Marriage is Not the Movement: An Unconventional Wedding Announcement

Ashley Horan is a Unitarian Universalist minister and the Executive Director of MUUSJA: The Minnesota Unitarian Universalist Social Justice Alliance. She lives in Minneapolis with her partner Karen, their 14-year-old daughter Elizabeth, a very bad cat called Bodhi, and a soon-to-be-born tiny human being.


October 20, 2014

Two years ago today, my beloved and I made promises to one another in front of many of the people we love best in the world. In the language of our faith, we made a covenant—a deep, binding promise between the two of us, held and reinforced by our community, and sustained by that holy and sacred power of creativity that gives us life, known by many as God. With our family and friends as witnesses, we named all that we aspire to together, with word and symbol and ritual… and then, we celebrated at the best party we’ve ever been to.

Our commitment ceremony was a very important threshold for us and our relationship. It made public all that we had known to be true between us, and it linked us with the millennia of ancestors who have ritually recognized the creation of families of many kinds throughout the ages.

Our commitment ceremony was NOT, however, a wedding. We very intentionally avoided words like “marriage” and “wedding” and “spouse.” Some of our community thought we were being ridiculous—a rose by any other name, right? But for us, this was an essential distinction: people can commit to one another in a lot of different ways, and build lots of different kinds of families and relationships, but marriage is a very specific term.

Traditionally, it refers to the binding of a union between two people—usually a man and a woman—which is recognized by a civil or governmental authority as the marker of kinship ties and legitimacy. While most religious and spiritual traditions have ceremonies to recognize committed relationships, and civil and religious marriage are often conflated, there are very clear benefits associated with state-recognized marriage that are generally not conferred upon committed people who have not chosen to have their union affirmed by a civil authority. These include spousal visitation rights, death benefits, powers of decision making and inheritance, property rights, parental recognition, joint health coverage, and many more.

In short, civil/legal marriage is the gateway to many benefits that are generally NOT available to non-married people, both single and partnered.

Why didn’t we want to get married, you might ask?

First, we understood our commitment to each other as primarily covenantal, rather than legal: we were making promises to each other, to our community, and to the Holy… not to the State.

Second, we are a part of a long line of queer folks (and in Karen’s case, communities of Color) who have insisted that WE—not the State, not the church, not societal convention—decide what our families look like, what kind of promises we make to one another, and how we want to be in relationship with each other. WE get to say to each other, “You are my family,” and thereby make it true, whether or not it is affirmed by the capricious whims of the reigning regime.

Third, and perhaps most importantly, we deeply believe that all humans deserve basic care and protection from the state, whether or not they choose to shape their lives and their relationships in a particular way. We believe all of us deserve health care… the right to be recognized as parents to the children we raise, regardless of our biological relationships… access to our partners when they are ill… the opportunity to help our partners qualify for citizenship… the ability to care for one another beyond death by passing along property and money to those we leave behind.

And, we believe that any fight that aims to expand access to these rights to some, but not ALL people, is not enough.

We know that for many LGBTQ people, the recent wave of same-sex marriage legalization has been hugely important and deeply emotionally significant. It has made many among us feel visible and affirmed for the first time. It has granted access to important rights to many couples and their families. It will, quite literally, save some lives, and make life easier for many, many more.

The movement to make these victories possible brought many, many people who had never been activists before into the public fray; it brought disparate groups together in common struggle.

But the marriage equality fight has also been, in some ways, a huge distraction. It has taken billions of dollars (from all sides of the issue) and diverted them from other, less funded Queer causes. It has been led largely by White, educated, middle and upper-class Gays and Lesbians, and has often not included the leadership, perspectives, and needs of other Queers, gender non-conforming people, and communities of Color.

It has even used divisive identity politics to suggest that certain communities are the “enemy” of Gay marriage, thereby insulting, ignoring, and delegitimizing the lived experiences of Queer members of those communities. It has more often than not lacked an intersectional lens, and has failed to examine elements of racism, transphobia, classism, ableism, misogyny, and capitalism have tainted the marriage equality movement’s ability to represent a broad swath of people with diverse identities.

In short, while we are genuinely happy for those among our community who have so long awaited access to legal marriage, and all that it entails, we don’t believe that “we’ve won” the fight for Gay rights yet. And we don’t see civilly-recognized marriage as something we yearn for in our own relationship, for both religious and political reasons.

