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Angry at Inequality, Not Marriages: Open Letter from Larry Kramer

Yesterday, playwright (The Normal Heart) and activist Larry Kramer sent out an open letter via journalist Rex Wockner in response to a quote that was published in The New York Times insinuating that he hates the fact that gays are marrying.

Here he corrects the paper:


It is very difficult to take a strong position in the gay world without being, at the least, misunderstood, and at the most extreme, vilified mercilessly. I suppose it’s like this in the straight world as well. Perhaps I shouldn’t bitch so when I’m taken to such extremes as a recent quote from me in The New York Times has provoked. I have always maintained fervently that in our world, in any world, you have to speak loudly and boldly to be heard at all. And my loud voice, which I cherish and try to use as much as I can to aid causes and beliefs I support, is one I wish everyone else also possessed and used. God, whoever made us, gave us voices to use, to speak up with. So I shouldn’t complain when my anger comes back to hit me in the face. Usually I don’t. Usually I’m pleased when my words provoke a usually passive population into getting off their asses and, well, using their own voice.

I am upset this time, though, because I’m being tarred for something I did not say. And this misstatement in my behalf is now escalating beyond sane margins and I feel the need to step in and respond, to hopefully turn this into what I believe is known as “a teachable moment.”


I did not say, “Larry Kramer Hates Gay Marriage,” as The Times quote has now allowed many bloggers around the world to revise, rewrite, and circulate like mad bulls seeing red.

Here is what I wrote and submitted to The New York Times:

“The historic and cultural significance of this moment is that once again the gay population of this country continues to accept second best. These marriages, in whichever state, are what I call ‘feel-good marriages.’ They convey little in the way of benefits (and in some instances they are even financially punishing to those who embark on them). Compared to the benefits heterosexual marriages convey, gay marriages are an embarrassment - that we should accept so little, and with so much hoopla of excitement and self-congratulation. Most straight people who are congratulating us so effusively don’t understand that these marriages share none of their federal benefits and entitlements, the right to inherit without punishing taxation, the right for our joint incomes not to be taxed so hideously high, the right to share insurances -- there are over one thousand benefits worth money that the federal government bestows on heterosexual marriages and which our state marriages don’t. So why do we continue to get so excited when so few worthless crumbs are thrown our way? I have from the beginning never understood the philosophy and tactics of our various organizations who appear to be calling the shots on this issue. If we are to wait for a majority of states to recognize gay marriages, we'll all be dead. When are we going to recognize that until the Supreme Court blesses our union, we continue to be worthless and powerless, which is the way our enemies wish us to remain. When will we face up to the fact that no sooner does a state grant us marriage, than our enemies immediately tie up the courts in endless litigations to disallow them, as in the monstrous mess that has become California. Our enemies have bottomless pockets to fight us with. It has been discovered that the biggest contributors to the California wars are and have been the Mormon and Catholic churches. I do not disparage any gay couple's desire to wed in New York, or anywhere else, and in so doing feel and take joy from this act. But let us all recognize that beyond this euphoria, these marriages are hardly worth the paper they are printed on. And once again, I can only raise the cry: how long are we as a people going to accept such shabby and unequal treatment?”

This is what The New York Times reduced the above complicated message to:

“Larry Kramer, the playwright and longtime gay rights activist, said that for as long as the federal government continues not to recognize same-sex marriages, the celebrations in New York on Sunday would be misguided.

“’These marriages, in whichever state, are what I call feel-good marriages,’ Mr. Kramer said. ‘Compared to the benefits heterosexual marriages convey, gay marriages are an embarrassment—that we should accept so little, and with so much hoopla of excitement and self-congratulation.’”

Now this response of mine has been headlined across the globe, from Broadway to the West End, from Kenya to New Zealand, as “Larry Kramer hates gay marriage,” followed by many commentaries about what a crank I am, what an old fart I have become, coupled with that classic gay insult, “and he’s so ugly,” ending with “when is he ever going to shut up?” As I said, I’m used to this. It comes with the territory. I just wish that ALL of us could read and digest and comprehend my complete statement as above and realize what I am really saying: We are being bought off, once again, with only a miniscule fraction of what we are entitled to as equal human beings under our country’s Bill of Rights.
Believe me when I say that I very much want to get married to my partner, but only when that marriage is equal to what heterosexual marriages convey by law, the law of the United States, and not just New York State.

