Working Against Equality: A Closer Look at Queers Who Oppose Gay Marriage

Same-sex marriage is the one issue all gay people can agree on, right? One group of LGBT advocates, Against Equality, is proving otherwise.

Earlier this month, information about a group of queer people who oppose marriage equality made the rounds on the gay blogs, including Slog, Joe. My. God., and AMERICAblog Gay. All of the posts on the organization, called Against Equality, were at least mildly condescending, dismissive of the idea altogether. They didn’t really give Against Equality a fair shot.

But Against Equality’s been around for a year and a half, and they’ve been working the speaker circuit this month in the San Francisco area, building up a base and earning support for their radical message that speaks out about the problems with mainstream gay and lesbian politics. Using their book, Against Equality: Queer Critiques of Gay Marriage, a collection of essays from various queer voices, the arts collective has been tracking and promulgating the reasons that queer people should oppose the push for gay marriage.

“We fight for a seat at a table we don’t really want to sit at, or we say f**k the table—let’s go eat somewhere else.”

Perhaps the gay blogs were less than thoughtful about Against Equality because they were thrown off by the name, which is actually quite a misnomer. The group isn’t against equality at all. They’re a movement for social justice and economic change headed up by queer and transgender people. At this point, they’re focused primarily on rallying against gay marriage, although the organization also has unique thoughts on military inclusion and queers and law enforcement.

The founder of the organization is Ryan Conrad, who describes himself as an “outlaw artist” and “terrorist academic” with “radical queer cultural and activist work.” Conrad explained some of the key points of the movement opposing marriage equality:

For us, a lot of it is about making sure that these things that marriage supposedly promises—this access to certain benefits or privileges—are things that all people have, regardless of their relationship status. … If everyone has access to health care, marriage becomes irrelevant in terms of rights and privileges, and it becomes more of an affective institution where it’s about emotion and love. … But in reality, marriage isn’t about love right now because it has all of these state benefits and privileges attached to it.

He acknowledges that federal marriage rights would allow same-sex couples 1,138 additional rights, but he asserts that you shouldn’t need a special relationship status to have access to those rights. He said:

Almost all [of the 1,138 rights] are exclusively about the transfer of private property and money and children. Marriage is about access to collective benefits that everyone should have, regardless of their marital status. For us, that’s the way we frame it. It’s not “We shouldn’t be doing this,” it’s more that we should be doing this for everyone, not just monogamous, heteronormative gay couples.

It’s fair to take issue with their name, which seems to be purely an example of misguided marketing in that it elicits significant negative press without really encouraging greater reader exploration. Conrad even admitted that it’s maneuvered to be a “sucker-punch of a name to actually get you into the door.” But if you look beyond the name and the organization’s symbol—a “greater than” sign that cleverly culture-jams the Human Rights Campaign’s logo—Conrad and his fellow writers are making some compelling arguments for why we should be thinking beyond marriage.

They don’t view marriage as something that gays should be fighting for—they view it as an economic institution based in class dynamics that are inherently unequal. Their views on gay marriage, therefore, don’t really attack same-sex marriage specifically, but rather, they challenge the institution of marriage as a whole. Conrad explained:

Marriage privileges monogamous couples over all other people—that’s inequality. Marriage is based on inequality. It’s a champion that gives special benefits to people who adhere to a specific articulation of a partnership.

Trying to gain entry into such a broken institution, therefore, is doing little more than absorbing activists’ dollars that could be going into other causes. Conrad explained about other issues that have lost traction in recent years, which he blames somewhat on the excessive amount of attention afforded to the marriage fight. He said:

The campaigns that are built around this concept of equality are actually doing a lot of damage in the present. For example, the amount of time, money and energy going into the gay marriage campaign across the country are sucking up resources that are desperately needed for queer and trans organizations that are providing essential services for LGBTQ youth, LGBTQ elders, working-class queers, Poz queers, queers of color, anti-violence projects for queer people. All the funding is disappearing for all of those things, but there is millions and millions of dollars being spent on gay marriage, and it’s all being fueled by this concept of equality. So, for me, it’s like, we actually need to oppose the wholesale defunding of all of these important things that are in our communities.