So, last week, when we were informed that Karen’s employer was eliminating “domestic partners” as a category of family relationship that qualifies people for insurance coverage under their plan, we were upset.

As of January 1, 2015, our relationship—whose legitimacy we had to prove already with a stack of documents and legal affidavits when we first applied for coverage—will no longer be considered valid unless we also present a marriage certificate. Without one, I will be dropped from Karen’s insurance, she will not be legally recognized as our soon-to-be-born child’s parent, and the baby won’t be insured, either.

In order to get married, we will also pay all the fees associated with applying for a license, paying a civil officiant, filing the signed marriage certificate, and hiring a lawyer to guide us through the complicated processes of merging our finances, documenting legal parenthood of our child, creating married versions of our wills and advance directives, and more.

This will not be a hardship for us. We have generous family and friends to help us cover costs, and in the end, we will be more legally secure and protected than we are now. This is, in many ways, what I have taken to referring to this week as a “‪#‎FirstWorldGayProblem‬.”

But make no bones about it, we feel as if we are being forced to get married. The passage of same-sex marriage legislation in our state has actually disqualified us from benefits for which we were previously deemed eligible, and is making it necessary for us to choose between our principled, deeply thought-out desire to define our relationship religiously and not civilly, and our need for healthcare and legal protection and recognition as family.

We know we are lucky, personally, to be able to access a pathway to all the rights that get conferred upon you when you’re married. But we’re also keenly aware that this option still isn’t available to many, many people for a variety of reasons, and that the two-people-who-are-romantically-involved-and-committed style of partnership is not one that works for or is accessible to everyone who needs healthcare, parental rights, immigration access, and so many other things.

So, friends and comrades, consider this our unofficial wedding announcement. Sometime over the next six weeks, before the new life I’m carrying emerges from my body, we will go down to city hall and get legally married. Don’t be offended if you’re not invited; we’re not really doing much of a celebration for this particular milestone.

But, since everyone knows when you get married, you get to create a wedding registry and expect the gifts to pour in, we do want some things from you! You can give us one or more of them, or—even better—you can work with someone else to collaborate on any of the following items:

1. If you donated money to a marriage equality fight over the last few years, commit to giving equal dollars to another organization working for trans* rights, or fighting queer youth homelessness, or elevating the voices of black and brown queer folks, etc.

Some suggestions include Tysn MNSoutherners on New Ground, Brown Boi Project, Sylvia Rivera Law Project (SRLP), Center on Halsted, Howard Brown Health Center, and many more. Even if you didn’t give money to marriage equality the first time around, consider donating to these organizations now.

2. If you volunteered your time in canvassing, phone banking, having one-to-one conversations, attending rallies, or getting out the vote for marriage equality, commit to donating an equal or greater number of hours to another queer cause, or intersectional social justice campaign.

Show up to protest mass incarceration and police brutality; work with your local affordable housing coalition; volunteer to support the agenda of small organizations led by the communities most directly affected by injustice.

3.  If you supported marriage equality because it gives a wider swath of people access to various rights, commit to working for campaigns that expand those rights to ALL people.

Support work for universal and/or single-payer health care, comprehensive immigration reform, tax reform, prison abolition, and racial and economic justice.

4. Read more about why a lot of queer folks and people of color resist legal marriage as the pathway toward rights and benefits many of us consider to be basic human rights.

Start with this article by Dean Spade and Craig Willse: Marriage Will Never Set Us Free.


We’ll get married and probably be glad for the things it brings us. We’ll put on our best clothes and look seriously cute and come to your wedding, if you choose to get married, and we’ll dance our butts off and rejoice in the fact that you have access to an institution that protects you and your family.

And, then, when it’s all over and the DJ packs up her turntables and the appetizers are all gone, we’ll all grab each other’s hands, we’ll look at one another in the eyes, and we’ll ask, “Do you take this life, this struggle for collective liberation, for better or for worse, as long as we all shall live?”

And then we’ll all laugh, and each say, “Yes. I do.”


How to Tell If Your Child Is Bullying Others (And What to Do About It)

When I was in middle school, I was bullied pretty badly, resulting in depression and even serious considerations of suicide.

I carried a lot of hurt and anger, and I didn’t deal with that in the healthiest of ways. It pains me to reflect upon how I transferred my hurt from bullying by mistreating younger kids and by being terrible to a few of my friends.

I was displacing my hurt onto others so that I didn’t have to carry it alone.

