With this ring...


Or unholy wedlock?

Spouse  touting

From "same-sex-benefit" battles to the "gay marriage" slog,
we have asked stupid questions (& got stupid answers)
-- losing sight of the right one:

What role do we want the state to play
in our intimate relationships?

Rick Bébout / October 2002 (& beyond)



Should people of the same sex have a right to get married?

That question has seen right-wing panic, liberal guilt, sap, sanctimony, sturm und drang -- operatics worthy of Oprah. The issue is locked in the mindless mindset of pollsters hot for "public opinion": Gay Marriage: Yes? Or No? (Don't know? What a dolt!)

For the media it's a circus. "Yes / No" controversies fit their simplistic frame. Mad slagfests between two -- ever and only just two -- "sides" make great TV. Religious wing-nuts on one side; those "gays" on the other, cast as whimpering victims (or as wolves in cuddly sheep drag?). Let them have a go at each other -- what a show! The host will of course be a model of sober civility: this is an issue we must take seriously....

No. It's not. It's the wrong issue. Asking the wrong question.

What "gay marriage" as an issue sorely needs is real thought about real issues. As the One Big Gay Issue, it's laughable. So let's have some fun with it.

2 Raphael cherubs

Same-sex couple
If not dull muffins. All God's angels were men. Or boys (even rude boys). As were my own. See:

Twelve episodes


"There they are in the The Globe and Mail, smiling innocuous under 'A love that dares to say "I do."' (Dares? It takes courage to ape convention? Oscar must spin in his Paris tomb.)

"There they are, endlessly, on TV (the media love them): dull muffins going on about 'commitment,' the inevitable backdrop coupled domesticity (kitchen scenes favoured: See? we do bacon & eggs just like you!); dog-collared, rainbow-decked pastors oozing smarm about 'dignity,' 'equality,' 'rights.'

"Dignity dressed for the eye of others; equality as sameness; rights reduced to the privilege of being 'normal.' Even boring. To quote a character in a Julian Barnes novel: 'Hie me to the vomitorium, pronto!'"

That's from a piece I did on angels. Not God's (a scary lot the Bible tells me) but my own: human; flesh, blood, and bone. Some (bless them) were hustlers, working boys of the working class, among them the most decent and honourable soul I've ever known. Few were at all well-off; none could be called "respectable."

But my desire to celebrate these angels had risen in reaction to people who would surely not find them divine (but as commodities): "respectable homosexuals."

"Letter writers to the gay press distancing themselves from desires seen as less than safely insipid. Sycophant cheerleaders for cops coming down on street kids, backroom boys -- we can't expect 'special treatment'! -- eager to see them evicted from the newly pristine ranks of 'gay.' ('Sycophant,' from Greek: informer.) Lesbigay lobbyists, lately fashionable, pleading for 'partnership recognition' in law, thrilled to 'win' it -- and impose it on affections less ordinary."

Spouse logo

Spouse fest 1994

For a brief overview see:
Promiscuous Affections:
A Life in The Bar, 1969-2000

1994: April - December

History: As history

That was written near the end of the Year 2000, the lingo reflecting what was then the limit of "gay rights" politics, having graduated from the lost 1994 battle for "same-sex spousal rights" in Ontario. Thanks to the Supreme Court of Canada, both have since been "won" across the entire country.

So, of course, it's on to the final frontier! We Demand Gay Marriage!

Ready for a surprise? Something you'd never guess from watching TV or reading your daily paper? Even "gay community" papers and magazines? Here goes:

Lots of gay people think gay marriage is a crock.

Lots of us, looking at our own lives and the lives of friends around us, see that the ways many of us live do not fit the "marriage" model. As I say in a memoir here online: gay men, lesbians, queers of all kinds, have been "pioneers of unconventional arrangements rich in support, commitment, and love." Why not hold that up as a model?

It's a model -- in fact many different models; a rich array of experiments in how we might live -- that gay marriage mavens blithely ignore. Or actively disparage: varied connections, promiscuous affections; lives open to exploration, discovery, random joys -- all that is so immature. It's time we grew up, got responsible, respectable, settled down, coupled up -- and marched down the aisle to get married.

In their avid commitment to "respectable" convention, advocates of gay marriage are even willing to see us frog-marched down the aisle -- in effect if not in fact. Same-sex spousal "victories" have imposed on any two people who have lived together for a year, whatever their sexual orientation, the state's definition of "common-law" marriage -- unless they can prove they are not a "conjugal couple."

