Friday, September 12, 2008

Twelve Years Later: Marriage Equality (and other forms of bondage)

(Leather Life column published in Lavender Magazine, Issue #347, September 12, 2008)

Sometimes it’s good to take a look back to see how far we’ve come on an issue—in this case, marriage equality—and also how far we still have to go. In that spirit, I’m going to revisit a column I wrote almost twelve years ago that appeared in issue #38 of Lavender (Nov. 8, 1996).

Since that column appeared, marriage equality for same-gender couples has made significant progress. Same-gender marriage has become legal in six countries, with fifteen more allowing same-gender partnerships or unions. In the U.S., Massachusetts and California allow marriage for same-gender couples and New York recognizes same-gender marriages performed elsewhere. Six more states allow same-gender partnerships or unions. Closer to home, marriage-equality legislation was introduced in both houses of the Minnesota legislature last May, sponsored by five senators (the maximum number allowed) and fourteen representatives, all of whom deserve a big “Thank you!” for their courage and support. (Visit <> for more information.)

I started the 1996 column by saying marriage for same-gender couples seemed to have become a hot-button topic of discussion and activism in the leather community. One outgoing titleholder that year renewed his vows with his partner as part of his stepping-down speech. Another, a competitor in the International Mr. Drummer contest in San Francisco, went on to win the contest after marrying his partner onstage. But for the leather community, I said, same-gender marriage was really just the tip of the iceberg:

Relationships in the gay community in general and the leather/SM community in particular come in a rainbow of flavors the general straight public doesn’t usually consider. The leather community, in addition to woman/woman or man/man (and even, on occasion, woman/man) spousal relationships, offers such esoteric relationship choices as daddy/boy (neither of which is necessarily male, by the way) and master/slave. Adding to the richness of choices (or confusion, depending on your viewpoint) is the fact that one person may engage in multiple concurrent relationships; one person could theoretically be someone’s boy, someone else’s daddy, someone else’s master or slave, and someone else’s spouse all at the same time.

Certain elements of straight society find relationships like these threatening and subversive. They are so frightened by the form of these relationships they never get around to investigating the content; if they did they’d see the same kind of “traditional family values” they spend so much time talking about. . . .

If we let someone else’s disapproval dampen our enjoyment of our culture and our relationships we have only ourselves to blame. No one can oppress another without the other’s consent. To the extent we are secretive about the nature of our relationships we reinforce to ourselves, and to the general public, the idea that those relationships aren’t acceptable.

The Stonewall rebellion was about gays and lesbians questioning their oppression by straight society. It spawned a viewpoint that said, “We’re tired of not having the same rights as straights. When is it going to be our turn?”

The answer to that question is simple. It’s our turn whenever we take it.

But if we don’t take it, no one will ever give it to us.

More and more gay people, both leather and non-leather, aren’t waiting for society to legalize gay marriage, to “give us our turn.” They’re taking their turn right now. The leather/SM and non-leather GLBT communities have taken society’s rulebook (in which marriage is defined as a lifelong monogamous union of a submissive wife and a dominant husband for the purpose of producing offspring) and thrown it away. We no longer constrained by those rules—we are free to invent new kinds of relationships that meet our needs and the needs of those we love. If two people of whatever sex and/or gender decide that a traditional monogamous marriage framework (with or without children) is what they want, fine. If another framework better meets their needs, that’s fine too.

Legalized gay marriage will offer certain benefits (and will also entail certain responsibilities). But legislation won’t change peoples’ hearts and minds—hearts and minds will have to change in order for the legislation to be enacted. And hearts and minds will be changed, one heart and one mind at a time, by enough of us being open and proud of our culture and our relationships—woman/woman, man/man, daddy/boy, master/slave, whatever.

Leather pride—or any other pride, for that matter—is when we can be open, honest, genuine about ourselves and our relationships, and not feel a need to apologize. And it’s a self-fulfilling prophecy—over time society will get used to the idea that our relationships can be healthy, positive and satisfying. Finally, in a stunning example of anticlimax, gay marriage will be legalized.

But we don’t really have to wait for that to happen. Remember, it’s our turn whenever we take it. It’s our turn right now.
It was true in 1996. It’s still true today.

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