Despite the dismissals from the gay blogs, Against Equality is right about at least one thing: The marriage equality issue receives a completely disproportionate amount of media and activist attention with regard to other LGBT issues of real significance in the country. At the same time, some advocates argue, “winning” federal same-sex marriage rights results in more pervasive rights for LGBT people overall—throwing an entire community’s weight, and wallet, behind the single cause very likely ensures a cohesive movement to work toward more inclusive anti-discrimination protections, anti-bullying initiatives in schools and greater overall acceptance of sexual minorities. Moreover, success on the marriage issue on a federal level could free up funds for those more specific problems plaguing members of the LGBT community that Against Equality advocates.

It’s awesome that Conrad and Against Equality are touring to try to prompt these important discussions about the meaning of marriage and its role in the push for LGBT equality. It’s exciting to see an organization challenge the assumption that couples need to buy into the marriage game to validate their relationship.

Ultimately, however, in our current system, it feels futile to argue against gay marriage. It may suck that our country’s marriage institution functions the way it currently does, offering certain financial benefits solely for couples in traditionally recognized relationships, but as long as that’s the way our system works, it shouldn’t discriminate based on sexual orientation.

Conrad and many of the Against Equality members would disagree with this concept. The real question, he said, seems to be “whether we fight for a seat at a table we don’t really want to sit at, or [whether] we say fuck the table—let’s go eat somewhere else.”

But what do you think? Is there a benefit to prioritizing the gay marriage campaign over all other queer issues? And is there a way to combat the inequalities inherent in the current American institution of marriage?

—Photo Andreanna Moya Photography

About Adam Polaski

Adam Polaski is a writer, designer and organizer for Freedom to Marry, where he works with an amazing team to win marriage for same-sex couples nationwide. He also enjoys the New York Public Library, love stories overall, and the perpetual quest to go vegetarian. Follow him at @AdamPolaski


  1. It is an interesting concept. I’m gay (btw I don’t care for the term queer), but I am sick of hearing about marriage. When gay people are being tortured in the Middle East and Africa simply for being who they are, that is what is really important. Or do we not care because they are foreigners? Therefore, I have more respect for Peter Tatchell than some celebrity who jumps on the gay marriage bandwagon.

    • On the one hand, yeah I see what you’re saying. On the other hand, there isn’t really a lot that people in the U.S. (or U.K., other bits of Europe, etc) can do regarding anti-lgbt laws in other parts of the world. Or rather, what we can do abroad is much more limited than what we can do at home. I think it’s worth it to fight for equality on all fronts.

      • But if you think about it, if every person who campaigned for gay marriage wrote to their respective governements demanding that something be done about a specific situation (and it could be one per week) do you think things could change then? For example, four men are about to be hanged in Iran for the “crime” of sodomy. I think pressure can work, but I am sorry to say that I think a lot (NOT all) of gay people are apathetic. I do agree with you on fighting for equality, I just think that maybe our priorities are a bit skewed.

        • No, of course that wouldn’t do anything, Lloyd. International relations are really complicated. It’s not about people being apathetic, it’s about the fact that there’s a lot more roadblocks to getting anything done in a foreign country. If the U.S. (or any other country) were to go in and intervene in foreign laws, then they’d end up being seen as a bully. Plus, they’d potentially end up starting a few wars.

          As for the statement that a lot of lgbt people are apathetic, I would disagree. I’ve yet to meet a self-identified lgbt person who doesn’t have strong opinions about lgbt rights, in some form or another.

  2. gays n lesbqain hav there beliefs that marriage should be for every one who loves n wanted to get marry? n front of the paster they have the same way too? but n front of the lord eyes what that is wrong n to everyone who beleaves that it is love n a joy between a man n a woman not for the same sex. n what they r doing is living in sin of no matter what ? singer/ paster who beleave that its right ? or they doing that for money? or? ppl who lives in church for there lives n they r gay or lesbain? not right that full of living there life as a siner

  3. theres beleaves againts god words??? i know i did some thing was sin. n i ask the lord for some forgiveness for my sin. but? gays n lesbains staying that want to get marry? <sin sorry but it shoulde be in front of the lord eyes between a man & a woman. not lisa 7 pam or tom & harry. & for they paster or who ever ? saying that its ok ?? < sin thoes paster will hav to answer to lord for there jugdement

  4. J.G. te Molder says:

    Oh, god.

