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We Decline with Regret, or Why My Partner and I Won’t Go to Weddings Anymore

In an open letter posted on his Facebook wall, my partner, Doug, informed our heterosexual friends that we will no longer attend weddings or send wedding gifts. He says many things, but unless you’re his friend on Facebook, you’ll have to settle for this key quote:

We have many lovely, caring friends. If you truly value us and agree we should have the same rights as you, please don’t let the excitement of planning your wedding overshadow the reality that we are without the more than 1,138 federal rights that accompany civil marriage, with some additional 300 to 600 per individual state.

Actually, the idea to essentially boycott our friends’ weddings came from me a few months ago. He originally hesitated, and I understood why, because I was not comfortable with the idea either. We’ve been talking it over for a while.

An engaged couple we know visited us recently, and we talked to them about our idea. They said they understood and wouldn’t feel offended if we decided not to attend, even though they would miss us being there. Their support didn’t surprise us, and we quickly retreated. Would not attending their wedding really send a message? The people we worried about offending would understand, but the people who don’t care about or are against marriage equality probably wouldn’t even miss our presence.

It’s ironic that Doug and I can’t get married considering we met while performing in an improv show about a wedding and reception. For 100+ performances, vows were taken, toasts were given, the bouquet was thrown, and we were there for all of it, making sure everything ran smoothly and that the “guests” had a good time.

Our show dramatized what is arguably the most widely produced cultural experience in Western culture. The guests/audience knew what to expect, and we quickly figured out how to fulfill their expectations. The show was not about me or Doug or most of the rest of the performers. Our job was to direct attention back to the bride and groom, who went their separate ways during the reception–ritually, and because they bickered. Would their beginning become their end? Of course not.

The audience didn’t get to find out if the couple stayed together. That wasn’t the point. A wedding’s happy ending marks a new beginning, but it’s not supposed to be about the work involved in maintaining a relationship. A strong, loving relationship is possible without a ceremony, financial support, or gifts of household items. You don’t even need equal civil rights. People bond in significant ways regardless of whether or not anyone cares. Commitment has a life of its own, whether or not those commitments are honored by partners’ fellow citizens.

I can’t claim that we’ve had no support. Besides the wonderful friends Doug and I have, we’ve also got supportive parents. Their support doesn’t grant us any rights, though. We’ve set up powers of attorney, wills, and other safeguards, which, unfortunately, are not fool-proof.

If one of us were in the hospital, the other one would have to depend on the motives of particular staff members to honor our legal rights. If not, that moment of vulnerability would turn into a battle of persuasion, waiting for someone with authority to vouch for our legal right to make medical decisions for each other and, just as important, to be in the same room, even though we’ve been together for 15 years. All of that struggle takes time, and in moments like that, there often isn’t much time. Heterosexual spouses and estranged “blood relatives” don’t usually have to provide documentation to get these rights, and there are many examples of blood relatives overriding the wishes of unmarried partners with a simple request.

Staying away from weddings won’t change these circumstances. And I worry that we’ll be accused of trying to exploit our friends’ special days. What really motivates us is that we can’t truly share in the experience of a wedding. Most wedding guests either have married or will be able to marry. In fact, Doug and I cannot share in that. Going to a wedding is, for us, like simultaneously being in the room and watching from outside at the same. We can only approximate what it would be like to have a ceremony that would lead to having rights.

We’ve had more than our share of pretending, and not just at fake weddings. We’re always guests, ushers, singers. Putting in our dues as secondary players gets us nowhere. We are, frankly, tired of going through the motions.

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4 Responses

  1. I read Doug’s open letter when you posted it on Facebook and read this just now. Both brought tears to my eyes. How can I help? I want to, but I’m not sure which is the most effective way to do so. – Renee

  2. good for you!

    now if we could get gay people to stop working at weddings too, the industry might collapse 😉

    seriously, i like your stance.

  3. Renee — You’re a wonderful friend, so basically just keep doing what you’re doing. For additional ideas, try this web site: http://freedomtomarrypa.org/.

    lesbianneurotica — Thanks for the comment. I agree and had thought of addressing that point, but figured I’d blathered on long enough.

  4. […] Posted on February 2, 2010 by j3black My last screed dealt with weddings as systemic insult. Despite the many positive responses I’ve received, some friends think it’s unfair to […]

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