Marriage Is a Metaphor

…an infinite series of possible encounters…

The marriage equality issue isn’t ultimately about marriage, at least, not for me. Simply and quickly put, the entire debate is yet another public opportunity to voice who deserves rights, discrimination, bastardizing, and acceptance, no hate or holds barred.  Of course, technically (& on the surface of all this), I’d like the same civil rights as any other couple if I ever choose to have the government sanction my partnership, but moreover, people love to express their superiority over another group through public proclamations of “how things are” and call their opinions “arguments.”  Just listen to the actual descriptors:  “unnatural”, “illicit”, “against God’s will”, “gross”, “unAmerican”, etc. as though embracing such a conservative act (and marriage is very much a public statement of conservation) is a privilege for the chosen “right” people and not the “bent” gays, who are really just incorrect beings breaking laws merely by existing.

Marriage has become a metaphor for arguing over whether the queer community should be evicted and forced to live in the shadows of the “correct” society.  In this way, those who see themselves as “straight” are able to assert their correctness by defining themselves in direct opposition to “gays”.  Obviously, this is Binary Thinking 101 in which we define, not just in opposition, but hierarchically:  one term knows it exists, and confirms it, by pointing at the other presumably-separate one and then noting its own superiority — in Binary Thinking 101, one term is always valued above the other.  Western thinking sucks for this very reason:  we separate and prioritize in a one-above-the-other fashion as though simplistic thought is the best way of maneuvering through the world; we don’t want to acknowledge that things are a lot more gray and complex and interrelated (& interdependent!) than “I am white because you are black” or “I am man because you are woman” because if we did, then we’d have to shed our hierarchical positioning and, in the process, fear losing what tiny bit of power we hold in the entire system.  That’s why bisexuals and “forays” into “other” same-sex relationships aren’t “real” and are downgraded.  They must be dismissed as illegitimate acts or temporary “freak” blips in the “normal” course of things.

Same holds true for stay-at-home fathers who don’t abide by traditional roles (among many other “unusual” examples I don’t have time to list) – they are “perversions” of manhood who receive a lot of mockery from “real men” often.    “You are feminine but I am masculine.”  Anything that doesn’t fit the correct view of the tyranny of the norm becomes a target to ignore or publicly ridicule until it hides in shame or morphs into its proper role.  Mainstream values need these blips on the radar to stay in power, and all of what I’m touching on is just the tiniest tip of the iceberg.  So yes, “Marriage equality” is only one more way into publicly announcing exactly what the “norm” should be, and from my perspective, it’s pretty bleak.  Can’t we find another way, or ways, to be in relation to each other that escapes the misery of positioning you over me over the next guy – who is “better”, who has the “best” stuff?  I’d give it all away if we could have one big friggin’ potluck and enjoy each other’s company until the end, when we’ll all be scrambling for clean water and dry land…


EXCERPT from “What Would MLK Have Said About Gay Rights? Ask His Wife”

“Like Martin, I don’t believe you can stand for freedom for one group of people and deny it to others”, she would tell black civil rights leaders angered by gays and lesbians comparing their struggle to their own. She would quote her husband and say, “I have worked too long and hard against segregated public accommodations to end up segregating my moral concern. Justice is indivisible.”

She also fought off bigots who would co-opt MLK’s message and try to make it their own. In 2002, anti-gay advocates sought to repeal Miami-Dade County’s equal rights law by sending out fliers saying that King would be outraged at its gay-inclusive nature. Coretta responded through a statement put out by the King Center for Nonviolent Change saying, “I appeal to everybody who believes in Martin Luther King Jr.’s dream to make room at the table of brother and sisterhood for lesbians and gay people.”

When George W. Bush came out on the White House lawn and, in a bid for reelection, told the press he supported a Constitutional ban on gay marriage, Coretta again spoke up and reminded America of King’s legacy: “Gay and lesbian people have families, and their families should have legal protection, whether by marriage or civil union. A constitutional amendment banning same-sex marriages is a form of gay bashing and it would do nothing at all to protect traditional marriages.”



Congressman John Lewis (D-Ga.) became part of the civil-rights movement while he was a teenager. From 1963 to 1966, he chaired the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee. And he became a close associate of the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. Lewis has been a congressman since 1987.

GROSS: I’ve heard some African-American leaders say that it’s wrong to make a connection between the civil rights movement and the gay rights movement because discrimination against African-Americans and discrimination against gays are completely different things. And being gay and being black are completely different things. What’s your take on that?