And I do not disparage those who choose to marry under the present woefully unequal conditions. I just wish that they, and all gay people everywhere, would realize that they are accepting so little when we are pledged so much more by and in this one nation, indivisible, with liberty and justice for all.


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  1. Once again, Larry Kramer has given voice to thoughts which I share but cannot so eloquently express. It is a shame that we live in a world where thoughtful discourse is reduced to 30-sylable mantras and 15-second sound-bites. As a result, many will vilify Mr. Kramer unfairly.I know that he said that he is accustomed to it, but I still get upset about it. Thanks to this site for giving us a clearer picture.

    Posted by: Alex Parrish | Jul 28, 2011 8:15:32 AM

  2. Kramer is a gay "living treasure". We are lucky to have such an eloquent, force filled, powerful voice.

    Posted by: kodiak | Jul 28, 2011 8:27:06 AM

  3. Larry is indeed a treasure and is the conscience of the modern gay movement.
    There will be plenty of people who will bash him -however they would not have a voice if if weren't for activists like Larry. Bravo!

    Posted by: Nick | Jul 28, 2011 8:38:27 AM

  4. "I just wish that they, and all gay people everywhere, would realize that they are accepting so little when we are pledged so much more by and in this one nation, indivisible, with liberty and justice for all."

    I'm sorry, but who actually thought we were achieving full equality by gay marriage in selective states? Straight people may be so misinformed, but I doubt many who made the effort to marry did so under the misapprehension that they would have all the rights of straights. We are well aware that there's a larger fight brewing; the trouble isn't that we don't take it before the Supreme Court, the trouble is we don't know what a conservative court's answer will be.

    I am tired of this man. I am tired of his vaunted ego and his sincere belief that he is ahead of - and better than - the rest of us. He is not. And his continued denigration of everyone who actually fights in the trenches of this is pathetic and telling.

    Posted by: Nat | Jul 28, 2011 8:44:33 AM

  5. It is difficult to measure how much this man has given to the LGBT community. His voice awakened us to the deadliness of AIDS and began to turn the tide in learning to understand, treat and live with the disease. He has eloquently and accurately analyzed the current status of same-sex marriage. While I, too, believe those who are marrying in New York and other places where it is "allowed" should celebrate and share their joy, it is well to remember just how much legally these unions mean. Thank you, Larry, for putting it so well!

    Posted by: John | Jul 28, 2011 8:45:03 AM

  6. I love Larry Kramer and all he's done for the community but on this he is just plain wrong. If he thinks the US government is just going to bestow federal rights that go with marriage without winning state by state, without changing hearts and minds, and without repealing DOMA either through the courts or Congress; then he is just seeing the world through rose colored glasses. The hard work needs to be done on the ground. These state victories show that when we are allowed the freedom to marry, the sky doesn't fall in. It helps change hearts and minds. It helps shape public opinion. They may not yet be equal but this is the reality the community has to deal with in its fight for full equality.

    Posted by: Frank Selvaggi | Jul 28, 2011 8:53:15 AM

  7. I pity Kramer's eventual obituary writers. The best quotes they'll find praising Larry are from Larry himself.

    Posted by: Really? | Jul 28, 2011 8:59:23 AM

  8. Larry Cramer is a consistent hero to the cause of gay rights, a true grandfather and wiseman to the movement and an exemplar of how to go about making the differences that need to be made. His goal, to marry his partner with full Federal support and to prevail against the religious bigots of the land, must be ours.

    In the meantime "feel good" State marriages are wonderful harbingers.

