Supporting marriage equality through language on the Offbeat Empire

Marriage Equality Rally 04
Photo by Maggie Winters

The fact that I have just been visually assaulted by two gender-normative, wedding-related bullshits in the mere matter of minutes has really pissed me off. One was a website selling "wedding blessings" to "celebrate the marriage of a man and woman…" And one was on Pinterest: a book titled "Prayers for your future husband" pinned under "for my daughter."

What is getting to me is the ongoing assumption in wedding media that marriages are heterosexual. It's hugely upsetting me that people in the media are still assuming that it's always "man and woman," or "bride and groom," or that your daughter's going to marry someone's son.

A while ago my friend Drew wrote an awesome post on that marriage equality equal sign that swept through Facebook: Don't Let That Red Equals Signs Become a Hollow Gesture. My favorite part of it, as an editor, was this…

Back at my college paper, I had an editor who forbade the staff from using the phrase "raising awareness" because he felt that it didn't convey meaning. Instead of just writing down "raising awareness" when you're interviewing one advocacy group or another, he said, you should press further and ask for specific examples of how they were raising awareness — holding public talks, screaming at people from street corners, writing pithy slogans before doing nude backflips through the campus's central plaza, etc. — because these examples would make for a more interesting sentence. He was correct.

Drew goes on to talk about how this rings true when it comes to you as an individual supporting a cause, like marriage equality. Don't just "raise awareness" by changing your Facebook profile pic; be more active in your causal support.

It made me pause for a minute in some self-conscious reflection. I wasn't one of the many that changed their Facebook profile pic. Not because I don't believe in the cause, but because I don't believe a Facebook avatar is an effective means of social justice activism.

Anyone who knows me knows that I support marriage equality… but do I actively support marriage equality? I haven't attended protests since Prop 8 was shot down originally.

That said, here are the ways I am actively supporting marriage equality on the DAILY through the Offbeat Empire:

  • On Offbeat Bride, gay weddings are treated just the same as straight weddings.
  • We work our tails off to make our wording gender-neutral — no saying "brides and grooms" it's always "couples." No assumptions that we're only being read by brides. No "your future husband," it's "your partner."
  • On Offbeat Home & Life we don't assume that people are in straight relationships, or even purely monogamous relationships!
  • On Offbeat Families we don't refer to "moms and dads" or assume anyone is in a straight, two-parent relationships.

I'm very proud that this non-gender-specific, all-encompassing love-acceptance has been normalized on the Offbeat Empire. It's at times like these that it's crucially important for me to remember that I work in an offbeat bubble. This is a huge privilege. I can't let myself forget that people make shitty assumptions. I can't let myself forget that queer and non-binary couples are still dealing with bigotry and bias every day. I can't let myself forget that there's still a huge amount of work to be done, and that the work I do with Offbeat Bride is just the beginning.

While I'm honored to be part of a media movement to normalize all kinds of wonderful-but-under-represented relationships, I can't let myself get lulled into the privilege of forgetting that we all still have a lot more work to do.

How can we be doing even more on the Offbeat Empire to support marriage equality?

  1. Offbeat Bride was a big reason why we decided to make sure all of the language in our wedding (from invitations all the way down to the vows and other parts of the ceremony) was gender-inclusive. Even though we were a straight couple, we made sure our officiant referred to us as partners (instead of "bride and groom") and at the end of the ceremony, we insisted that she proclaim us "united in marriage" instead "man and wife"… (We also just completely took out the "you may now kiss the bride" part, since I was waiting for nobody's permission for that!)

    Anyway, just wanted to say THANK YOU for how awesome the Offbeat Empire is, and for being a place of inclusivity and acceptance and diversity. You made a difference in my life and the lives of all of the people who attended our wedding. πŸ™‚

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    • I like how you changed the ceremony! Especially the "you may now kiss the bride" because excuse me, we have been kissing for a while, and we're not stopping now. ^^ And "united in marriage" as well.

      Double thank you to Offbeat Empire for awesomeness πŸ˜€

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    • Another hetero-couple here who, in no small part due to years of reading OBB, gender-neutralized our wedding, though we got pronounced as "spouse and spouse". πŸ™‚

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    • oh I really like "united in marriage". I officiated a ceremony this past summer and had trouble finding good alternatives to "man and wife". now that I'm writing my own celebration, I'm going to use this.

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  2. I had a similar realization (that I live in a offbeat/liberal bubble, though not necessarily through this website) when I started working at my summer job. I'm helping run a summer camp, and the forms all say "mother's name" and "father's name". How hard would it be to write something like "parent/guardian 1", and "parent/guardian 2"? I find it even more surprising because the organization I'm working at is involved in the fight for the rights of another (linguistic) minority group. But activism and consciousness in one field does not necessarily translate to other fields.

    But perhaps the worse part of all this is that I don't feel confident enough to suggest to the long-term staff that they should really change their forms.

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  3. Thank you OBE. I love the way you all think about stuff loads, it reminds me to try to do the same and it's what keeps me coming back to all the sites- the thoughtful stuff! Well, that and the star wars stuff because squeeeeee!

