Minding the Semantics of Marriage Equality

I’ve been seeing a lot of headlines in the press, mainstream and LGBT, about marriage equality framed in the term “gay marriage.” Here is an example from a tweet from the National Center for Lesbian Rights.

I it unfortunate that “gay marriage” is the term that has stuck in the popular vernacular. My wife and I were on the front lines in the beginning of this civil rights movement when it began in 2004.  At that time, we were coached by the leading activists of the movement, including many folks from NCLR, not to talk about “gay marriage,” but rather same-sex marriage or marriage equality. There are many good reasons not to use the term “gay marriage.

On of the reasons I am opposed to the “gay marriage” frame is that many lesbians, myself included, don’t identify as “gay.” “Gay” is by and large a term used to describe homosexual men, and as a woman, I simply don’t identify. Gay is gender specific and exclusive of women.

Perhaps more importantly, the term “gay marriage” frames the civil rights issue as if the institution of marriage would be different for same-sex couples. Someone once said to me “we don’t want a disco version of marriage! We want equal marriage rights!”

I also understand the fact that “gay marriage” is the dominant paradigm, and that when people do a news search about it they are not going to search for marriage equality. Bloggers, journalists, and activists want their web pages to appear in the search, so they have to use the terms, too. I know, also, that “gay” is three letters and will take up far less real estate in a headline or a 140-character tweet.

However, is is too much to ask the queer press to at least make an effort to frame the national conversation differently? The example of the tweet that I cited before from NCLR didn’t take up nearly Twitter’s 140-character limit.

I understand the reasons why so many in the queer press write and talk about same-sex marriage using the frame of “gay marriage,” but I see plenty of opportunities where people can be mindful and talk about marriage equality instead. I fear that “gay marriage” has become so pervasive that we in the marriage equality movement have fully adopted it, too.

I sincerely hope that people will be more mindful and change the frame of the conversation whenever the opportunity arises.

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