LEWIS: I do not buy that argument. And today I think more than ever before, we have to speak up and speak out to end discrimination based on sexual orientation. Dr. King used to say when people talked about blacks and whites falling in love and getting married—you know one time in the state of Virginia, in my native state of Alabama, in Georgia and other parts of the South, blacks and whites could not fall in love and get married. And Dr. King took a simple argument and said races don’t fall in love and get married. Individuals fall in love and get married. It’s not the business of the federal government, it’s not the business of the state government to tell two individuals that they cannot fall in love and get married. And so I go back to what I said and wrote those lines a few years ago, that I fought too long and too hard against discrimination based on race and color not to stand up and fight and speak out against discrimination based on sexual orientation.


It is important to remember that there are real differences in the case of gay marriage and so- called mixed marriages. The situation of a lesbian or gay couple in 2004 is not the same as that of an interracial couple in the 1930s, when miscegenation laws carried criminal penalties, when whites were nearly unanimous in their condemnation of interracial marriage, and when the specter of lynching hovered over discussions of interracial sex.


There are only two objections to same-sex marriage that are intellectually honest and internally consistent. One is the simple anti-gay position: “It is the law’s job to stigmatize and disadvantage homosexuals, and the marriage ban is a means to that end.” The other is the argument from tradition — which turns out, on inspection, not to be so simple.


Everything today encourages us to see the dark side, the folly, the impossibility, not just of utopia but [even] of an anti-utopian heterotopia where we’d have a project in common besides selling our commodified labor, intellectual or otherwise. Everything encourages us to think we face a choice between detached houses in a row, where we cook our dinners in private, or else the gulag. But there can be—can’t there?—community without tyranny. Sure, the company of misfits would make you feel bad sometimes; but it also feels bad to have nothing to look forward to but marriage, work and TV. Maybe [this heterotopia] would always be a failure. But then atomized private life under the market is doomed to failure too, if we think of happiness, excitement, joy, or surprise [as things we want]. You’ve got to pick your failures—and I’d like to fail in good company instead of all on my own.

Civil Rights Civil Unions Class Feminism Gay Gender Politics Generation Y Language Love Marriage Queer Culture Race Sexy

AMY KING View All →

Amy King is the recipient of the 2015 Winner of the Women’s National Book Association (WNBA) Award. Her latest collection, The Missing Museum, is a winner of the 2015 Tarpaulin Sky Book Prize. She co-edited with Heidi Lynn Staples the anthology Big Energy Poets of the Anthropocene: When Ecopoets Think Climate Change. She also co-edits the anthology series, Bettering American Poetry, and is a professor of creative writing at SUNY Nassau Community College.

10 Comments Leave a comment

  1. Hi, just for the record, I support the gay legislative agenda 100%. I even participate in a lot of their campaigns by signing petitions and emailing people.

    I guess there are a few caveats. I don’t see why we have to go into the schools and talk to high school kids about “fisting.” It’s ridiculous.

    I support crackdowns on rest areas and public restrooms were idiot queers hang out to do their thing in public. I’ve had to use those places before and it’s extremely annoying, to say the least. The gay community usually gets up in arms when the sane people try to crack down.

    Gay pride parades should not include naked people and men having sex with each other public when there are families with little kids around. The Folsom Street Leather Crowd Parade has degenerated that way recently.

    OTOH, I really don’t like gay or even bi men much. I know a couple of them, but I only like those guys because they leave me alone. It’s not possible for me to make friends with gay or bi men because they won’t quit trying to screw me. I really wish gay and bi men would just leave us straight guys alone.

    I’m getting old and ugly now, but as a young man, I was very handsome. Also, I had a very pretty boy type face and I’ve always been sort of Mick Jagger-androgynous. Combine all that and I spent years of my life fending off guys. Really annoying and I’m still sort of pissed.

    I could give a flying F about lesbians though, as long they don’t hate me for having a dick. I’ve had some gf’s who were sort of bi oriented so I’m cool with that. Most of those women are primarily oriented towards males, though.

    The amount of situational homosexuality among basically straight young males in their 20’s has to be seen to be believed. Generally, they don’t do anal and only play the male role otherwise if you get my drift. Young men’s sex drives are insane and if they aren’t getting any, they try to screw anything, including other guys.

    A post on one or more of these topics might be interesting to see from you.

  2. Hi Robert,

    Thanks for your comment – and for your support.

    Hmm, let’s see: first thought is that I can no more defend the actions of all gays than you can the actions of all straights — I don’t condone bad behavior that involves subjecting children to seeing public stranger sex (straight or gay or otherwise), though I’ve not seen that done at a Pride parade to date! I don’t know the Folsom parade, so will look out for such stuff in the future. Seems like public sex, regardless of who is doing it, entails the law and arrests and such.

