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"Straight, Not Narrow: How Straight Couples Can Support Gay Marriage"--An Op-Ed by Profs. Ian Ayres and Jennifer Brown


This article was originally published in the New Haven Advocate on June 16, 2005.

A little over one year ago, the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial court made history with its 2004 decision in Goodridge, generating a new option for gay couples: marriage. But now that it is possible to marry in a jurisdiction that does not discriminate on the basis of sexual orientation, is it moral for heterosexuals to marry in discriminating states? To understand this dilemma, imagine you were living in Virginia when the state still prohibited interracial marriage. Even if you wanted to marry someone of the same race, wouldn't you consider traveling to a neighboring state that did not discriminate?

From now on, every heterosexual couple that wants to marry must face the same question. Some will protest that planning a wedding is tough enough; requiring long-distance planning is unrealistic. But for many couples, Massachusetts is close by. What if a couple lives down the road from Massachusetts? Ten miles away?

Besides, for the last century couples have taken their weddings on the road, marrying in, say, Hawaii for scenery or Las Vegas for kitsch. Now they can travel for a different value: equality. It helps that Cape Cod, the Berkshires, and Boston's historic neighborhoods offer lovely venues for weddings and receptions. Mitt Romney said he did not want Massachusetts to become the Las Vegas of "gay marriages." But legalizing same-sex marriages could also make Massachusetts the Las Vegas of straight ally marriages-as "hetero holdouts" travel there to avoid marrying in a discriminatory jurisdiction.

The choices created by Massachusetts marriage equality do not end with travel plans. Even couples who marry at home in discriminating states have some decisions to make. Consider the wedding invitation itself. Even though most gay/bi/lesbian people would never think of raising the issue with their marrying heterosexual friends, they could quite reasonably harbor feelings of disquiet and pain that they are excluded from the very institution they are asked to celebrate. One might think that marriage rights for same-sex couples in some jurisdictions would reduce such feelings of pain and resentment. But a couple's choice to marry in a discriminatory state, even as non-discriminatory options become more readily available, may exacerbate negative feelings.

Perhaps a personal note could accompany invitations to gay and lesbian friends. A couple could apologize for marrying in a state or church where their friends cannot. An explanation, like concern for a sick parent who cannot travel to Massachusetts, might help.

Couples make all sorts of choices about their ceremony. They could include a public statement of support-a prayer or blessing, for example-specifically acknowledging the love and commitment of gay and lesbian couples who cannot marry.

Heterosexuals who marry might devote some combination of time and money to work for change. As newlyweds, they could spend their honeymoon in Massachusetts and reward the state that has done the most to promote marriage equality. In lieu of gifts, couples might ask wedding guests to contribute to freedomtomarry.org or Gay & Lesbian Advocates & Defenders, the organization that won the Massachusetts case (and continues to fight for marriage equality).

Massachusetts' innovation gives all of us some choices. Supporters of gay rights, regardless of sexual orientation, may want to reward the state for its progressive stance. Instead of the negativism of boycotts, a grassroots campaign should declare a marriage "buycott." Summer 2005 looks like a great time to visit Massachusetts.

Ian Ayres and Jennifer Brown are law professors at Yale and Quinnipiac universities and authors of Straightforward: How to Mobilize Heterosexual Support for Gay Rights.