    Posted by: uffda | Jul 28, 2011 8:59:30 AM

  9. Ummm, hyperbole much? Not "worth the paper they are printed"? Here are a few STATE benefits that comes with marriage:

    "Assumption of Spouse’s Pension,Automatic Inheritance,Automatic Housing Lease Transfer,Bereavement Leave,Burial Determination,Child Custody,Crime Victim’s Recovery Benefits,Divorce Protections, Domestic Violence Protection,Exemption from Property Tax on Partner’s Death,Immunity from Testifying Against Spouse,Insurance Breaks,Joint Adoption and Foster Care,Joint Bankruptcy,Joint Parenting (Insurance Coverage, School Records),Medical Decisions on Behalf of Partner,Certain Property Rights,Reduced Rate Memberships,Sick Leave to Care for Partner,Visitation of Partner’s Children
    Visitation of Partner in Hospital or Prison
    Wrongful Death (Loss of Consort) Benefits and more"

    While we await the reversal of DOMA, it is disingenuous for Kramer dismiss the wedded union of gay couples in NY as "feel good marriages". For a lot of gay families, these state benefits vital to their families' well-being. Don't throw the baby out with the bath water because you didn't get everything you wanted.

    Posted by: philip | Jul 28, 2011 9:09:22 AM

  10. Thank you Larry for expressing what I have been trying to explain to our family and friends at each of their weddings we have attended in the last 11 years. In my heart and daily life I am married to my partner but see no reason to put it on paper until we have access to all the same benefits and entitlements that come with "marriage".

    Posted by: MRay | Jul 28, 2011 9:16:02 AM

  11. Thank you for the clarification, Larry. But I stll have my knee-jerk reaction to the notion that marriages at the state-level are worthless. Yes, I will continue to fight for full equality at the federal level. I have a difficult time believing that anyone who has married their same-sex partner is thinking "OK. We've won the fight." and has settled for second-class or (as you've pointed out) in some cases 3rd-class citizenship.

    When you attempt to diminish and denigrate the value of marriage on the state level, I wonder what you would be saying if those states where same-sex marriage is legal were to say, "Hey, Larry Kramer thinks these marriages are almost worthless, so let's just revoke all those marriage licenses."

    Marriage at the state level is a victory and a step towards full equality. We can use these state-by-state victories to gain momentum in the push towards obtaining the 1000+ rights that are automatically granted through marriage recognition at the federal level.

    Posted by: Marc Fuentes | Jul 28, 2011 9:21:54 AM

  12. Hmm. Yeah, Larry Kramer is an incredible writer and thinker. But I have to say that often I find incredibly misguided statements in his manifestos:

    "And my loud voice, which I cherish and try to use as much as I can to aid causes and beliefs I support, is one I wish everyone else also possessed and used."

    Really? Everyone? Wouldn't that just make for a really noisy planet? I'm not sure I'd enjoy that.

    And as mentioned by another commentary, the hyperbole undercuts his message, at least in my estimation. I prefer and have more respect for calmer, reasoned rhetoric than incendiary rants.

    But I'm just me.

    Posted by: Scot Colford | Jul 28, 2011 9:26:50 AM

  13. Yes we were all so calm and reasoned at Stonewall weren't we?

    Posted by: David Ehrenstein | Jul 28, 2011 9:32:52 AM

  14. Poor Larry! Larry feels unfairly "vilified?" Give me another laugh! Larry has made a career out of vilifying other people unfairly - usually other gay and lesbian people.

    Posted by: george | Jul 28, 2011 9:35:49 AM

  15. And, I should add, I don't disagree with Larry's facts, but I do think that there are very real benefits to state-legal marriage, not the least of which is getting the general public used to the idea of equality. So I do disagree with his opinion that these marriages have no significance beyond the symbolic.

    I do agree with him about being happy for the people in these marriages and for the marriages being important to the people involved, but they are also having a very real impact on the world at large, as well as improving the lives of the couples personally, socially and legally.

    But I am still extremely grateful that he is not afraid to express truths that sometimes he is the only one expressing.

