August 4, 2011 | by Kathi Wolfe
Single people relegated to second-class status

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 I believe the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) should be repealed.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.

4 Comments
  • Increasingly, if you’re not coupled or married, you’re met with a mixture of pity, condescension and disbelief.

    Actually, I think things have mellowed somewhat since the politically correct eighties (ironically, given the different legal situations then and now). Otherwise, I agree with that statement. Many people in the queer community regard single people as not fully formed or as less substantial than partnered/married/coupled people. I’d add that if you’re in a long-term relationship, you feel some pressure to serve as a role model.

    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.

    Therefore, what? If we want equal rights for our relationships, we should be willing to accept equal responsibilities for our relationships. That example would be a good one to use if you want to argue that marriage should be privatized altogether, but I don’t think that’s what you’re arguing.

  • This much whining and drama…I’d have thought the writer was a gay man.

  • It’s a good perspective. I go a little deeper actually, since my wife “came out” last year I’ve realized just how unbinding all those promises are, and how rampant singlism is. If the question is “why does a couples gender matter” to get x benefits and rights, the single person should be asking “why don’t I have the same rights/benefits”? And it is a perfectly valid question. There is a lot implied in marriage, but it isn’t real or binding or fair to non-married people. The benefits to society are speculative at best.

    Oberman was just going on about how it is about love, but it isn’t. It is about property and rights of survivorship and tax breaks and insurance breaks and just a whole mess of crap that government and industry have gotten away with because of the single person second class citizen status.

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