On July 24, as the first same-sex couples wed in New York, my 80-something, straight pal Louise called me. “They look so happy on TV!” she said, “Don’t you want to find a nice woman and get married? You could go to Niagara Falls!”
Whenever a state (or jurisdiction) legalizes same-sex marriage, a loving friend calls to convince me, a single lesbian, to hop aboard the marriage train.
I support same-sex marriage. Until marriage equality in this country is achieved, LGBT people will be second-class citizens. Unmarried same-sex couples don’t receive many of the financial benefits (from Social Security survivors benefits to health insurance) or societal recognition bestowed on heterosexual married couples. I believe the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) should be repealed. If I could have, I’d have married my late partner Anne in a heartbeat.
I’m a hopeless romantic – a waterworks at weddings (no matter how tacky). One day I hope to meet the love of my life, and then, if both of us want to, we’ll find wedded bliss at Niagara Falls.
Being in a relationship could be wonderful. But, I don’t feel the need to rush to become part of a couple, much less get married. For now, like other LGBT and straight people, I enjoy being single. Some of us are single by choice; others are single due to circumstances such as the death of a spouse.
The cultural stereotype is that single people are lonely and leading unfulfilled lives. Other misperceptions run the gamut from believing that we’re asexual workaholics to thinking that we’re hyper-sexed narcissists. Granted, there’s some truth in stereotypes. Sure there are some over-worked, over-sexed single folks. But most of us are no more horny, self-absorbed or career-obsessed than our married peers.
Not every same-sex couple is anxious to wed. Even when they love each other dearly, some couples opt (in the six states and Washington, D.C. where same-sex marriage is legal) for domestic partnerships instead of marriage. Their reasons vary. Sometimes, same-sex couples believe getting married would be too legally complicated until the federal government recognizes same-sex marriage.
Others feel that marriage places too much emphasis on monogamy or believe that matrimony is oppressive. “I support same-sex marriage as a civil rights issue,” a writer told me at a literary retreat in California in 2008, “but it’s not for me. Remember the Lesley Gore song ‘You Don’t Own Me?’ Marriage is a hierarchical straight institution.”
Historically, the LGBT community has been welcoming to single people. Single people from “spinsters” to artists have been respected in our culture. Unconventional “families of choice” – made up of single people, couples and their friends have been a crucial part of the fabric of queer life.
Yet, ironically, as many of us who are single or in same-sex couples not wishing to wed fight for marriage equality, we often find ourselves devalued by the LGBT community and the culture at large.
Family members, friends and co-workers wonder why we’re not in relationships or looking for partners; or, if we’re coupled, why we don’t wed in a nanosecond.
As a graduate student, I remember being seated at the children’s table at family functions because I was single. Now single people are too often metaphorically seated at the children’s table in the LGBT community. Increasingly, if you’re not coupled or married, you’re met with a mixture of pity, condescension and disbelief. “Isn’t your life empty?” a just-married woman asked me at a party recently. “I couldn’t live without a wife.”
I fear that the pressure to wed could hurt LGBT couples in practical ways. Last month, the New York Times reported that some companies since the legalization of same-sex marriage in New York now require same-sex couples to marry in order to receive health insurance.
I applaud same-sex marriage. But I invite the LGBT community to celebrate single people.