Beyond smarm
"Equality, Dignity, & Choice" meet the Bullshit Detector

For grim presumptions likely lurking behind glittering generalities, follow Miss ("I abhor cheap sentiment") Bette Davis's lead in:
Platitude: attitude

Many of us don't like any of this -- seeing this casual disparagement, this willing imposition, for what it truly is: an insult to the ways of life we have fought to imagine, invent, foster and defend, carving out spaces in the hard rock of convention -- spaces in which we could define our own lives, and our relationships, for ourselves.

Yet even gay people who don't like this latest "gay correct line" have been reluctant to say so. With the question framed solely as "Gay Marriage: Yes or No"; with the forces of Yes ever intoning "Equality, Dignity, Choice" -- how can any homosexual "respectable" or otherwise (or even any decent, good-hearted heterosexual) say No?

Many of us say nothing at all. Or we say: I don't really care -- but of course I believe in Equality and Choice. Even as gay marriage will in fact limit equality (only those respectably coupled need apply). And as "same-sex partnership recognition" has already robbed us of choice if we're trying to make a life together outside the legal bonds of matrimony.

We have been silenced by sanctimony (if often claiming mere boredom) in the face of The One Big Gay Issue. For many of us it has become The Tedious Issue ("Oh please... Do we have to go on about that?"). Bored as we are, way see no decent way past it.

But there is a road beyond "Gay marriage: Yes or No."

Beyond Conjugality

Looking beyond
Way beyond
"Gay Marriage Yes or No"

Beyond Conjugality
Recognizing and Supporting Close Personal Adult Relationships

Available on the website of
The Law Commission of Canada

For details here on Beyond Conjugality's proposals and the values behind them, see:
Better questions
And much better answers

The Law Commission of Canada has got to the real issues behind The Tedious Issue. In a January 2002 report they refused to stay locked in the frame of "Gay Marriage: Yes or No?" They didn't get into ancient, tiresome debates on the legitimacy of our chosen relationships -- whether any of the ways we choose to live is "right" or "wrong" -- which is what the "gay marriage" mess has sunk to.

They asked a better question: What role should the state play in our lives?

That's always the question when we talk about rights. Governments don't grant us rights -- but they do decide which rights they'll recognize, support, and encode in law. And we're talking here about our personal lives -- our intimate relationships and what they mean to us. The Commission explored the state's role in, as they put it, "recognizing and supporting close personal relationships between adults," looking in particular at adults who have chosen not to have kids.

And, of course, at the state's role in the regulation of such relationships. Which is what laws on marriage and family are mostly about -- even when they impinge on people not "married with children." The LCC said that governments pondering any law should ask if relationships are relevant to that law. Any relationship -- not just marriage: people have all kinds of meaningful connections.

And they said that if those connections are relevant to a law's intent, that law should be shaped to help foster the well-being of people in those relationships, respecting some key values: equality; personal automomy, security, and privacy; and freedom of conscience.

With those values in mind -- and with awareness of the vast range of relationships various people hold dear, marriage just one of them -- the Commisison came to conclusions sensible, just, and humane. And surprisingly radical.

  • People themselves -- not the state -- should set the definition, rights and obligations of their own relationships.

  • The state should recognize those relationships regardless of sexual orientation -- or even of sex: whether or nor people are having sex is none of the state's business. Not just "conjugal" coupledom but any connection of mutual care, commitment, and support should be seen by governments as legitimate.

  • Governments should set up a system to let people declare such relationships, so they will be recognized as real, meaningful, and worthy of respect -- by other people and by the law.

  • Social benefits should be based on individual need, not relationship status.

In short: "conjugality" should have no place in law. And neither should "marriage." It is, the LCC said, a religious rite: "the state should not take sides in religious matters." And religion should not be a matter of law.

So: the government should not try to redefine "marriage" to include gay couples. It should stop trying to define it at all. Not just "man & wife" but, lovers, close friends, caregivers related or not; people living in the dear love of comrades -- anyone connected in mutual affection and volutary commitment to each other -- should be recognized as partners in law.

They called their report Beyond Conjugality. I'll bet you've never heard of it.

Going beyond conjugality as a criterion for the legitimacy of personal relationships means going way beyond "gay marriage." Maybe too far: it doesn't fit the facile "Yes / No" frame. The report's take on the range of intimate connections worthy of state recognition was too complex, too humane, for simplistic and mean-spirited "controversy."