    As for the fisting bit, I can’t even imagine that they’re teaching it in schools – it’s difficult enough to get benign mention of gay couples into the curriculum; if someone was actually teaching about “fisting” I think it would hit news headlines. Maybe I’m naive though…

    I think men generally hit on anyone: men, women, trans, etc. They’re encouraged to “go for it” very early on, from dad’s first offerings of Playboy on up… women are taught to wait, to sit pretty and be a nice flower. I’m not surprised men hit on you, at all. But you must also know that women have to deal with that shit on a daily basis. When I had a boyfriend, when I didn’t, when I dated no one for a few years, when I dated women, when I was shopping for paper towels, when I went to the bank today, etc, I was and continue to be hit on by men on a daily basis – I have no choice because I’m considered attractive enough and available until I let them know otherwise; in other words, I understand your frustration because there just is no way of getting around being seen as a potential sex partner, regardless of how I identify, and that entails inquiry via being hit on. I’d say just be glad you had less of the male population hitting on you than most women have.

    I don’t hate people with penises, as a rule, and have a variety of men as friends, including many many straight men – I will have children one day and may have one or two with their own penises. I’m all for better behavior and men having more rights to not be so strictly masculine, as it’s traditionally known, and I work towards such liberations (yep, liberal!).

    Women in their 20s are also quite sexually active and likely engage in similar exploration (in terms of availability of the opposite sex), especially as the culture opens up and sexual “deviation” is no longer so deviant or stigmatized and is, in some pop cultural representations, cool. Such exploration is, to my mind, very much about a) hormones and b) figuring yourself out.

    I’ll think more on your suggestion to post on these topics… thanks for the suggestion.

  3. I was happy to see that the judge in California was allowing the trial re: Prop 8 to be broadcast via YouTube. The public weighed in overwhelmingly in favor (something ridiculous, like 250 to 10). Of course the “defenders” of “traditional marriage” opposed it, and I’m dismayed to see just now that the Supreme Court is taking the side of the jackasses. Kinda makes you wonder, though, what they’re hoping to hide, the testimony re: the affect of Prop 8 on the lives of the homosexual couples who are bringing the lawsuit, or the neurotic and rather nutty things the Marriage Defenders are going to have to say to make their positions. I still have not had a single person explain to me how homosexual marriages would threaten my heterosexual one. Personally, I think if someone thinks their marriage is threatened, they need marriage counseling, not to shit on their neighbors. They ought to consider how many divorces and affairs they’ve had…seems like marriage is in more danger from the governor of South Carolina than anyone.

    And yes, Amy, I completely agree with your assessment re: people using gayness to attack the other and thereby build their weak sense of self up. A good friend of mine down in S’port told me that whenever he would confront his bi-polar mother on her need to get help, she’d play the gay card. End of conversation. He couldn’t have a point because he was gay. Period.

  4. Whew, been offline all day (no fault of my own!) — thanks for this update, Wendy! It’s actually good to get it in a nutshell as sometimes I avoid it all due to too much stimulation/depression over the inanity!

    Thanks also, Angelina! Glad you found your way here, and likewise, I’ll check out your site to boot!

  5. Thank you for your excellent essay! The term Binarary Thinking 101 (are you creating a new word or is it Binary?) is a new one for me and I LIKE it. I use the term duality to describe the same behavior of ranking that goes on and on in this society. I would love to think we could evolve to a point where cooperation and mutual respect were the norm instead of competition and hierarchical thinking but I doubt I’ll see it in my lifetime.

  6. Whoops, I misspelled it the second time – in a hurry. Thanks for pointing it out. And v. glad you agreed on the idealism I harbor, though I too don’t really think it’s possible yet. Maybe some intelligent life from elsewhere will arrive and help us see? Is that the basis of a religion? Starts with hope, evolves to faith, yikes. G’night!

  7. Hey, Amy.

    I appreciate your use of the term “binary” to describe the divide… it really is fitting and gets across the “either with us or against us” mentality of some.

    Anyway, I add that I’m pretty sure fisting isn’t being taught in schools. I don’t know where Robert is located, but outside large, progressive cities (in my experience), it’s extremely likely that students aren’t receiving an education about heterosexual (physical) relationships beyond periods and gestation, eggs, and sperm… while in the few progressive cities in the US, I’d bet that programs are more focused on STIs, condoms, and pregnancy… it’s not like they’re giving out tips on oral sex or what toys to use… so why would homosexual fisting even come up? I don’t even know if I’m making sense… just seems like it is way out of left field and based on some homoparanoia.

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