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Gay marriage problem: What if you don't want to?

As more states legalize same-sex marriage, some gay couples are turning to each other and lovingly declaring: I don't.

By Alexia Elejalde-Ruiz, Tribune Newspapers

July 13, 2011

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As New York stood poised to become the latest state to legalize same-sex marriage, Michael Koresky felt the pressure deepen from friends and family eager to see him and his boyfriend of six years tie the knot.

But Koresky and his partner, who live in Brooklyn, aren't sure wedding bells are in the cards. Amid exultant celebrations of marriage equality, they've found themselves in the awkward position of coming out of the we're-not-sure-we-want-to-get-married closet.

"There's an added pressure on certain stable gay couples to dive right in and do it because it's a statement you're making," said Koresky, 32, a writer and editor. "Of course we want the right to be married, but we want the right to not be married as well."

Gay couples, who a decade ago had no choice in the matter, are joining the ranks of straight couples who for ages have felt the social pressure to ask — Do we? — and face raised eyebrows when they decide that maybe they don't.

For Koresky and his partner, the legal benefits of marrying seem worthwhile, but the logistics don't. They're reluctant to spend thousands of dollars on a wedding just because it's expected, and are hesitant to elope for fear loved ones would be disappointed they weren't included.

The men already exchanged rings as a sign of their commitment to one another, so they question the purpose of a wedding.

"What would it mean?" Koresky said. "Who is it for?"

Some gay couples prefer to define their relationship outside of traditional marriage rules, and view same-sex marriage as conforming to a construct the queer movement aimed to reject in the first place.

Amanda Sommers, a San Francisco social worker who last year wrote her masters thesis about gay couples who choose not to marry, found that the couples she interviewed, some of whom had been together for decades, seemed confident about the level of commitment in their relationships because they consciously choose to stay every day, never feeling "trapped" by a legal document. Many were put off by the negative aspects of their parents' marriages, which hid betrayals and neglect beneath a shiny surface of marital contentment presented to the outside world.

Sommers notes that her sources were all over 40, and that the value of nonconformity that dominated the early gay rights movement is weaker in younger generations, which put more emphasis on acceptance and being integrated into the mainstream.

Though plenty of gay couples question the value of walking down the aisle, "more and more people are wanting to get married," Sommers said.

For other gay couples, the option is forcing examination of what each person wants from the relationship — and sometimes they're finding it's not the same thing.

Just after California approved same-sex marriage in 2008, the calls to the Gay Couples Institute in San Francisco spiked, said Salvatore Garanzini, co-founder and executive director of the institute, which provides counseling for same-sex couples. A major reason was that one partner revealed they wanted to marry, and the other did not.

The marriage question "puts a lot of things on the table that haven't been there before," Garanzini said. Over the course of a relationship, resentments can build up like rocks in your shoe, and the prospect of cementing the union with marriage can push a partner who has been overlooking those gripes to finally bring them to the fore, he said. That can be a good thing because couples talk, sometimes for the first time, about the meaning and expectations of their relationship.

Research suggests that gay couples who marry or join in civil unions will stay together longer than those who don't, but marriage isn't the only way to create relationship stability and longevity, Garanzini said.

"You can achieve the same goals as marriage without actually calling it that," Garanzini said.

aelejalderuiz@tribune.com