Human Rights

A Valentine's Day Challenge: Would You Not Get Married Until I Can Get Married?

Despite the discomfort the question is certain to engender, I think it's time to ask it. Persistently and repeatedly.

It's a question I never asked any of my friends or family members even as I was attending weddings and buying gifts (an occurrence more common about 10 years ago when I was in my twenties, but let's not worry about the passage of time.) Now, I wonder, what would have happened if I asked that question? And what will happen if I ask it now?

I never asked the question because it's a confrontational proposition. It immediately points out to people, particularly people planning to get married, that there is a basic disparity in the United States today between gay and lesbian couples and heterosexual couples. The question also immediately implicates heterosexual people, even heterosexual people who see themselves as allies to gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgender people, as having and using heterosexual privilege. Asking it, even innocently, is bringing to light the power differentials at work in the United States today, and drawing lines between who has power and who doesn't.

Despite the discomfort the question is certain to engender, I think it's time to ask it. Persistently and repeatedly. It's my Valentine's Day challenge. I'm asking the question, not only of my friends and family, but more broadly of everyone.

If you are homosexual, I'm asking you to ask everyone you know, "Would you not get married because I can't get married?"

It may be a difficult question to pose at first, but the possibilities that it offers you -- and me -- are enormous. I don't think we can win the right to marry until we have much greater support from heterosexual allies, and we can't get that support until we start asking the questions and expecting answers of trust, support and affirmation.

If you are heterosexual, I'm asking you: Would you not get married because I can't get married?

I'd like to know your answer. It seems like a basic proposition of fairness. I can't get married, so you shouldn't either, but you can because your marriage, to an opposite-sex person, is sanctioned by the state and by our country. That's unfair.

How do we address this lack of disparity, this injustice? Well, certainly we can write letters, demonstrate in public, talk to elected officials, the usual strategies for social change in our democracy. I know many of you have been doing just that, and it's helping.

There is a sea change happening of people who understand the significance of marriage for gay and lesbian couples, but it's time that we turned up the heat. It's time that we put our lives on the line. Us queers have our lives on the line everyday -- we can't be married. We pay the price for it literally and figuratively. We live with the consequences of our inability to marry. Now we need our straight allies to join us and not marry until we can.

That's why I'm asking you today, would you not get married until I can get married? I live in Maryland; we're a relatively progressive state -- it's not like I'm asking you to hold out for Mississippi or Alabama or Alaska (though at times I thought Gov. Sarah Palin was going to bring Alaska closer to queer equality that I ever imagined possible). I'm asking you to not get married until I can, legally, in my home state of Maryland.

When will that be? I don't know; I'm asking you to gamble with me. Or if you won't do it for me, chose another close friend of yours who is queer. Your Aunt Laura, your Uncle Jeremiah, your college roommate, the person who cuts your hair, your mentor, your cousin, your best friend's daughter. Any queer person will do, and by all means, if it makes your commitment easier, choose someone you know and care about.

It's actually not about me, it's about the principle. It's about fairness; if I have to wait for people to vote, either in the legislature or at the ballot box, on my right to marry, you can wait, too. It's about allies in this struggle.

If your answer is yes, thank you. Now please turn around and ask the question of others: "Would you not get married until gay and lesbian couples can get married?"

Perhaps through this simple question we'll incite a revolution -- either hasten marriage for gay and lesbian couples, or through our collective resistance render any sort of marriage meaningless. There are many potential outcomes.

It all begins with a simple question: Would you not get married until I can get married?

Let's ask it and talk about the answers.

Julie R. Enszer is a writer and poet living in University Park, Md. You can read more of her work at
Sign Up!
Get AlterNet's Daily Newsletter in Your Inbox
+ sign up for additional lists
Select additional lists by selecting the checkboxes below before clicking Subscribe:
Election 2018