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  4. Actually, I think you are selling yourself short when you say you are supporting marriage equality πŸ™‚ . What I see happening on the Empire is support for relationship diversity (rather than assuming that every relationship involves two people and that marriage is the ultimate culmination of any relationship), which is a much less narrow focus. The fact that the Empire opens up this space for relationship diversity is especially important right now, when the focus on the fight for marriage equality, while**absolutely** important, has diverted much funding from other important justice fights (trans rights, ending violence against LGBQT folks, etc).

    This is part of my excitement about a space like Offbeat Home and Life, or Offbeat Families. They don't make money like Offbeat Bride, but they certainly open a special, safe space where a wide range of relationships are normalized, celebrated, valued.

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  5. Reading about the variety of relationships and couples out there on OBB has "raised awareness" πŸ˜‰ within me! I have made a more conscious effort to change my language so that it is more encompassing towards all people and walks of life. It's an amazing practice in humility.

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  6. im pretty sure that i finally figured out that "partner" is the correct term from reading offbeat bride, so thank you for that. now i use it in everyday life, in writing, ect. i do occasionally revert back to the hetero normative language (brainwashing is a REAL THING people), but i am very conscious now to use the right terms.

    it really does mean something to say partner instead of husband/wife. and even to me, as a straight person, it means something a little more, that my husband is a partner in my life, i just really like it phrased that way better anyway!

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  7. This.

    As a shy introvert, I am slow to challenge language in social situations even as i am inwardly cringing or raging. As a feminist and LGBTQ ally, I need to have the courage of my convictions to say, no that's not cool.

    Thanks to OBB for providing a haven of inclusivity in a very normative industry.

    3 agree
  8. I got hit with a one-two punch of homophobia/hetero-normative-ness recently while looking for venues. Not naming names, but the website of one place I looked had the following charming disclaimer: "Our belief is that marriage is a sacred union between husband and wife. We believe that children are best served by having a mother and a father. However because of the passage of the 2013 bill redefining marriage in Minnesota, the farm is available to nontraditional couples as well." Charming, right? As a side-note, apparently they weren't aware that they're a public accommodation subject to the state human rights act, which (unlike most states) offers protection based on sexual orientation and gender identity. As it turns out, the marriage law doesn't make any difference in who can be denied access to a space or service. This seems to be a mistake a lot of people make with the marriage-equality law and it's very frustrating.

    But anyhow, so they got crossed off the list. Then I emailed another place for more information, and was sent a document titled "Letter to Brides." Sigh. I really like this second place, and aside from the letter, nothing about this place is raising red flags, but after seeing that notice on the first site, I've gotten kind of paranoid. It means a lot to me that the OBE makes an effort to avoid hetero-normative language, and it means a lot to me that the vendors we choose are supportive of marriage-equality. I'm keeping my fingers crossed that our visit to the second spot tomorrow soothes some of my concerns.

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    • Wow. I would definately write the first place and tell them that their notice made you decide to not even consider them as a venue. They might not totally understand why that is so offensive and think that they are just speaking their minds, and your telling them that they don't get your money because of the notice might help them understand. I would include the other information you had in your comment as well, just so they understand the many of levels of awfulness of that comment.

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  9. This drives me crazy too. I actually just crossed a photog off our list (despite their crazy, crazy gorgeous photos) because their contact form made me want to barf. First, it asked for my role in the wedding and made me pick one option from a drop down menu: bride or groom As if a couple couldn't be looking at photographers together. And then, to take the cake, once you selected "bride" it automatically changed the next field to "groom's name." Nope nope nope. I will take my money elsewhere!

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    • As awkward as it is, it would be best if you actually contacted them to tell them why you chose to take your money elsewhere. Maybe if they actually knew how much business they were losing, they might get it together (assuming that the wording was just due to laziness and not exclusivity).

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  10. I was at a rehearsal dinner a couple years ago where the father of the bride gave a speech about how he & his wife had been praying for his daughter's future husband since her birth. It instantly struck me as oddly specific. I mentioned it to the bride later on & said something to the effect of, "Wouldn't it have been ironic if you had married a woman after they had spent 25plus years praying for your future husband?!" Her response, "That doesn't exist in their world."
    It was a weird experience for me.

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  11. Thank you so much for this post. I'm hetero but extremely vocal about being pro- gay marriage. In addition to the bride and groom assumption I also hate how most wedding websites and wedding shows assume that the bride is doing all the planning. Even if that's true, it shouldn't be assumed that the other partner doesn't care or that it couldn't be 2 grooms!

    ( I also say this because my future sis-in-law will hopefully one day find the "one" and I want her to be able to have the wedding of her dreams too, with two brides :D)

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  12. Massachusetts marriage licenses (I am told) just say "Party A" and "Party B". Not only is that awesome from a gender-neutrality standpoint, but it also means I can announce myself as Party A – or, more likely, as Party Ayyyyyyyyy.

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