Oh, Behave!

Why Boycotting Straight Weddings Will Not Necessarily Lead to Marriage Equality

In a recent New York Times editorial, contributor Rich Benjamin explained why he would not be attending the wedding of his longtime friend Zachary and Zachary’s fiancée, Caroline.

“Why should I financially subsidize and emotionally invest in a ritual that excludes me in all but five states (and the District of Columbia)?” asks Benjamin, before likening a queer person attending a straight wedding to a vegan attending a pig roast. Of his engaged friend (who supports same-sex marriage), Benjamin says Zachary “resents me for blowing off his special day, for putting political beliefs ahead of our friendship and for punishing him for others’ deeds.”

Sorry, Rich — I’m with the straight guy on this one.

First, using another person’s wedding as a soapbox for your political viewpoints is indeed tacky. It reeks of self-important grandstanding. From an etiquette point of view, if you can’t attend a wedding (for whatever reason), you send your regrets and a nice note, and then shut up. (In other words, it’s not about you.)

Second, boycotting opposite-sex weddings seems to send the message (often touted by anti-equality folks) that we’re against “traditional marriage.” Benjamin got that all twisted here. We need to be showing everyone how much we’re a part of the family — and how much we love marriage.

Third, being cruel is no way to bring anyone around to you point of view. (After all, that’s what the other side does with their constant slanderous, mean-spirited attacks on gay people as human beings.) We need to be strengthening alliances, not shredding them. Benjamin’s behavior might very well ruin a friendship — and therefore put an end to other, better ways to get an ally to the polls or to spread a message. We have to stay engaged in dialogues with our friends and families — not hide in our rooms like sulky teens when we don’t get our way. Instead of finding a “teachable moment” here, Benjamin slammed a door.

Finally, it’s one couple’s wedding we’re talking about, not the institution of marriage. Benjamin opines that it’s “absurd to celebrate an institution that I am banned from in most of the country.” But he’s got that wrong, too. A wedding isn’t a celebration of an institution; it’s a celebration of love and commitment. And boycotting a wedding isn’t the same as boycotting a store or service with discriminatory policies. Each marriage — each wedding — in the end, belongs to the people in it, not to the government.

It’d be really nice (but it’s by no means compulsory) for a straight friend like Zachary to demonstrate that he is not taking for granted the fact that he is enjoying a right that others are denied. For instance, not narrow-straights might consider registering with an equal-marriage-rights organization along with the usual home-improvement stores. Or even making a public pro-equality statement somewhere along the road to matrimony.

And I would’ve liked Benjamin’s editorial a lot better if he’d found a positive outlet for his pro-equality passion. Did he even bother to ask Zachary for any of the above? Or he could have taken on the burden himself. Imagine if he’d said something like this: “Every time I get invited to a mixed-gender wedding, I decline and spend four hours volunteering for an equal-marriage-rights organization.” Instead, the only activism he describes here is throwing wedding invitations in the trash.

Not really effective, I’d say.

Back to the vegan-at-a-pig-roast analogy: As a vegetarian who is very much against the killing and eating of pigs, I can say that if a good friend invited me to a dinner centered around roast pork, of course I’d go — to enjoy my loved ones’ company. I’d just eat some trail mix before I left and then stick to the salad while everyone else got down with the carnitas. It’s nice (but not compulsory) for the host to put out a veggie option, but I didn’t come to eat — I came to nourish myself with human companionship.

When folks come to my  house, they get squash (and maybe there’s a teachable moment). No need for a big fuss. It’s called meeting people halfway. It’s called “There’s a time and a place for everything.” It’s called teaching by example. And that’s good manners.

Charles Purdy is the author of the book Urban Etiquette: Modern Manners for the Modern Metropolis and a longtime manners-advice columnist. In his Queerty column, he addresses issues related to social behavior. Find him on Twitter: @charlesqueerty

photo submitted by gaycities member jclouser