But despite the ways I treated some of my peers, I was never labeled a “bully.” That’s because I didn’t fit the “bully” profile: My grades were good; I had no history of discipline issues; I was well-loved by my teachers. Yet I was acting in much the same way as those kids who were labeled “bullies.”

In today’s schools, we see the same. Some students are identified as “bullies” or “problem students.” Yet when we’re honest, many of us at different times in our lives have been mean to someone in the regular and sustained way that would constitute bullying.

bullyinggirlssmallIn truth, the label of “bully” is in no way useful when actually attempting to address the problem of bullying.

To simply label some people “bullies” and some people “victims” with the rest of us as “bystanders,” we never actually deal with the root of why someone is exhibiting bullying behavior. It’s a cop-out.

Bullying is primarily a problem of power, and as such, it tends to have one of two roots: an internalized feeling of superiority in regard to another group or individual or feelings of insecurity and hurt that lead one to lash out at others.

In either case, bullying has a measurable root that we can address. If we’re concerned that our child is being a “bully,” it’s best to start with the question, “Why?”

And in recognizing the roots of bullying behavior, we open the door to actually understanding the nature of bullying, which helps us to understand when our kids may be mistreating others and how to prevent bullying in general.

How to Identify If Your Child Is Demonstrating Bullying Behavior

In designing a comprehensive bullying prevention and intervention program for parents at CivilSchools, we compiled research that identifies seven patterns that could be indicative of bullying behavior in a young person.

(Please note that no single pattern listed below necessarily means your child is demonstrating bullying behavior. These are just a guide for considering whether you should intervene if you’re concerned.)

Sign 1: A Pattern of Abnormally Angry or Aggressive Behavior

Few children or adolescents are angry or aggressive as a status quo, so if you start to see a lot of aggression or anger, it’s coming from somewhere. Plus, if you’re seeing it, there’s a good chance it’s being directed at others in bullying behavior.

Sign 2: A Pattern of Depressed, Sullen, or Sad Behavior

Notably, this is also one of the signs that a student might be experiencing bullying, but when a student falls into a pattern of depression or sadness (as I did when being bullied in middle school), they might choose to pass that burden along to others through mean behavior or bullying.

Sign 3: Regularly Throws a Fit When They Don’t Get Their Way

Any parent knows that children go through a phase of lashing out when things don’t go their way, but if this is persistent, there’s a good chance that they are lashing out at other children to try to control outcomes. Some students fall into a pattern of intimidating other children into going along with their will.

Read the rest at Everyday Feminism.

When Bad Allies Get “Good Guy” Awards

Jamie Utt:

Such an important piece on fake “allies” and abusive men. A lot of important reminders for me in my work.

Originally posted on Make Me a Sammich:

Clymerquote3A while back I wrote about fake allies—specifically, Charles Clymer, a cis white dude who used to run a popular Facebook page called “Equality for Women” but shut it down amidst accusations that, among other things, he was deleting comments from and banning women who questioned his views or the way he ran the page. And then there was his abusive verbal flaying of Stephanie Kay in a private conversation that went public a year or so ago and revealed the dude beneath the Perfect Feminist Ally act. It didn’t help that when called on that tirade, Clymer basically stood by his remarks and went on to admit—almost proudly—that his goal is to become a professional Feminist Leader. And he dug himself in deeper when, following the many accusations leveled at him directly and via the #StopClymer hashtag (by nearly every woman who had been a moderator at the EFW Facebook page, among others)…

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The Culture of Campus Social Justice Elitism by Amer F. Ahmed

Jamie Utt:

Really appreciating this reflection on “elitism” within social justice activism. It’s not just on college campuses! Thanks to my brother Amer Ahmed for this reflection.

Originally posted on Commission for Social Justice Educators Blog:

In recent years, I’ve increasingly been noticing a dynamic that I’ve been coming across more and more often on college campuses.  More specifically, it is something I’ve observed amongst the social justice communities within campuses (the groups/offices, etc. that use the language of social justice).  It’s a dynamic that I believe is even more acute in the more competitive campus cultures in higher education.  Am I the only one who has noticed that there is a culture of ‘out-social-justicing’ others? (Yes I’m aware that I completely made up that word/phrase; be warned this will be the last time)

I increasingly have been hearing conversations, particularly amongst students, who seem to duel each other with language that proves that they’re more social justice-ey than someone else.  It might involve someone who might say something to the effect of, “Like, he’s such a Cis-gendered, white, straight male who is obviously transphobic without…

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Hijacking the Language and Legacy of Dr. King

Originally posted on Change From Within:

Yesterday, on the day honoring the life and legacy of the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr, a lot of people were posting quotes from Dr. King to Facebook and Twitter.  By far, the most commonly posted quote was one from King’s I Have a Dream speech that he delivered on August 28, 1963 at the Lincoln Memorial in Washington, DC.  During that speech, Dr. King said,

“I have a dream that my four little children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin but by the content of their character.”

