No, no, no

Hierarchy vs
a spectrum of love

A culture "valuing honesty and honouring lust"
may not survive the "marriage snake-pit"



In the April 5, 2001 issue of Vancouver's Xtra West! managing editor Gareth Kirkby seconded Jane Rule's judgment, reported in its previous issue, that the fight for legally recognized same-sex matrimony was not a step forward for rights, but a step back from cultures and values of our own creation.

"I have a couple of major bones to pick," he wrote, "but shall concentrate on only one" -- a "most revealing incident" on that fight's local front. In August 2000, two BC men together for three decades had failed to win a share of federal Court Challenge funds being divvied up by Egale, backing instead two women (one Cynthia Callaghan, on Egale's board) who "had been involved for only a few years and didn't want to live together after getting married."

Egale may have suspected those men might not (as their president would say of a Quebec couple rejected in October 2001) "wow the Canadian public on TV." Local critics may have noted Egale favouring one of "its own." Gareth was more bothered by "some in our community ... mouthing the same old hierarchical crap that social conservatives have always shoved down our throats: length of involvement is some sort of gauge of commitment, or purity, or love, or respectability, or 'marriage-like' state."

His words, appearing in his regular "Naked Eye" editorial space, were unambiguously titled: "No, no, no to marriage rights." It appears below as it did in print, if with some of the context set above edited out.



I hope they lose their fight for marriage equality rights. There! I said it, and I'm glad I got it off my chest.

I hope, I profoundly hope, that gays and lesbians are never allowed to marry in Canada in the same way that straights can marry. I don't want to have even the option of doing that in my life. I don't want you to have the option of doing it in your life. And I don't want those couples who are taking the issue to the Supreme Court of Canada to win their case and have that option.

Not that they aren't good people. Not that I don't admire their spunk, their willingness to stand up for what they believe in. But I think their argument is wrong, contrary to what our movement has always been about, and will cause permanent damage to gay culture. ...

In our culture, we haven't created the same hierarchy as has heterosexual culture. We know that love has many faces and names, ages, places to fuck, positions to fuck in, and so on. We know that a 30-year relationship is no better, no better, than a nine-week, or nine-minute, fling -- it's different, but not better. Both have value.

We know that the instant intimacy involved in that perfect 20-minute blowjob in Stanley Park can be a profoundly beautiful thing. We know a two-year relationship where people live apart is as beautiful, absolutely as beautiful, as a 30-year relationship where people live together. We know that the people involved in an open relationship can love each other as deeply as the people in a closed relationship.

We know that sometimes it's best for a relationship to end, that's it's a terrible shame to throw away the love we invested in that lover, and that ex-lovers can make the best "sisters". We know that you can become closer to your best friend than your 30-year lover, telling that friend things you'd never tell your life partner.

"If we win the right
to formal marriage, it won't be long before some in our community start behaving as though they've got something better than the rest of us."

All these things are part of the spectrum of love. And love, in gay culture, is a spectrum -- not a hierarchy. That's our culture. In much of straight culture, love is stuck in a hierarchy. The ceremony, the piece of paper, the government recognition, the tax benefits, the high cost of exit -- all these are intended to create an aura around marriage that suggests it's better than the alternatives.

Marriage belongs to heterosexual culture and we should respect that. It's a ceremony tying a woman and a man together (though I would argue that marriage inherently puts the woman in a subservient position).

Not that marriage works, of course. It is a morally bankrupt institution (I'd argue that the special recognition by the state and church of marriage encourages people to marry who should not be doing so) where people lie and cheat, fight over the remains, and damage their children while battling it out before the courts.

Straight culture encourages its members to find all their emotional needs (lover, best friend, confidante, roommate, vacation partner, parent or their children) in one person -- with predictable strains and horrible endings. Gays and lesbians tend to divvy out the emotional ties between different people -- lover(s), roomies, fuck buddies, best friends, "sisters(s)", and ex-lovers who become key members of our support network. ...

If we win access to this marriage snake-pit, it will begin the erosion of the culture that we've worked three decades to build. We've spent so long building our culture, and fighting for the freedom to live our lives as we really are, that we sometimes forget to pause to savour what we've made. And, though it has its flaws as do all cultures, it really is quite beautiful.

If we win the right to formal marriage, it won't be long before some in our community start behaving as though they've got something better than the rest of us. That they've got a more meaningful demonstration of love and commitment, and other such nonsense. This cancer will grow and attack our fundamental values celebrating diversity of sexual expression and love.

