Support for same-sex marriage in the queer community

There are symbolic and legal reasons to support gay marriage.

James Castle


On Wednesday morning, state legislators introduced a bill that would allow same-sex couples to marry in Minnesota. The bill would overturn a prohibitive statute.

Not everyone, however, supports same-sex marriage. Surprisingly, even some members of the gay, lesbian and bisexual community, who directly benefit most from the proposed bill, are opposed to marriage and same-sex marriage. They argue that marriage is a patriarchal and heteronormative institution. Marriage has an oppressive history where women were treated as property in economic transactions between male (father) and male (husband). Marriage and its traditions are designed for heterosexual couples, so why should lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people value and participate in an institution that has no historical relevance to their lives? But these critics seriously miss the point.

First, it’s important to distinguish between supporting same-sex marriage or marriage and supporting legal same-sex marriage. It’s perfectly reasonable to criticize marriage as a social institution, and such criticism should be encouraged. But there are other reasons why one should, nonetheless, support legal same-sex marriage. These reasons are both symbolic and legal.

Regardless of whether you think marriage has any relevance to your life, personally, the fact remains that marriage is a basic civil right. In Minnesota, all persons who desire same-sex partners are expressly denied access to that right. Whether you actually support marriage or same-sex marriage is irrelevant. The real issue is that you and every other person who desires a same-sex partner lack access to rights that others are granted, for the sole purpose of designating yours and their relationships as lesser than those of heterosexual couples. In this sense, support for legal same-sex marriage isn’t an endorsement of marriage itself but symbolic of one’s support for LGBTs having equal status under the law.

As stated earlier, the new proposed bill would repeal a 1997 statute. This statute is called the Minnesota Defense of Marriage Act. The statute is Minnesota’s version of the federal DOMA — many states adopted versions of this act — which defines marriage as only being between one man and one woman and allows states to deny recognition of same-sex marriages performed in other states. To illustrate, if you were to marry a same-sex partner in New York, where same-sex marriage is permitted, and were then to move back to Minnesota, Minnesota would not recognize your New York marriage contract. In addition, if you were to marry a same-sex partner in any state that allows such marriages, the federal government currently would not recognize your marriage.

This created some problems for some Minnesota district courts, the courts primarily responsible for hearing matters concerning family law and probate law in the state, among others. As a consequence of the Minnesota DOMA, district courts were unable to adjudicate, for instance, the divorce of a same-sex marriage from another state, a case that would otherwise be routine for district courts. This changed Aug. 1, 2012, when a judge of the Hennepin County Probate Court affirmed the ruling of the court’s referee that Minnesota courts have some power to dissolve same-sex marriages from other states with respect to statutory rights. The case, In re: the Estate of Proehl, involves two men who were legally married in California. After one spouse died without a will, the surviving spouse asked the probate court to determine the heir of the deceased spouse. On a narrow interpretation of the Minnesota DOMA, the court held that the intent of the Minnesota Legislature in drafting the law did not include denying same-sex couples married in other states some of the benefits of marriage.

So what’s the issue? The courts in Minnesota have interpreted their way around some of the issues created by the Minnesota DOMA, so why should the law be repealed? The court’s narrow interpretation of the statute shows that courts are willing to recognize same-sex marriage in at least some capacity, but the Minnesota DOMA still complicates that willingness. For example, the parents of the decedent in the Proehl case disclaimed their inheritance, stating that they believed their son’s husband Morrison to be the intended heir. Had the parents not done so, however, Morrison would not have been the heir in that case. In addition to being symbolic of the lesser status of LGBTs under the law, the Minnesota DOMA creates other legal obstacles as a result of so much state variability on marriage and the Minnesota courts’ recent trend in being more receptive to recognizing same-sex marriages.

Aside from the argument that marriage is heteronormative and patriarchal, other critics of same-sex marriage point to the law’s unequal treatment of other family types, such as single-parent families, co-habitating couples or families who are otherwise unable or simply unwilling to marry. Why should they be denied the rights and benefits that married couples are afforded? This is a fair critique of the current legal system. Certainly legal same-sex marriage is not the end-all-be-all of equality in family law, but legal same-sex marriage is, nonetheless, a practical step in that direction.

Not everyone desires to marry, including many gay people who are critical of marriage. But that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t support legalizing same-sex marriage. Legalizing same-sex marriage goes beyond heteronormativity and patriarchy. Legal same-sex marriage is a symbol of our humanity and recognition that our love for others means something.