    But marriage is unfair! Yeah… and what has that got to do with being queer?

    Oh, right: NOTHING! It’s issue between married couples and non-married couples. You know, a choice that queer folk don’t have in a lot of places in the world, including states in the US.

    You want to address the inequalities of marriage, you don’t make it a queer subject, you make it a subject period.

    As for DADT – un-ffing believable. War is horrible! War is bad! And I don’t wanna die on the battle field! And I don’t want to slaughter innocent people! And my queer friends neither. Great, you don’t have, don’t sign up. Of course, the gay people who do want to do all those things… well, they’re not allowed to because you don’t want them to – and if they do it anyway, they’ll have to suffer undue stress keeping their sexuality hidden!

    What brilliant ideas… uh, no. You have a problem with the war, you don’t need a damn queer group dealing with it, because it’s not about being queer. It’s about peace and wasting mountains of money to make the oil dicks even more mountains of money they already have!

    The only ones for which it actually IS an issue, is MEN. Regardless of your sexuality. Only men need to register, even if they don’t sign up, only men can be drafted through that registration should it ever come to it. And here’s the against equality bit, and the larger then sign. You’re not about remaining inferior, you want gay men to continue have the superior privilege of getting to say “I’m gay” and be sent back home, while the straight men get to die in droves as cannon fodder for you.

    And then the prisons. Newsflash, friend, it isn’t queer’s that get targeted, it’s MEN. A staggering 93% of all prisoners are MEN, a chunk of them for the horrible crime of losing their jobs in an economic crisis and no longer being able to pay the alimony established when they still had jobs! Guess what, the people who like to have men in prisons, don’t give a rat’s ass about your sexuality. Having a penis is enough to get locked away on a flimsy excuse.

    Making a queer group being “against equality” is a waste of deluded effort. If you are actually for equality and not for superiority as it seems, you should have joined up with the only movement that has all those issues in their portfolio, that’s actually not about sexuality, because the issues aren’t about sexuality, and has been steadily growing; to point Ms. Magazine set up this website to start the “daunting task of stopping it in its tracks”. That’s right, the Men’s Rights Movement.

  5. A logical suggestion for effective LGBT rights advocacy

    As a Christian heterosexual, I believe it is excellent that someone in the LGBT community is questioning the myopic siege upon traditional marriage. With all the funds and herculean effort expended and available for this cause, their needs to be some wise direction for it. I do not approve of the LGBT lifestyle, but I support partnership rights. In the legal experience I have acquired, I have learned that it’s often best to do what is smart & discard what is thought or assumed to be right or deserved. Many insist that it is right and just to seek equal status with heterosexual marriage; they even erroneously believe that it is a constitutional right, but whether it is or is not, is basically irrelevant to the movement because the odds against the marriage equality are staggering. Instead, the smart course is to campaign for a non-religious, amoral, city hall based civil union license that offers all benefits of traditional marriage, but carries no government sanction or religious affiliation with, or approval for, the gay lifestyle. That solution provides the necessary benefits and offers a seat at the “other dinner table”. The civil union quest has a fighting chance for success because it can placate the religious & moral opponents. It’s extremely important to gain the marriage benefits, not some idealistic equality utopia.

