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Stop calling it "gay marriage"

As we celebrate marriage equality, it's time to change how we talk about it


Mary Elizabeth Williams
June 26, 2013 9:57PM (UTC)

Long before lunchtime on Wednesday, June 26, 2013, the date had already secured its place in the annals of history. It will now forevermore be known as the day that the United States Supreme Court struck down the insultingly named Defense of Marriage Act, and dismissed an appeal on California's Proposition 8. I'm not sure, but I think it means we can start marrying our dogs and that heterosexuality has been abolished or something. So now that we're living in a country that has just taken its biggest steps ever toward civil rights for its LGBT men and women, can we make this the day that we also took strides toward eliminating gay marriage?

I'm not asking we forget marriage equality. I'm not requesting that one inch of the hard-fought ground gained Wednesday recede. I'm saying instead that as we recognize that two men or two women can forge together loving, enduring, legally recognized unions, it's time to retire the belittling phrase "gay marriage" itself, once and for all. Calling it "gay marriage" is like calling it "black marriage" or "geriatric marriage" or any other absurd, insulting modifier. It anoints the institution with otherness and makes it seem outside the norm. Marriage Substitute. Marriage Lite. I Can't Believe It's Not Marriage! The term doesn't even have the brilliant hilarity of American Family Association director Bryan J. Fischer's definition of the Supreme Court ruling Wednesday as a victory for "sodomy-based marriage." At least that sounds fun.

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The goal of this fight, this struggle, has never been about the United States magnanimously granting permission for the gay men and women of our country to sit at the kiddie table of love. It has been for respect and the recognition that every one of us should have the same rights and freedoms in who and how we love. It's been about moving toward a new understanding as a nation, on a level so deep and instinctive that our children are not even going to have to pause to consider it or question it, that two people can fall in love and decide to build a life together and make it official and live in the same home and raise some kids if they want to and argue about how to hang the toilet paper roll and veg out on the couch and carry each other through chemo and job changes and grief and success because that is marriage. Just ... marriage. As Liz Feldman has said, "It’s very dear to me, the issue of gay marriage. Or as I like to call it: marriage. You know, because I had lunch this afternoon, not gay lunch. I parked my car; I didn’t gay park it."

We still have a long way to go in this nation. Maybe battles yet to fight and challenges yet to face. And maybe in the greater scheme of things, semantics doesn't seem like the biggest hill to climb. But how we speak affects how we think, and how we treat each other in turn. To put qualifiers on some unions and not others suggests certain unions are second-class. It's a terrible disservice. Because love is love. A gift to be celebrated. No caveats. No adjectives. No strings attached. And gay marriage didn't win on Wednesday. Marriage did. That's a victory for all of us.


Mary Elizabeth Williams

Mary Elizabeth Williams is a staff writer for Salon and the author of "A Series of Catastrophes & Miracles."

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