Here Comes the Pride?
Why I Found Merit in the Anti-Marriage Movement
By Jeremy B. Merrill
National Editor, CMC ’12
When I first heard of the National Marriage Boycott, I was pretty skeptical. In fact, when I first pitched this article, I had planned it as a criticism of the NMB. Yet in the research process – and particularly after talking to Allie Foote, CMC ‘10, and Lt. Dan Choi at the Athenaeum – I became convinced that the NMB is not only a strong part of the gay civil rights movement’s push for marriage equality but also a great option for college students and myself. In this article, I will try to share with you what I used to believe and why I have changed my mind.
The National Marriage Boycott is a student-led movement for marriage equality started by students at Stanford after Prop. 8’s passage in November 2008. The NMB is exactly what it sounds like: straight allies (and gay people in the few states that grant marriage equality) promising to refuse to get married until Congress repeals the Defense of Marriage Act, which denies recognition to gay couples. In doing so, it also denies them 1,138 federal rights, including the rights to visit a sick or dying partner in the hospital and to assume instant custody of adopted children when one partner (the “paper” parent) dies or faces legal trouble.
My primary concern was that the NMB was poorly focused: I worried that the NMB could be easily dismissed as unserious since it targets, and indeed was started by, undergraduates.
The Port Side spoke with Lt. Dan Choi – a combat veteran and Arabic translator with the United States Army discharged under Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell – who spoke at CMC as a part of the Athenaeum’s 40 Years Since Stonewall: Marching Towards Equality series. Lt. Choi emphasized that colleges and universities are not just educational institutions but also the main places where students explore their beliefs and enter into more long-term relationships. “As you learn about love-relationships,” he explained, “It’s important to share ideas about what marriage is.” For this reason, he deemed the NMB a strong statement in support of marriage equality.
Undergrads are notorious (perhaps deservedly) for being flighty idealists, who are willing to jump onto any political bandwagon but can’t be counted upon to remain passionate about that issue a week later, whether it is carbon caps, marijuana legalization, or marriage equality. But committing to the NMB is unlike other stereotypical undergrad commitments; it doesn’t require daily changes to one’s lifestyle, such as forgoing meat or showering only once a week to save the environment. Instead, commitment to the NMB is a choice we have to make only once in our lives: a choice to delay one commitment, marriage, in support of another commitment, to gay rights and marriage equality. The NMB is both serious and long-term.
That’s why the NMB will be so effective as a message tool – because many of us do have that choice. We, as either allies or queers living in those few enlightened states that provide marriage equality, have the choice whether or not to marry someone we love. But until everyone can make that choice, we’re choosing to abandon our right.
If you don’t choose to sign it, because you don’t feel you could keep the commitment, that’s fine by me; if you choose to sign on, it’s an important commitment to keep. And it’s supposed to be: marriage is an important social institution. It’s so integral to the American moral ideal of equality of opportunity that everyone must be given the right to participate in that institution.
Besides, imagine the commercials. Imagine a straight couple declaring their love for each other (on a white backdrop, not unlike the Mac v. PC ads), but then discussing how they will not – how they morally cannot – get married until their queer friends can. Such commercials would, I think, go a long way toward helping convince relatively liberal folks of our parents’ and grandparents’ generations, who might not know any gay people, of the need for marriage equality. The realization that not being able to watch their son, daughter, grandson, or granddaughter walk down the aisle is just what is happening to someone else’s queer family member might allow them to see viscerally why this cause is so important. As Sean Penn’s Harvey Milk said in Milk, “They’ll vote for us two-to-one if they know one of us.” The National Marriage Boycott is a step towards making that connection easier to create: now, to understand the need for equality, people don’t need to know a queer person but merely a young person who believes in it.