Marriage and the Language of Visibility

A year ago, this utility company advertising poster on a wall in a Berlin U-Bahn station might have been considered “provocative” and pushing a progressive social agenda. Now, it’s showcasing the new normal, as marriage in Germany is no longer defined by gender, and so it follows, neither are families. Fighting bigots for the right to same-sex marriage was about our being able to pitch our wedding reception tent on the enemy’s lawn, and with the law in place…well, now it’s our lawn too.

I’ve witnessed the impact of this before, as I was living in Spain when the Zapatero government introduced gay marriage in 2004. I’d always thought of it as a rather bourgeois aspiration, a side-show compared to some of the other stuff we needed to change and the institutional homophobia we needed to challenge. What I hadn’t realised was that the legalisation of same-sex marriage would give us an opportunity to confront those issues from a place we hadn’t had before. It removes a distinction between gay and heterosexual partnerships which has often been used as a dubious “moral high ground” to facilitate discrimination.

Suddenly, we had a whole new audience and a crowd of allies; the family and friends at our wedding parties. Sure, they’d often nodded in agreement when we talked about injustices in healthcare, employment, adoption and so on, but they didn’t always see it from our perspective. Now though, we’re properly family, and if one part of the family doesn’t get treated the same way as the rest, then there’s clearly something wrong. This may sound ridiculously superficial, but whatever, it’s how things are.

Same sex marriage also empowers family and friends to talk about the gay couples and friends they know with pride in a way many haven’t always felt able to before, and that’s powerful. Visibility at eye level, positive affirmation and clear reference to us in the language of everyday life are important.

The Trump regime instinctively knows this, and that’s why they’re chipping away at our public narrative by – for example – telling the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention that it should no longer use words like transgender and diversity in official documents. It’s a small thing, but as we are erased from official discourse, our relevance is eroded and we are more vulnerable to deeper threats.

For now though, we should celebrate the first same-sex marriages in countries like Germany, Australia and Mexico, and the recognition of transgender identity in Botswana, while keeping in mind that even with an army of new allies behind us, Donald Trump’s team shows us just how our world can turn on a dime.

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