the song emphatically reminds us) men. Other readers considered me ungrateful, regressive and damaging to the cause for not embracing a positive song written on “my behalf,” and for “my benefit” as a queer person, at the same time they insisted the song wasn’t written for me: instead, they insisted, it was intended for potentially homophobic straight men who would actually listen to a “guy’s guy” and change their minds about how “evil,” bad and disgusting homosexuals are.

Straight allies were offended that I wasn’t on the bandwagon, simply because someone straight made an effort to NOT hate me and what I stand for. Gay people were worried that I would alienate potential allies, because rocking the boat or expressing a dissenting opinion about a “positive” representation would mean we were ungrateful. We wouldn’t want that because we need straight people to approve of us to get laws passed, and no one will ever stand up for us again if we demand more. All of them neglected the fact that we’ve bravely, repeatedly stood up for ourselves throughout the course of human history: that for the most part WE had to be the change we wanted to see, and sometimes that change required a disagreement or a full-blown fight instead of an apology.

On the one hand, the responses that ensued—the hate, contempt, sexism and homophobia spewed at me for critiquing “Same Love” for its half-baked notion of equality—took me by surprise. Who knew Macklemore had so many fans?!? On the other, the sexism, violence and homophobia from straight and gay folks alike—mostly men—were sadly predictable. Some of the more violent ad-hominem comments I refer to in this piece have since been moderated out of the blog’s thread, not at my request, but because the editors felt these comments crossed a certain line with homophobic and hints of sexually violent content.

It seems that in whatever context, the fact that I am a “Gender Studies Professor” offends nearly everyone, because I might actually force people to think about their sexism and misogyny—gay men and women included. Dick jokes and crude speculations about my hatred of penises abounded on Facebook from gay and straight men alike, irrespective of the fact that as a big old dyke, I don’t exactly have “peen” on the brain 24/7, nor do I use it as my measuring stick (so to speak).

I was accused of not accounting for Macklemore’s intentions or his “intended audience,” when readers obviously hadn’t bothered to take into account mine, or even to read all the way to the end of my piece. I listened to the damn song in its entirety a gazillion times before I disagreed with its premise and decided it wasn’t my cup of tea. Anyway, using the logic of intentions is deeply flawed. But saying something “academic” of this nature is sure to solicit more vitriol, so I should move on.

I was confronted multiple times over with the notion that I, as a queer person, should be grateful for any scrap of approval tossed my way by straight people because they have the power, and they have access to the “mainstream.” Self-identified “straight but not narrow” sensitive dudes were the most freaked out about what I had to say, and I can’t imagine they’re just huge Macklemore fans, despite what a good jam “Thrift Shop” is. If you’re really not so narrow, why do you have to go through the trouble of telling us you’re straight first? Are you genuinely disturbed that you aren’t reaping praise simply for being sensitive and empathetic? Is the bar for being a “good guy” set that low?

It’s telling that nearly all of my detractors rushed to Macklemore’s defense and no one even bothered to mention Mary Lambert, or her centrality to what I wrote about the song’s resonance with me as a queer woman. Both gay and straight people suggested I was suffering from internalized homophobia, and accused me of being an “unhappy,” “bitter,” “man-hating” “grumpy cat” (which I hadn’t realized was an insult).  Touched as I am by the trolls’ concern for my happiness, since when did political dissatisfaction and a difference of opinion mean we lacked joy, love, friendship and a sense of humor?

If expressing my discontent with how I’m spoken for by a straight white rapper is internally homophobic, then so be it. I have no shame in being a homosexual who demands more from her allies than empty lip service in a song that is actually kind of dumb (except for the vocal hook). I’m not saying people shouldn’t listen to it or like it. If they want to play it at their weddings, gay or straight, more power to them. I’m just saying I want more, better, smarter. If that ain’t gay pride, I don’t know what is.

This is not to say that the only feedback I’ve received has been negative. In fact, I actually appreciated and learned from some of the numerous exchanges I’ve had in response to this piece on Facebook (dick slinging misogyny aside), and I’ve happily dialogued with anyone who was willing to address me sincerely and directly from beyond the shield of internet anonymity, regardless of whether or not they agreed with me. I’ve taken this time to write a follow-up for this blog in an effort to collate my responses to some of those conversations with genuinely engaged interlocutors.

I’d like to close with a happier tale of one particular exchange I had on Facebook with Christina Torres, one of my former undergraduates at USC, who now works for Teach for America. She considers herself an ally to queer causes, and she asked me point blank: if Macklemore’s route isn’t the way to go, then what is? “How can we better educate allies (including myself) on how to be good allies (or is that even important)?”

I told her I could go on at length about the many ways one might ally with LGBTQI politics and people without pulling a Macklemore, but the simplest answer I could share in the truncated format of a Facebook wall comment was that allies should go the extra step and radically CHANGE HETEROSEXUALITY; dare to imagine beyond a certain kind of normativity, and challenge the power that adheres to these very categories. Why do we continue to rely on the idea that “sharing privilege” will make things better? Why not make things better by undoing privilege; by abdicating the power that inheres in classed, racialized, gendered, sexualized categories? Radically reconceptualizing what is “normal” gives us plenty to do before writing songs about being gay but not really; about liking gays, while asserting staunchly that one has been all about the girls since ‘pre-K.” Everyone seems happy with the fact that Macklemore’s song provided a “start,” despite the fact that these battles have already “started” over and over again. Sometimes a start ISN’T enough, and any ally worth their salt should realize that for us to demand more from them is not ingratitude or a sign of self-hatred, but a glimmer of that hard-won thing we call “pride.”

Karen Tongson is Associate Professor of English and Gender Studies at University of Southern California. She is co-editor for NYU Press’s Postmillennial Pop series and is also co-editor-in-chief of The Journal of Popular Music Studies.