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22 Mar 2012

Why all the fuss about same-sex marriage?

Jennifer Chang of Outandaround.com ponders about the fight for same-sex marriage equality and why it matters.

I have to admit something that is going to make me sound like the worst gay rights activist in the world. While I’ve attended marriage equality rallies, donated money to fight Prop 8, and even argued the case against same-sex marriage opponents – my heart hasn’t been fully behind the issue. 

Am I fully behind the decriminalisation of homosexuality in the 76 countries where being gay is still illegal – yes. Anti-discrimination protection in regions where our community is most vulnerable – of course. The end of bullying and violence against our youth – most definitely. 

But for me, same-sex marriage didn’t have the same urgency as these other issues. Sure I’d be happy to have the benefits of a federally-approved marriage, but has it been really worth spending the millions of dollars and countless human resources campaigning for this particular right? After all, even if we won marriage equality, would it change the fact that queer kids are still getting bullied in schools across the United States, or that even the most educated straight men still feel entitled to make gay jokes? And if we don’t win marriage equality, will it stop people like Lisa and I from combining our lives and raising a family? 

I know I’m sounding like a complete heretic right now (and I can see the rotten tomatoes being thrown at me from across cyberspace), but from my anecdotal experience it appears that many gays and lesbians don’t even believe in the institution of marriage. When interviewing our Supergays, we often ask them what they think of same-sex marriage. More than once, the reply has been something along the lines of: “Sure, we should have the right to get married as everyone else does. But as for me, I don’t plan on it.” 

These replies have left me wondering whether our community actually wants marriage, or whether this is just a fight to get something that’s been denied to us – like a child trying to take his sister’s toy just because she won’t give it to him.

Lisa Dazols and Jennifer Chang (right)

But then a few days ago, I watched the celebrity reading of Dustin Lance Black’s play on the Prop 8 trial (it’s no longer on Youtube, but psssst you can still watch it here). I listened as the plaintiffs talked about how the terms husband and wife mean so much more than partner. I felt outrage when the defendants said that children of gays and lesbians were “irresponsible acts of procreation.” I laughed when the defendant’s own witness admitted that “we will be more American in this country when we eliminate discrimination based on sexual orientation.”

Later that night while laying in bed with my fiance, I looked at the engagement ring on my finger and said, “Can you believe that all these people are fighting so hard so that people like you and me can get married?” I was incredibly moved that all of these straight big-shot lawyers had fought for us, and these straight celebrities had come together for this reading because they considered our cause worthwhile. In that moment, I felt like Lisa and I were smack in the center of something monumental, something world-changing. The words of the marriage equality attorney David Boies rang in my heart: “I think this is the last real civil rights struggle that we have.” 

Perhaps I had just gotten used to a world where gays and lesbians never had the right to marry. As long as we were left to live as we pleased, I figured that was as much as I could ask for. But my way of thinking had its cracks. It left me feeling just a bit ashamed about announcing our engagement, as if Lisa and I were doing something slightly dishonest. And I feared that other people wouldn’t respect our marriage the way they would respect an opposite-sex marriage. In fact if I was really honest with myself, I didn’t respect our marriage the way I would if I was marrying a man.

In retrospect, a big reason why I had (correction: still have and working through) such an issue with same-sex marriage is because of my parents. When I informed them a few weeks ago that Lisa and I are getting married, they wrote back with the same arguments that marriage equality opponents have used over and over again. They wrote, “Our belief of marriage is: one man and one woman, one husband and one wife, one commitment in one life. God creates man and woman differently so that they can produce children. It is impossible that two women can create a baby naturally.” 

What if gaining that legal marriage certificate was the first step to a different world? A world where a same-sex couple can just as legitimately make a lifetime commitment and raise a family as an opposite-sex couple? A world where when I step into a new social situation and not worry about facing a negative reaction when I mention my wife in conversation? A world where my parents live in a country where Lisa and I are considered just as married as they are? 

So, why all the fuss about same-sex marriage? 

For the same reason that my parents wrote in the last words of their letter, taking a last stab at trying to get me to reconsider. They wrote, “Marriage ceremony is like baptism, which announces the intimacy between two people and spiritual connection in public. We sincerely hope you make a wise choice for your own good.” 

Marriage does matter. I will make the most wise choice to marry Lisa. And I will do everything I can to fight for this right.

Jennifer Chang and her partner Lisa Dazols are a couple from San Francisco who embarked on a year-long world tour in June 2011 in search of gay people who are creating change for the LGBTQ community. Their project, Out and Around: Stories of a Not-So-Straight Journey, is a collection of their conversations with these “Supergays” around the world. Their trip will cover 15 countries across Asia, Africa, and South America, chosen because those are places where the LGBTQ movement is just starting to take shape, and they want to tell the stories of the people there who are leading the charge. Fridae will republish selected interviews on a regular basis. Readers can follow their journey on www.outandaround.com.

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