    Therefore, strive effectively for what holds a high percentage of success possibility otherwise you likely will be branded as a group of deception. I.E., first, the issue was rights, next it becomes total equality and lifestyle legitimacy. Basically that will be perceived as greed and a force of minority will upon the moral majority which will have a very slim chance of selling. To proclaim, “We want all or nothing” appears heroic, but will produce the perception that you are unethical and unworthy of judicial or legislative action. And in politics, perception is reality. Then, your cause is DOA and will likely reap the “nothing” portion of the proclamation. Moreover, the LGBT community will be buried deeper in the hole which feeds on itself with broader persecution, though I do not advocate such action. I would urge an alteration of advocacy to one of doing the smart thing rather than the myopic and futile, so-called “right thing” in an attempt for “all or nothing”. Get the rights, then, there is plenty of time for the long road toward acceptance if God so deems and society’s majority will relent. Be smart, get the rights first. You can’t overturn 6,000 years of legal precedent & majority rule in just 30 years or so, especially when only approximately 3.5% to 8% of our population is LGBT. If your cause is truly just, then just rest in that confidence. Why is it necessary to waste huge sums and valuable time in a misguided crusade for legal equality status when realistically it is just the rights that are the essential element?

    • Your comment was nothing but a wall of text on rights and privileges (your constant usage of “the gay lifestyle” is also rather unnerving). Ultimately you fail to realize that people don’t want marriage equality to gain legal status – they want it as a way to display their love.

      “Civil Union” is still that, a “civil union”. It is disgusting in that it’s yet another “equal but different” idea that heterosexuals keep using when discussing homosexual marriage. It will never be the same, as long as there exists two different terms.

      This so-called “equality utopia” that you mention is already happening in plenty of countries all across the world; Western Europe set the standard and slowly but surely it will continue to grow.

      • Steven, speak for yourself! Some of us are ONLY interested in gaining legal status. I couldn’t care less about displaying my love to folks who have no desire to see it. I think that civil unions should be the goal. It’s not “equal but different”. It’s actually different and BETTER. Applying the term “marriage” to my relationship won’t change the number of LGBTQIA teens who are kicked out by their parents. It won’t decrease the number of transgender women who are murdered each year. It won’t make a single bigot decide to stop being hateful. So, why should I care about the term?

        It’s disgusting that you think you have the right to speak for all queer people, when you’re doing nothing more than imitating the same power structures that hetero bigots use. Western Europe hasn’t set any standard that we should seek to follow. It’s the western world that’s to blame for this nonsense. Everywhere Europeans colonize, they bring their “my way or the highway” mentality with them. The idea that people should live and let live has never been accepted by Western societies.

        As long as you’re trying to change the world just enough to make it into one that accepts you, you’ll never have justice. Maybe when you and those like you are willing to challenge your basic assumptions, you’ll find that more people are willing to give a damn about whether you are treated justly.

    • Marriage is already a civil law, not a religious one. The religious ceremony holds no weight to the state without a (take careful note of the phrase) marriage license. Your point is moot.

      On the other hand, a religious organization does not have to perform a religious ceremony for same-sex couples but the state should be held to the civil ceremony. And all of it is the same: marriage. If it makes you feel uncomfortable to share a word, it’s important to note that you are already starting on the wrong foot with your argument.

  6. Steven Capsuto says:

    In the U.S., it’s easy to think the marriage battle is about equality in health benefits and similar privileges. However, some of the countries where the fight for same-sex marriage has been strongest and most successful are nations with national health systems, where everyone has medical coverage as a basic human right.

    Clearly there is something other than health care at stake if people with free medical coverage are still fighting hard for marriage rights.

  7. As a heterosexual who has many LGBT friends (including Ryan Conrad) I understand completely the concept of his movement. It shouldn’t be shared with just the LGBT community though as the message is a universal one . Married people shouldn’t have rights singles don’t, just as men shouldn’t have rights women don’t. Equality should be seen as a privilige of being human, not married!
    We miss you in Maine Ryan but it’s wonderful to se you getting your message out everywhere!

  8. Great article. I can see both sides of this issue, but I think it all boils down to the fact that both sides are using a broken social structure as marriage to fight for their beliefs.


  1. Sources…

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  2. […] silly to assume gay marriage will finally bring EVERYONE equality and rights. We shouldn’t forget what marriage was supposed to represent, and stop […]

  3. […] Leia também: A Closer Look at Queers Who Oppose Gay Marriage. […]

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