The Republic of T.

Black. Gay. Father. Vegetarian. Buddhist. Liberal.

The Marriage Expectation

Lauren has resurfaced (yay!) over at Feministe with an interesting post about something I hadn't considered in all the talk about legally recognizing same-sex marriage: the accompanying pressure to marry. It might be something new to gay people, but I hadn't thought about the reality that the social acceptance of same-sex marriage might be a package deal with the social expectation to marry, as it apparently is for heterosexuals.

I’ve been in a solid relationship for about two years now and I’m finding that Chef and I are under considerable pressure to marry. It began awhile back when we talked about the possibility a few times and we discussed our discussions with various folks, never meaning it to take on more weight than, “We talked about the possibility of this a few times.” Suddenly everyone began to freak out, get moony-eyed or squinty-eyed skeptical, and ask when it was going to happen. When? Is it time yet? Yes? Are you guys going to do this? Why the hell are you guys going to do this? My folks began to prod, and his began to plan for grandbabies, and all of a sudden this weird het-marriage-excitement-beast was out of our control, dragging 1000-page bridal magazines behind its vintage white stretch limo (tasteful, of course, not gaudy). Needless to say, it has added stress to the relationship that just doesn’t belong.

… One of my single mom friends noted that her pressure to marry was based on the supposed illigitimacy of everything she did that didn’t have a man attached — and once she got engaged she found that she was on the receiving end of some serious esteem. And resented it. A divorced friend expressed frustration at being expected to date and remarry stat before the social ruin kicked in. My old boss used to complain about his mother constantly asking why he never brought anyone home with him anymore, which was based completely on her frantic questions about whether or not this date was The One. Many people are irritated that they are seen as defective or *gasp* teh gay if they aren’t married by a certain age. Or tire of being grilled by others after living with a partner past some acceptable point on an arbitrary timeline.

Another thing that has come to my attention is the low esteem in which I would be held if I ever had a long-term partner with whom I lived but didn’t marry — say for some reason a parent in this position ended up in custody court, would a common-law partnership be taken as seriously as a bonded legal marriage? What if this person were held up against a married parent?

Interesting questions, and i couldn't help considering them in a different context. Because marriage expectations aren't completely foreign to gays & lesbians, but the context has historically been quite different.

Most of us probably went through it before we came out. Concerned relatives or friends might have noticed we were still "single" (as far as they knew) and getting well into our twenties (gasp!) without a potential (opposite sex) mate on the horizon. That's when the questions start. "Are you seeing anyone?" "Have you met a nice girl/boy yet?" And we usually demure, avoid answering, or make something up. That works for a while, but then you start crowding 30 and the questions get a bit more urgent. "When are you going to settle down?" "Have you considered marrying?" (Well, yes, but….) "When are we going to see some grandchildren?" Etc., etc.

Interestingly enough, the questions don't always stop when we come out. I remember years ago, I was out and working at a gay political organization. One evening as I was at my apartment, getting into my tux and preparing to leave for the organization's annual D.C. black tie dinner, the phone rang. It was my mother. She asked what I was doing and I told her. The conversation went like this.

"Have you found a young lady to take with you?"

"Um, no."

"Well, have you tried?"

"Um, no."

"Well, are you just going to be a bachelor all your life?"

"Um, no. Listen, mom, you figure it out. I gotta go."

But when it comes to same-sex marriage, I find myself wondering if this is one of the things that will change if/when same-sex marriage or some form of legal recognition (with the attendant rights and protections) for same-sex couples becomes a reality. Maybe it's because I feel more hopeful about the long term possibilities when I look at the recent poll numbers and social research.

Usually, after one comes out as gay or lesbian (and especially after you start dating) the marriage questions stop. In fact, sometimes all questions stop except those related to (a) your health and (b) the weather. Chances are your non-gay friends and family won't even ask about your significant other, let alone grill you about taking a walk down the aisle. But I wonder. If same-sex marriage or some comparable legal status becomes a reality for same-sex couples, will the right to legally marry be accompanied by an expectation to marry?

If gay people can legally marry and adopt, etc., will we be expected or even pressured to settle down, marry, and maybe have kids? Will our friends and family start asking us when we're going to "make an honest man/woman" out of our partners? Will our parents start bugging us about rings and baby cribs? Will more of us start considering it ourselves?

Would that be such a bad thing? Well, more gay people marrying for the wrong reasons (to shut up friends and relatives, because everyone wants them to, etc.) wouldn't be any better for us than it is for heterosexuals. But marriage, with all its much touted benefits for heterosexuals (better health, longer lives, higher income, etc.) when it works, might be just as good for us as it is for them.

But that's easy for me to say. I'm already married (well not in the legal sense), so nobody's nudging me towards the altar.

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