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Can you explain gay marriage?

I lost a friend who is a lesbian for expressing my view that marriage is meaningless. It seems to me that the point of gay marriage is to win official recognition that homos aren't second-class citizens, that it would amount to a state-sanctioned "Gays are OK!" message. I've got no problem with gay marriage, but it seems like there are more pressing issues--like the shitty economy and the war--and an awful lot of energy is being spent trying to win something that doesn't matter except as a symbol. So why is gay marriage so important? What's the big deal?

Admittedly I'm a straight guy, Dan, but does it really matter all that much?

--Tortured Acronym

Sure, I can explain gay marriage. Some gay and lesbian couples would like to marry for the same reasons so many straight couples would like to or already have: they're in love, they've made a commitment to each other, and they want the rights, privileges, and responsibilities (RPRs) that come with legal marriage. While some gays and lesbians are after the "Gays are OK!" message (no one has ever gone broke overestimating the insecurities of gays and lesbians), most gay couples don't just want the symbolism of marriage, TA, but those RPRs--and guess what? Both matter.

"Marriage brings extremely important tangible and intangible protections," says Evan Wolfson, executive director of Freedom to Marry, the organization leading the charge on gay marriage. "To have clarity and security, to have people know who you are in relation to the primary person that you're building your life with, is no mere symbol. And gay people have the same need for that security, clarity, and, by the way, equality as nongay people."

As for your lesbian ex-friend, can't you see how listening to a straight guy dismiss marriage as trivial might infuriate a lesbian? Lesbians are famously easy to infuriate (there, I just did it myself), but being told by someone who can get married that gay marriage is a silly distraction from the economy or the war would anger the mellowest homo.

Also, where do you get off assuming that gays and lesbians aren't active on other issues? Many of the same folks lining up to get married in San Francisco last week were without a doubt folks who marched against the war in Iraq and made donations to Howard Dean (RIP). Maybe once gays and lesbians are no longer second-class citizens we'll be able to focus like laser beams on just the economy or the war. In the meantime, TA, as long as we're treated as second-class citizens--and we are, every day save April 15--gays and lesbians are going to fight for our rights, if that's OK with you.

Finally, for a taste of why so many gays and lesbians give a shit about marriage, check out dearmary.com/mary/, a Web site devoted to shaming Mary Cheney, vice president Dick Cheney's daughter. Before her father took over the world Mary Cheney was a professional lesbian and an advocate for gay rights. Now, as her father stumps for an amendment to the U.S. Constitution that would do lasting harm to his own daughter and all other American gays and lesbians, Mary Cheney is AWOL. At dearmary.com/mary/ you'll find letters that show why marriage rights for gays and lesbians are important. And anyone who's interested in adding to the Mary "My Heart Belongs to Daddy" Cheney correspondence can do so via the Web site.

I'm a 29-year-old gay man who started coming out when my state, Ohio, passed a discriminatory law banning gay marriage, civil unions, and domestic-partner benefits. The people who run this state keep saying how they don't want to lose to other states the young, creative people with professional degrees. Well here I am, Ohio, and soon I will go.

I was filled with this coming-out gusto until Super Bowl Sunday. I went to the biggest gay bar in Cleveland. There were at least 50 TVs in the joint. Not one had the game on. I asked the bartender why and he said they don't show sports. "This is a gay bar, you know," one of the patrons added. Now I don't know what to do. Most of my friends are straight--hell, I would be straight except for the likes-to-lick-hairy-chests thing. So where is someone like me supposed to go? Straight Ohio doesn't want me, and gay Ohio apparently doesn't either. Maybe there really isn't a place for me. --Guy From Ohio

One gay bar wasn't showing the Super Bowl and one old queen wasting away on a bar stool said something bitchy, and now you're wondering if there's a place for you? Puh-leeze. For someone who likes hairy-chested sports, GFO, your skin isn't very thick. My first bit of advice: toughen up, you big pansy, it's a rough world out there.

On to your problem: you admit that you don't know many gay people, GFO, and that's the real issue here. While on average fewer gay people than straights give a shit about professional sports (I don't even know who played in the Super Bowl), there are tons of gay people out there--in Ohio and elsewhere--who love pro football. Once you get to know more gay men you'll meet more of the gay men who like the same stuff you do, from licking hairy chests to watching hairy-chested men slam into each other. There's a place for you, GFO. Now stop whining and go find it.

I'm sure your readers have been following the gay marriage hoopla in Massachusetts and San Francisco. While I have reservations about the institution of marriage, I believe this is a big moment in the fight for gay rights. And I have a simple idea: all engaged straight couples who support gay rights should get married in Massachusetts. No doubt gays and lesbians are going to flood Massachusetts for same-sex weddings. However, the number of gay couples ready, willing, and able to marry is small. This is where our straight friends can do something important: they can show that they support us by having their weddings in Massachusetts even though they can legally marry anywhere in the country. The wedding industry generates $35 billion in sales annually. If Massachusetts gets a lot more of that revenue, business people and politicians will notice. It may be inconvenient to get married in Massachusetts if you live in, say, Oregon, but what's a little inconvenience compared to the opportunity to help advance civil rights?

--Chris

Find me two people about to be married--gay or straight--who, even for an instant, can think of anyone other than themselves. If that couple exists, and if that couple is straight, and if that straight couple is oddly passionate about gay rights, then maybe--maybe--one straight couple will opt to marry in Massachusetts after reading your letter. This will not, I'm sad to say, bring the other 49 states to their knees. Instead of asking our straight friends to trek to Massachusetts, gays and lesbians should ask them and their families to make big fat contributions to Freedom to Marry (www.freedomtomarry.org.) Perhaps our straight friends could include a donation to Freedom to Marry on their gift registry. Unlike other wedding presents, contributions to Freedom to Marry are tax deductible.

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