The media ignored the radical implications of that report's title -- often even the title itself -- forcing it into their frame: "Federal study backs gay marriage." And that was all gay marriage mavens bothered to hear. Most gay media mavens too.

A federally commissioned report -- putting the quality back into Equality; its values radical, even liberatory -- fell off the radar. Even the gaydar.

What ever happened
to Gay Liberation?

How did we get from freedom and justice for everyone to "rights" for a fixed (and largely fictional) "gay minority"?

For a zap past more than 20 years of gay activism (and "What We Want" lost in strategic retreat to "What We Might Get") see again:

History: As history

The whole story, richly detailed:
Never Going Back:
A History of Queer Activism in Canada

Tom Warner
University of Toronto Press, 2002

A movement born in the dawn of radical ideals -- galvanized by Pierre Trudeau's famous 1967 line: "the state has no place in the bedrooms of the nation"; echoing it out on streets: "Not the Church, Not the State; We Alone Control Our Fate!" -- has changed its tune. And blinkered it vision. Too many of us now seem fixated on a single word, blinded by the rite: "We want marriage! The state has to say we're married! Anything less is second-class citizenship!"

Even if that means "first-class citizenship" remains defined by rites rooted in religion, God still in the law books of the nation. Even if it means the state is back in our bedrooms -- prying for even the most absurd bits of evidence that we're living in "conjugal" sin.

Maybe we should fuck in the streets. But even that means we may end up confined. In jail -- or in the fetters of involuntary common-law wedlock.

What has passed for public discourse on The Tedious Issue has been no more than a sterile "debate" between two and only two "sides." We don't need any more tired debate. We need informed discussion, true dialogue -- real talk.

Within what gets called "the gay community" (or "communities" LGBTTO+), much of that talk will inevitably replay our endless Culture Wars: "liberationists" vs "assimilationists"; "respectable homosexuals" vs "outrageous queers"; working boys up against Bay Street hustlers; potential street fuckers facing "nice" gay folk who'd gladly see them locked up.

And that's fine. Those wars will never end; no one will ever "win." And no one should: it is in these messy engagements that we ponder and create ourselves. It is folly to think, in the spaces we have fought so hard to carve out, that we must all live and think the same way. We created those spaces precisely to let us live differently. Even from each other.

But keeping those spaces open -- to the freedom of living, thinking, and loving in the many different ways we do -- depends on not letting them be closed down by anyone trying to tell all of us exactly how we should live. Especially anyone trying to get the state to tell us how we must live, enlisting its power in a bid to impose their values on everyone.

Our wars will never end. But the state has set an interim deadline for at least one battle: the federal government is trying to figure out what they should do with the thorny issue of "gay marriage." And when. Maybe soon. Whatever our differences the most important questions on this front right now, for all of us gay or not, are just two:

What does each of us want the government to do?

And what can we do to affect what they do?

Social change, citizens having effects, begins with talk. This site is made for talk. I want to spark, feed, and maybe report some of that talk; to put ideas where others can find them, respond to them, add to them. Some pieces meant to feed ideas are already here. More will come: some here invite more -- from you.



Beyond  conjugality
The Law Commission of Canada's groundbreaking report

A brief intro, with a link to further details

This   just in!
Developments since October 2002

The damn details -- & how not to get lost in them

Ideas  in play
What's on this site


Don't groan: organize!
Making change: with small change. And big dreams

With notes on getting your ideas around
-- & onto this site

What you  can do
Upcoming events & contact info




Top and lead page images: "With this ring... I thee wed." "Forever." (Inside for the boys: "Always and forever." Or at least until they join nearly half of all newlyweds in divorce court.) Toast to wedlocked hunk husbands and lipstick lesbians, by 10% Productions San Francisco: "We believe in a world of love, compassion and mutual respect, a world free from fear, discrimination and prejudice. Each year we donate 10% of our profits to non-profit organizations who work to further this vision."

My thanks to Christine Donald for "putting the quality back in Equality." She tells me the line dates from the early days of CHE, the UK's Campaign for Homosexual Equality. "One year we decided we were getting too respectable and campaigned to 'put the sex back in homosexual'; the next year the men decided things were too boring and said 'put the camp back into campaign'; then Keith Howes wrote plaintively in Gay News: 'Will no one put the quality back in equality?'"

Go back to:
Gay marriage? Wrong question   (Lead page)
My home page

This page: http://www.rbebout.com/getfree/intro.htm
October 2002 / Last revised: February 15, 2003
Rick Bébout © 2002 / 2003 / rick@rbebout.com