Making Marriage Perfectly Queer: A Gay Marriage Critique

By Ana-Isabel Nӧlke (Editor)

Ah, yes, that polarizing gay marriage debate, infused with the ‘you’re either with us or you’re against us’ mentality frequently pervasive in hot-button social issues. I’m not here to write an article about how I am gay and what gay marriage means to me; there are plenty of those around already. I’m here to tell you that I don’t support the singular focus on gay marriage as the solution to inequality. But yes, I am a woman, born into the so-called Millennial1 Generation; and oh yes, I am a woman, who falls in love with women. I am gay. Yet, I am writing an article critiquing gay marriage. As I write this, I envision the outcry, the sharp intake of breath: “Is she AGAINST gay marriage?”

Yes, I am against gay marriage, at least the way in which it’s debated today. There is a subtle difference here: I am not against those identifying as LGBT marrying. I’m also not suggesting that I don’t welcome the legal aspects to the debate, or that we don’t urgently need such discussion. My aversion is based on an understanding of semantic meaning and societal attitudes, and on my belief that gay marriage is driving the equality debate in the wrong direction.

There are, thus, two parts to my aversion: the word ‘gay’ and the word ‘marriage.’ I reject the notion of gay marriage, because more often than not it is deemed the ultimate, essential goal in achieving true equality, despite the fact that the current media discussion is centered around an accepted type of gayness that excludes those who do not fit into its norms and is far from “EQUALITY NOW”! I reject the notion of gay marriage, because our obsession with marriage as the most supreme label in our society fosters animosity and intolerance in areas it could be avoided.

Interestingly, it is not so much a question of homosexuality vs heterosexuality, but a generational gap that depicts two distinct types of LGBT mindsets which concerns me: Older LGBT generations are marked by a lifetime of stigmatization and the constant fight for social acceptance, while the younger generation has been found to believe firmly in equality as an in-born right, having grown up in an environment in which sexuality is freely discussed. This Millennial Generation is apt in managing both hetero- and homosexual social groups and has broken free of the confines of the traditional scene. 2 3 Internet discussion boards are filled with comments that depict the older LGBT generation as scolding "youngsters“ for a naïveté that lacks historical and political insight and a real interest in asserting LGBT rights. 4 5 Academic studies, however, show that the older generation’s lifelong struggle for acceptance has made them more more likely to laud highly stereotypical and harmful depictions of LGBT+ people in the media, equating such portrayals with signs of social acceptance without questioning the nature of said acceptance. 6 7


The term heteronormativity 8 9 is used by queer theorists to suggest that sexual stigma and homophobia are not vanishing, but merely shifting.10 The term homophobia, usedto describe fear of,  and negative attitudes towards, homosexuality, was first introduced in the 1960s to mark the phenomenon as a social problem and help remove homosexuality’s status as a mental illness. More recently, this fear has shifted to allow for gay commodification, in a way that allows the "gay best friend“ to be the new trend item of the season, for lipstick lesbians to be the main character in art-house movies, and for drag-queens to be invited to appear on talk shows for general amusement. Try googling “gay” and see what images you find. Those who comply with this accepted mental image are being tokenized in society’s very own diversity campaign. Today, while every other major brand ‘comes out’ in a new campaign, I sometimes feel as though one of the most inspiring fights for equality has entered a drunken stupor induced by this hollow acceptance. Those brave fighters have put down their weapons, because they have forgotten that equality is not only about gay marriage. In reality, if anything, crimes against the LGBT community, especially those against transgendered people, have increased and become more violent according to a US study that was released last week.11

The Millennial Generation, however, gives me hope. Several studies 2 12 show that we demonstrate a post-gay attitude. We decline labels as signifiers of stereotypes that diminish other sexual minorities. The Internet is full of articles indicating a shift towards a fluid and liberated understanding of sex and gender consistent with early gay liberation beliefs. Sarah Schulmann13 describes Millenials as “seeking something more radical: an upending of gender roles beyond the binary of male/female,” an “identity as distinct from sexual orientation.”

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As a result, we have grown up fiercely protective of our identity definition. We keep adding letters to the LGBTIQ spectrum to be inclusive to all forms of self-definition. We eschew labels; we don’t want to be called gay even though our self-definition is bi- or pansexual. At the same time, however, we are also incredibly single-minded in our quest for marriage rights, envisioning this one label as the ultimate sign of equality. Gay marriage must mean equality. However, our obsession with this label not only slows down the fight for equal rights, but makes us intolerant and not accepting of any deviation from our own ideologies of freedom and equality.

