In reacting to my post on whether straight couples should divorce if gays can’t get married, many of you have referred me to Ian Ayres and Jennfire Gerarda Brown’s book, Straightforward: How to Mobilize Heterosexual Support for Gay Rights. I feel a little sheepish that I hadn’t read the book, and only dimly heard of it.
Like all of Ayres’ work and Brown’s work, it figures to be sharp, sensible, and thought-provoking, and I look forward to reading it. But I must say that one idea that readers keep coming back to, and endorsed by Ayres and Brown, seems pretty weak: stop wearing your wedding ring. Oh, and call your spouse your “partner” instead.
Ayres and Brown are looking for intermediate solutions for how straight people can handle their privilege, and that makes sense as far as it goes. But it seems to me that that the point is for a response to proportional to the harm it combats (to use a phrase much in vogue nowadays). Moderation in the pursuit of justice is no virtue, a not-so-wise man once said, although he got this one right.
Let’s see now: gays and lesbians can’t get married; they can’t get the tax benefits that straight couples get; in states outside of Massachusetts, Connecticut, and California, they can’t get a whole host of other benefits that straight couples get. Many states ban same-sex partner benefits, ban visitation privileges, ban any recognition of a committed, loving relationship. And the appropriate response to that is for me and my “partner” to take off our wedding rings? We can expect more of ourselves than that.
Ayres and Brown must have an answer to this issue. In a Balkinization post, Ayres endorsed the idea of “ambiguation”, that is, making it unclear to your audience whether or not you are gay. Again, good as far as it goes. But Ayres also understands that such moves cannot be trivial. And since marriage (and its benefits) is so important, lots of things will seem trivial. More recently, Ayres has suggested monetizing the benefits of marriage and contributing to equality causes with the money. That’s more like it. Is it enough?