Queers form loving relationships, that's for sure. But they're not the same as marriage relationships that so many straights form. We should celebrate that instead of trying to pretend that we're just like them. Instead of demanding that the courts and government lock us into the same straight-jacket that so many straights are in, we would do better to notice that so very many straights are learning from our culture, and rejecting and leaving marriage.

Why would we want to join a club that celebrates something that doesn't work for many of the participants when we already have something better? It's absurd to push for equal treatment under the law when it would mean settling for something that is inferior to our own arrangements and yet suffers a serious superiority complex.

The lawyers and politicians in our community have run amuck on this one. They need reigning in. ... They don't represent the reality of what our relationships are about.

And they are out of touch with what our movement is about at its heart -- freedom, not equality. Building a better world, not settling for equal treatment in the same world. Loving relationships, not hierarchy.



Four related letters appeared in the April 19, 2001 issue of Xtra West!, jointly headlined: "Yes, Yes, Yes, No, No, No, to Marriage Rights." Some excerpts:
Way to go Gareth! You have said exactly what I feel about this whole subject. I have been in a heterosexual marriage. This is a whole new world; why would I ever want to go back? Our culture is so much more real and accepting of the rich variety of choice in life. ... Let's celebrate what we have instead of seeking the approval of the straight (jacketed) by trying to emulate their screwed-up world.

Lyn Merryfeather, Victoria, BC

As one of the "spunky" people involved in the upcoming marriage case in BC, I found the comment "I hope they lose the legal fight for marriage equality rights" particularly unbecoming. I would argue that Gareth is guilty of the same type of rhetoric most commonly spewed by conservative thinkers who wish to limit the choices of others based purely on the notion that they know what is in the best interest of a community.

I would like to see marriage defined as the celebration and recognition of meaningful relationships (as they are defined by the parties involved) in front of friends and family. That's it. My intention is most certainly not to limit the choices of others, nor do I believe that this is the eventual outcome of equal marriage rights.

Dave Shortt, Vancouver, BC

Yes, yes, yes to a punctual and accurate editorial. I have observed, since coming out in 1979, an increase in the discussion of "equality rights" where the theory and practice of such rights would mean, as you clearly state, a mimicking of straight society.

This new wave of "liberation" needs to look at what buying into an intolerant, misogynist, sex-hating, racist, classist, white, male, middle-class society actually means.

Alin Sénécal-Harkin, Vancouver, BC

Well, we are back at square one again, aren't we? ... Cultural radicalism versus mass organization: the personal preponderant over the political. ... How well I remember those who voiced naïve criticisms of the lesbian and gay civil rights movement in the 1970s: "It's reformist; it will benefit only a privileged few; it won't change the system in any way that matters."

Clearly we are getting shadows of this from Rule and Kirkby. Criticisms of this kind were made in the 1970s by people who had no idea of how to go about mobilizing vast numbers of individuals on the basis of their sexual orientation or how to garner the support of non-gay people and non-gay organizations -- a necessary strategy if the movement was to succeed beyond a few urban gay ghettos and elite cultural circles.

We can now see that the civil rights strategy was correct and has succeeded beyond our wildest dreams and, furthermore, must be completed in every instance of existing law which pertains to equality in every existing state.

What form relationships should take, what marriage is -- these questions hardly matter in this discussion. What does matter is the absolute legitimization by the state of same-sex love and desire within existing law.

Don Hann, Vancouver BC




For reflections on "correct strategy" and its success "beyond our wildest dreams," see Xtra!...Two solitudes. A brief overview of the triumph of strategy over fundamental issues seen to "hardly matter" appears in a chapter of my online memoir Promiscuous Affections, in a chapter titled History: As history. Look for Xtra!'s mid-'90s "spousal rights" logo.

Go on to:
Cries in the wilderness
Perceptions lost: Earlier takes on the tedious issue
Thoughts too rare in a "debate" where we're meant to say no more than "Yes" or "No."

Go back to:
Passionate  sense  (Voices: Contents page)
Ideas  in play  (Main contents page)
Only  disconnect  (Xtra! coverage, 2001-2002)
Gay marriage? Wrong question  (Lead page)
My home page

This page:
November 2002 / Last revised: November 29, 2002
Rick Bébout © 2002 /