Is it not true, then, that the current debate forces us to divide into two clusters: fierce advocates versus homophobic bigots. We create this black and white picture that forgets that a vast grey area exists in which being against gay marriage does not equal being homophobic, and being pro-gay marriage is not an affront to religion. My family is Spanish, and my uncle is a man of strong faith. At the same time he is the most kind and tolerant man I know. I would not call my mother the most religious person, but having grown up in Spain, she does share some deep-rooted religious convictions. Neither of them are comfortable with the idea of gay marriage. At the same time both of them love and accept my partner and I without constraints and discuss the topic with me objectively. Even my own partner often contends that in her mind the term marriage is inextricably linked with an image of a man and a woman.

My aunt has been in a civil partnership with her male partner for over 25 years. They do not feel the need to get married. Yet, even this heterosexual non-marital relationship has many disadvantages. Should the label of ‘marriage’ really be the sole guarantee that your children, biological or not, have a legally recognized relation to you; that your home can legally be a “family home” instead of a “ shared home”; and that both partners have rights to a myriad of social supports which may be imperative in times of suffering? Is it not true that, in exclusively striving for same-sex marriage as equality, we agree to a society in which married couples seem more entitled than singles to the most basic rights? Should we not use our collective force, the momentum behind the current upending of societal beliefs to advocate a system in which we accept different types of relationships? Why not offer the possibility of a union with equal rights that is not necessarily labeled marriage?

Sometimes when I read the comments section on yet another news article regarding gay marriage I am reminded of a medieval witch-hunt. Any utterance of doubt is immediately shut off and banned from further interaction. For some marriage is simply a sacred word; but often, in our haste to be equal, we quickly become intolerant of that view, and any other that differs to ours. Do not misunderstand me: I’m happy for every couple that has been able to marry their loved one. At some point, I also want to have my partner legally recognized and have all the obligations and boring daily routines every couple inevitably falls into. The difference is that I want everyone to have a legally recognized union that gives him or her the exact same rights that traditional, married couples currently enjoy. I want us to not forget the true goal of the equality movement and to not be appeased by a seeming acceptance that lulls us to believe that the greater problem has ceased to exist.

At some point I will call my partner my wife. Do I care whether this is under the label  marriage or not? Do I want to be “gay” married? Not really.

[1] Atkinson, M. (2004). Advice for (and from) the Young at Heart: Understanding the Millennial Generation. Guidance & Counseling, 19(4).

[2] Savin-Williams, R. (2005). The New Gay Teenager. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.

[3] Visconti, L. M. (2008). Gays’ market and social behaviors in (de)constructing symbolic boundaries. Consumption, Markets and Culture, 11, pp. 113–135.

[4] Harris, M. (2009, June 21). The Gay Generation Gap. New York Magazine Online. Retrieved from

[5] Hartinger, J. (2012, August 29). Op-ed. How America Subconsciously Evolves. Here Media Inc.. Retrieved from

[6] Borgerson et al. (2006). The Gay Family in the Ad: Consumer Responses to Non-traditional Families in Marketing Communications. Journal of Marketing Management, 22, pp. 955-978

[7] Tsai, W. S. (2004). Gay Advertising As Negotiations: Representations of Homosexual, Bisexual and Transgender People in Mainstream Commercials. Paper presented at the Association for Consumer Research Gender Marketing and Consumer Behavior Conference.

[8] Warner, M. (1993). Introduction. In M. Warner (Ed.), Fear of a queer planet: Queer politics and social theory (p. vii-xxxi). Minneapolis, MN: University of Minnesota Press.

[9] Warner, M. (2000). The trouble with normal: Sex, politics, and the ethics of queer life: Harvard University Press.

[10] Ellis, S. J. (2008). Diversity and inclusivity at university: a survey of the experiences of lesbian, gay, bisexual and trans (LGBT) students in the UK. Sheffield Hallam University Research Archive. Sheffield Hallam University Research Archive. Retrieved from

[11] The National Coalition of Anti-Violence Programs (2014, May 30th). Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, Queer, and HIV-Affected Hate Violence in 2013. Retrieved from

[12] Formby, E. (2012). Solidarity but no similarity? LGBT communities in the twenty-first century. Sheffield: Sheffield Hallam University: Centre for Education and Inclusion Research.

[13] Schulman, M. (2013, January 9). Generation LGBTQIA. The New York Times Online. Retrieved from