Written by Amena Johnson
Prior to 2009, I was happy to fantasize about the commitment ceremony my future partner and I would have. It would be a celebration of love with my family, both blood and chosen. In the beginning of 2009 only five states had legalized same sex marriage and well over 50% of the country had bans on same sex marriage.
The thought that I would be able to have a legal marriage was pretty farfetched and that was just fine with me. Then in December 2009, Washington, D.C., legalized same sex marriage. I lived in Maryland, just over the border from D.C., and I was a little surprised and conflicted that this actually happened. After all that fantasizing about a commitment ceremony, I was not sure I wanted to be legally married.
Marriage is not the Answer to Homophobia
This may come as a surprise to many that know me, but I was not 100 percent on the gay marriage bandwagon. I did not believe that marriage was the answer to homophobia. Marriage was not going to make schools safe for the countless numbers of LGBTQ students that were being bullied in school. It was definitely not going to stop the senseless murders of transgendered people. I also did not believe in the institution of government-sanctioned marriage for anyone, straight or LGBTQ.
Marriage is a Tool for Control
As a black woman, the government has had a lot to say about how I move through this world. Marriage as we know it, including same-sex marriage, is yet another tool used to control and stigmatize all of us. It controls us by dictating how we should form and organize our families. It stigmatizes those that are unmarried by limiting access to essential services such as health care. I think it is disgraceful that I cannot extend the health benefits I receive from my job to a friend in need. That right is only reserved for my spouse. These are only a few of the ways that the government legally punishes people who are not married.
Marriage Does More Damage Than Good
Government policies on marriage spill over into the way we treat one another. Single people are constantly harassed and feel pressure about getting married. Women are made to feel as though they have failed if they are unmarried by a certain age. We as a society are so obsessed with marriage that we even dedicate entire rituals at weddings to see who is getting married next. The wedding industry makes big money in this country, bringing in 55 billion dollars per year. Weddings and the push to be married can fuel poor body image and low self-esteem. This pressure can lead people into getting into bad relationships just to get married and check that off the list of societal demands. For all these reasons and more, I feel that marriage may do more damage than good to many people in our society.
I Agonized About Getting Married
With my beliefs on marriage, it may come as a surprise that I celebrated my one-year wedding anniversary a few weeks ago. With all this anti-marriage talk you may be asking yourself why I would get married. The simple answer is, like many others, I am in love and have found the person that I absolutely want to spend the rest of my life with. I also, like many others, love rituals. I was overjoyed about creating a wedding ceremony that celebrated the love my wife and I have for each other as well as our friends and family. This is what I wanted in a commitment ceremony, something filled with tradition and meaning. Having a piece of paper to make my union legal was not necessary, and yet in spite of all this, on September 19, 2015, I was legally married.
My wife and my close friends will tell you that before I got married, I questioned whether I was doing the right thing.
I agonized over and felt guilty about the fact that I was giving into the institution of marriage.
I did all of this while having Black Lesbian Love Lab feature us on their website for a year while we planned our wedding. I am sure this sounds like a huge contradiction. It certainly felt like one to me. My relationship was already pretty heteronormative and I was going to add to that by getting married. How was I to ease these feelings of guilt and subjugation? I know—I was putting myself through a lot.
The Anti-Mainstream LGBTQ Elite
I work in the social justice field. I often come in contact with people that I refer to as the LGBTQ activist elite. These are individuals that detest anything having to do with the traditional standards society holds us to. If you conform to these standards in any way, you are seen as a traitor to the cause. This pressure was pulling me apart. One day while beating myself up I realized that the pressure I was feeling not to marry was coming from the same place as the pressure to get married. I came to realize that what the LGBTQ activist elite were doing was just as narrow minded as conventional society. On the one hand, mainstream society says, get married or you will not be accepted. On the other hand, you are told if you look too mainstream you will not be accepted.
I have a right to have any type of relationship I desire, be that conventional or unconventional. While what my wife and I have may seem like an attempt to emulate heterosexual people, no part of it is trying to conform to any particular ideology. We are simply doing what comes naturally to us. Telling us that we are wrong for marrying is just as bad as telling us we are wrong for being in love with each other. Our relationship is solely and uniquely ours. We should all be free to have the relationships and families that we want. Some of us will have relationships with one man and one woman. Some of us will have relationships with several people. Some of us will get married and some of us will remain single. We may or may not have children. No matter the configuration, how we choose to love one another is beautiful, and the government, society, or the LGBTQ activist elite do not have the right to tell us it is flawed.
My Wife’s Medical Scare
Recently, the reason I got married and one of the reasons I don’t like marriage converged. A few weeks ago my wife went to the emergency room and ended up being admitted to the hospital. As I watched the medical staff attend to her and watched her sleep, I thought about how I could be denied the right to be there if we were not legally married. This thought put me at ease and stirred up bitterness at the same time. While this was a key factor in my decision to legally marry, it enraged me that I or anyone might be denied this type of access if they were friends or an unmarried couple. I live with this constant dissonance around what I want and what society requires. Although I am against government-sanctioned marriage, I got legally married because not doing so may have left my wife in that hospital room alone.
Marriage is an Oppressive Institution
The LGBTQ activist elite might be looking down on me at the very moment for “selling out.” I would ask them, how do I choose between not getting married legally and being there to support my sick spouse?
As we begin our second year of marriage, my feelings about marriage have not changed. I still think it is an oppressive institution.
I can have those feelings while at the same time being madly in love and overjoyed to be married to my wife. I want to be married and I want to make the protections that are currently exclusive to marriage apply to everyone. I believe giving and receiving love whether it is in a romantic relationship or the ties that we form with friends and family is an essential part of life. I hope to one day live in a world where everyone chooses how they want to love and be loved and are not judged for it.