Across the country, many gays are smarting after a hefty slab of California's voters took the opportunity last month to say "no, absolutely not" to the notion of gay marriage. But the dismay is tempered by other gays asking, "Why did we ever want the sacred institution in the first place?"

Still militantly campaigning for gay marriage is Eric Rofes, who teaches in the department of education at Humboldt State. Rofes says it's now time to take the gloves off. "Some of us have grown impatient, and are no longer satisfied with strategies which fail to directly confront mainstream resistance to same-sex marriage. We may take up the tactics most necessary for social change but largely absent from a contemporary queer movement comprised almost entirely of suit-and-skirt lobbyists, splashy television advertisements and upscale, black-tie dinner banquets."

So, what is item one on Rofes' new revolutionary agenda? He says gays should boycott mixed-sex weddings. "These days, when I receive an invitation to the marriage of heterosexual friends, family members or students, I am filled with outrage. What nerve! Sending an invitation to me (and often, my lover) with no reference to the fact that I am being asked to participate as an observer in an event in which I legally am not permitted to be a central participant! No note acknowledging the disparity and injustice, no sheepish apology for participating in an institution of segregation, no phone call checking in about the politics of it all."

We should put Rofes together with the Hallmark company or with Miss Manners, and together, they can amend the old-fashioned wedding invite in the direction desired by Rofes, with similar apologetic language about possible offense caused to other groups. Rofes says gays should start picketing weddings, holding demonstrations outside newspapers that run marriage columns, and disrupting television shows such as "Who Wants to Marry a Multimillionaire?" or "The Newlywed Game," "which are conceptualized around an institution currently founded on exclusivity and bigotry."

Rofes hopes for coordinated days of action when same-sex couples attempt to register at the local county clerk's office. He also urges gays to go to big-time, glitzy weddings of politicos or celebs "silently holding up signs stating 'Participation in Marriage is Participation in Injustice' or 'Saying I Do when We Can't Equals Bigotry,' or crashing local wedding ceremonies at the moment where the officiator asks for any objections, and standing up and reciting a speech about the shameful inequity of access to marriage." He add that straights should burn their marriage licenses as a sign of solidarity and protest.

What's so sad about Rofes' "call to action" is the conventionality of his world view. It's like the gay fashion, some years ago, for wearing shirts or jackets with the insignia of a sheriff's deputy. The rationale used to be that gays were thus undermining heterosexism by snugging their antinomian bodies into the vestments of the oppressor, but mostly, it seemed to me more of a yearning to be a cop rather than an outlaw, armed with all the authority and sanction of the state.

As Jim Eigo, a writer and activist whose thinking was very influential in the early days of ACT UP put it, "What's the use of being queer if you can't be different? Why are current mainstream gay organizations working to strike a bargain with straight society that will make some queers less equal than others? Under its terms, gays who are willing to mimic heterosexual relations, and enter into a legally enforced lifetime sexual bond with one other person will be granted special benefits and status to be withheld from those who refuse such domestication. Marriage has no more place in efforts to achieve equality than slavery or the divine right of kings. At this juncture in history, wouldn't it make more sense for us to try to figure out how to relieve heterosexuals of the outdated shackles of matrimony?"

So, there could be twin gay demonstrations at weddings, with one lot calling on the about-to-be-weds to desist until gays can themselves tie the legal knot, and the other lot urging the straights to hold back from this pact with oppression and enslavement.

The high rate of divorce may have something to do with the eagerness of gays for legal marriage. As Eigo points out, "Maybe the promise of gay divorce accounts for the fact that gay lawyers constitute the front line of the campaign to install gay marriage." He favors a do-it-yourself approach to knot-tying, calling for ceremonies by private, social or religious groups to make public expression of those commitments, "enhancing the meaning and pleasure of our lives: a panoply of dyke and fag pageants."

Eigo also makes the sound point that in this society, access to health care still depends largely on whom you work for or who your spouse is. Should gays really want to reinforce this inequality by introducing state-enforced gay marriage? In the age of AIDS, should gays further institutionalize health care's dependence on marriage, abandoning many gay people, including those with HIV -- without health care and without spouse -- to hopelessness?

I like the outlook of Bill Dobbs, an attorney and gay activist in New York: "Marriage works by shaming those who do not partake. Listen to the rhetoric of the proponents of marriage -- or the opponents of gay marriage. Mirror-image madness. Of course, the straight, liberal thing these days is to endorse marriage for the gays -- so much for the feminist analysis of that institution. Boyd McDonald said that if gays ran the world, it would be just as sordid as it is with straights in charge. What I call freedom from marriage is a very precious thing. We need to continue to craft ways that people who wish to consider themselves kin can do so -- but not at the expense of single people."

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