boycotting marriage

I am a heterosexual woman who recently married a man. I also support same-sex marriage. So, I feel pretty torn about taking part in a valuable social practice that is systematically, perniciously and deliberately (thanks to DOMA and the like) discriminatory.

I have heard of heterosexual couples who are engaging in a marriage boycott of sorts by refusing to consider marrying until same-sex marriage is widely legalized. Ok, so maybe the only couple who I’ve actually heard is doing that is Brangelina, but I’m sure there are others.

This is a nice idea on the face of it, and I would never go so far as to say that it’s silly or wrong to do. But, the trouble is that boycotting marriage isn’t like boycotting businesses. When people boycott a business, the business is pressured into complying with the boycotters’ wishes because otherwise they will lose lots of money. Marriage, alas, is not like that. The local governments will lose only trivial sums of money from the issuance of marriage licenses (I think?), and they might even stand to gain tax revenues if people remain unmarried, depending on the financial particulars of the would-be wed.

On the other hand, if most or all people who support same-sex marriage quit marrying for the time being, it would kind of culturally surrender the institution of marriage to those who oppose same-sex marriage (and who would presumably continue to marry as usual). The same-sex marriage opponents could spin the observation that predominantly (conservatively) religious people marry as further evidence that marriage is some kind of First Amendment protected religious practice, or that it has deep and inviolable historical roots.  And, there is a risk that unmarried heterosexual same-sex marriage advocates won’t be taken seriously, for the reason that the terms of an agreement should be set only by those who engage in it. It might be strategically awkward for unmarried heterosexual and homosexual people to collectively defend same-sex marriage on the grounds that marriage is a great institution that should be available to all, when few of them have ever even experienced actually being married. Paradoxically, if that many people quit marrying, marriage could look less and less like the basic and necessary human right that the same-sex marriage supporters so strongly believe that it is.

It seems, then, that the value of boycotting marriage must be symbolic. It is a show of solidarity with those same-sex couples who also wish to marry but cannot do so. Unfortunately, if widely practiced, it might actually have the counterproductive effect of allowing gay marriage opponents to appropriate the institution of marriage.

If you are a married heterosexual or a heterosexual planning to marry, there are lots of other ways of standing in solidarity with those denied the right to marry. The whole reason that many homosexual people want to marry in the first place is because there are significant benefits attached to marriage – financial, legal, social, psychological, etc etc. I’m not sure it’s worth it, all things considered, to deny oneself and one’s family those benefits for a symbolic gesture. Celebrities like Angelina Jolie and Brad Pitt might draw appreciable attention to the cause by boycotting marriage, but your average Jack and Jill probably won’t. If you care that much about the issue, why not set aside some money from your wedding or vacation budget and send it to an organization that supports grassroots same-sex marriage initiatives?

And if you need a little motivation to do that, watch the Courage Campaign’s “Don’t Divorce Us” video. The specific message is outdated since the Proposition 8 vote already took place, but it is still just as moving.

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