His sentiment is a powerful one, a sentiment that calls for a different racial reality than he knew as a child or than his children knew.  This quote is part of a radical ideology of racial justice that moves past a negative peace of White Privilege and Supremacy…

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#BeThatGuy: 7+ Everyday Ways that Men Can Transform Masculinity


I recently wrote a piece on my personal blog that highlighted seven men who are transforming masculinity, and I was blown away by how well it resonated.

It shattered all of my daily hit totals and is still bringing in a strong number of people to the blog on a daily basis.

In reflecting on the post, I realized that it was so popular because it touched on an unfilled need.

We need more resources that teach men how to transform masculinity to make it more responsive, less violent, and more inclusive of the tremendous diversity of masculinities that can exist.

And though I detest most everything I see coming out of the Men’s Rights Movement for the ways it is dripping with misogyny, this is one area where I agree with many of its activists: We need a new masculinity!

We need to talk about what a more inclusive masculinity could actually look like beyond “Real men cry, too.”

Now, I rarely agree with those MRM activists about what that masculinity should look like, but in my experience in social justice work, sometimes you have to look for growth points wherever they exist. At least we agree on something!

So let’s start there.

If masculinity needs to be transformed, in what ways can we change it so that men can more fully realize themselves without hurting others?

Here are a few of my suggestions.

Listen More

This one is really hard for me.

I preach listening all the time, but I often struggle to practice what I preach.

If other male-identified people received the same conditioning I did, they were told to make sure that their voices are heard and that they have the last word.Don’t worry about talking over people (especially women). Just assert yourself and your voice!

So a simple way that men can begin to transform masculinity is to listen more.

Obviously it makes sense to start by listening more to women and trans* or genderqueer people, but really, we must do a better job of listening to allpeople.

Hell, we could use to do a better job of listening to all beings: the earth, animals, plants, as well as people.

The point here is that when we are constantly asserting ourselves into space and conversation, we have no capacity to learn.

When we are constantly asserting ourselves into space, we are constantly in a state of vulnerable power, one where we exert power over others to hide the fact that silence and listening can be terrifying.

After all, listening might mean that we have to actually hear people and thereby change ourselves and our practices.

God forbid that we open ourselves up to learning from the experiences of the world around us through listening.

That might mean that we don’t, in fact, have all the answers, as we were taught from the earliest of ages!

Show More Loving Affection

I remember writing an essay about myself in seventh or eighth grade, and in that essay, I boldly proclaimed, “I still cuddle with my mother!!!”

Then something changed.

I got the message.

You do not cuddle, especially not with your mother.

Now, obviously the messages we receive in middle school and early high school are some of the most extreme, boiled down messages about our identity that we can possibly receive, but the message has stayed with me.

There aren’t many spaces in my life where I share loving affection with people outside of my partner.

Men, particularly in the United States, tend to have a complicated and fraught relationship with touch.

We don’t really show affection to women who we are not in a relationship with or who are not immediate family members, and we almost never show loving affection for other men.

Thus, men have a responsibility to change this. And doing so will be tricky.

After all, we have to consider all of the people who may not want our touch at any given time because of legitimate (fear or triggering of sexual violence) or less legitimate (homophobia) reasons.

So we must start with our most inner circles and move out.

We must tell the men who we love that we do, in fact, love them.

Whether through hugs or pats on the back or even a simple hand on the arm of a friend, we must find a way to show those we love that we care about the healing power of touch.

We must find ways to extend loving affection beyond our partners or immediate family members.

Make Enthusiastic Consent a Daily Value

As I came of age in my sexuality, I was taught that consent was something very specific: If she (because it was never taught in a gender-neutral way) says no or stop, that (probably) means you don’t have consent and (probably) should stop.

Needless to say, my consent education was—well—lacking.

Read the rest at Everyday Feminism.