First published by The Drum, 7 August 2009
On the way to work on a busy stretch of inner city Sydney road I can count 23 wedding-themed shops offering photography, bridesmaids frocks and bridal accessories, but mostly wedding dresses – from synthetic bright white powder puffs, to edgy and sexy designer gowns.
Like paparazzi light bulbs lining the red carpet, the window displays are so luminous that even in winter they practically demand sunglasses.
They’ve also left me spending some time pondering why I’ve never been tempted to be covered in confetti. It has something to do with coming to adulthood when a particular feminist version of the Gen X grunge aesthetic was in vogue. The wedding dress, if it was worn at all, was worn ironically and at dress-up parties, after a lustful, writhing Madonna in the video clip Like a Virgin.
In more recent years my no-wedding stance has had more to do with the fact that I’m not sure how I could invite my gay and lesbian friends and family members to an event they can’t themselves hold.
I expect many will find this hard to believe. When Brad Pitt declared he was boycotting marriage until same-sex couples could wed, men everywhere metaphorically back slapped Pitt for coming up with possibly the world’s best excuse to avoid getting hitched.
I just wondered what was so difficult to understand (besides, would any straight bloke, even Brad Pitt, seriously invent a reason to avoid marrying Ange?).
What we should be asking is why we heterosexually-coupled are so intent on keeping the marriage business to ourselves – even while we’ve broken almost every other wedding rule going. Without blinking we routinely attend weddings where first husbands give away ex-wives to the next husband. Or weddings between straight couples where the best man is a woman, or where couples marry underwater or naked (or both simultaneously) to demonstrate how they are, like, straight but not straight.
Yet when it’s two women, or two men, we draw (a very straight) line.
Straight people, it seems, prefer gays take a supporting role in our wedding fantasies – like the Rupert Everett character who plays Julia Roberts’ faux fiancé in My Best Friend’s Wedding, or the ubiquitous gay wedding planner, most recently seen organising Carrie’s nuptials in the movie of Sex and the City.
Perhaps deep down many heterosexuals feel there’s too much to be gained from marriage – whether family approval and favourable inheritance plans, or added status in the workplace or society – to let non-straights in on the act.
The very same people who would abhor the idea of, say, a bar that said “whites only” will nevertheless gladly jump into the heterosexuals-only marriage club without a moment’s thought.
It’s true that some traditionalists argue same-sex marriage should never be allowed because matrimony is for producing children. But on that thinking we should ban weddings between the old, the infertile, or the avowedly childless – and force the rest to sign solemn declarations of their reproductive intentions.
It’s also true that many gays and lesbians don’t want to be married. But many heterosexuals don’t either – yet they are still free to marry, should their feelings and circumstances change.
To argue for same-sex marriage isn’t an argument in favour of marriage per se. It’s simply an argument for equality. And just as most minority battles have depended on the enlightened portion of the majority getting behind them, same-sex marriage isn’t ever going to get to the altar until its straight supporters vocally come out in support.
Like Sean Penn, who said when accepting his best actor Oscar for his portrayal of gay politician Harvey Milk: “We’ve got to have equal rights for everyone”.
The Australian federal government recently removed many laws that discriminated against gays and lesbians in superannuation and many other areas, but Kevin Rudd has refused to budge on same-sex marriage, more than once affirming his conservative religious stance that marriage is something “between a man and a woman”.
Similarly in the US Obama has described marriage as “something sanctified between a man and a woman”.
But the tide seems to be turning. In the US, states such as New Hampshire, Iowa, Vermont, Massachusetts, Connecticut and Maine either currently allow, or are about to introduce, same sex marriage, with New York set to follow.
Recently two close friends flew to the US and took a train to the Canadian side of Niagara Falls to marry. The only way to take part in their ceremony was to wake up at 2am and watch the live video stream they’d organised on the internet.
Instead of sharing the moment with family and friends in Australia, they celebrated with sausage rolls and lamingtons in their rented New York apartment with gay friends they’d made online.
So I’m proposing straights stop proposing. Call it the “I won”t say I do until you can too” boycott.
If it works, Kevin Rudd may find out that same-sex marriage is just the stimulus package he is looking for. The boarded up shop fronts on my work route would come alive with names like Marrying Men and Lesbian Love for Life.
If the Sydney Mardi Gras is any guide, I’ll be in investing in some extra dark sunglasses.