    Posted by: ohplease | Jul 28, 2011 9:41:00 AM

  16. When I grow up, I want to be just like Larry Kramer. Only crankier. I've asked this before: why would we define equal citizenship by failed institutions like marriage or military service? Straight people can't make them work, many end up dead and, er, dead. If gay rights are civil rights, shouldn't we be asking for it all? Kramer is, of course, correct if not poetic: pandering for second-class citizenship seems our forte. And prolongs achieving equity. His wartime metaphors are sad but true. Our enemies are legion.

    Posted by: Wavin' Dave | Jul 28, 2011 9:48:14 AM

  17. In a world full of Uncle Toms and wannabe-conformists, I will always always always cherish the Larry Kramers, and indeed the man himself.

    Thank you, Mr. Kramer.

    As a 29 year old Canadian living in the USA I'm frustrated at the heel-dragging toward Equality. Leaving it to "the States" will no work, as (like with segregation) some States are just more chock-full of bigotty-nitwits than others. We need federal action.


    Posted by: Little Kiwi | Jul 28, 2011 9:50:17 AM

  18. Larry is right that we haven't reached full equality yet. Where he's dead wrong is suggesting that by celebrating our victory in NY we are all somehow "accepting" that fact. But to suggest that we can just magically have the Supreme Court -- THIS Supreme Court -- give us full equality is a highly dubious and possibly very damaging idea (which is why many of us are still very wary of the Prop 8 litigation, as well-intentioned as it is, making it to the Court).

    Some people here to seem to think that Larry's history of contributions to the gay community -- and they are truly numerous and significant, and we owe him a debt for that -- means that he cannot also be criticized when he's wrong. But he is wrong here, and not because he's "loud" or "rude" or what have you, he's just wrong on the merits. (In my view, of course.) But the notion of Larry Kramer of all people complaining when people attack him for being wrong -- when he has a long history of accusing anyone who disagrees with him of being a craven collaborationist or worse -- is pretty damn rich.

    Posted by: Glenn | Jul 28, 2011 10:04:36 AM

  19. I'm glad Larry was able to clear that up. No one should suffer from misrepresentation.

    However, progress is progress, no matter how small. I wish he could take a day or two to celebrate the love these many couples share, along with the rest of us. It's their day, not his. Having been married in California, I know firsthand how wonderful, moving and important getting married is for the couples and their friends and families.

    It's very selfish for Larry to insist on being a grey cloud on their special day. He could have avoided much of this by waiting for their honeymoon to pass before getting back on his soap box. We need Larry's acid tongue very much, just not spewing all over the celebration.

    Scrooge learned to put a little love in his heart. Perhaps Larry and other gay naysayers can have a teachable moment here too.

    Posted by: peterfrnd | Jul 28, 2011 10:07:58 AM

  20. I think the NY Times had it about right and he should just shut up. Everybody involved knows what the truth is about state vs. federal recognition. We don't need him to teach us this. I think he's brain damaged.

    Posted by: Jonathan | Jul 28, 2011 10:10:31 AM

  21. I love Larry Kramer, but I'm mad at him for not letting Barbra Streisand be in the film version of "The Normal Heart".

    Posted by: Jim | Jul 28, 2011 10:34:11 AM

  22. Has he ever said anything positive? About anything or anyone? Did he expect the NYT to print his entire piece? I'm sorry that newspapers have to summarize.

    @MRay: You must be a heap of fun at weddings. Maybe you shouldn't attend them. I usually don't, and if I do I don't go to try to make the couple and family and friends feel guilty for something beyond their control.

    Posted by: Paul R | Jul 28, 2011 10:41:36 AM

  23. The Larry Kramers and Michael Bedwells of the world may make good points... but that doesn't mean anyone wants to hang out with them.

    I prefer to celebrate our victories, however small they may be. Happiness is good for the complexion.

    Posted by: nodnarb | Jul 28, 2011 10:51:12 AM

  24. Larry is both right and very wrong here.

    Yes, it is true that state marriages are limited in the rights granted, and that it grants none of the federal rights that straight people enjoy. But we all know that, and certainly all the couples getting married know that.

    That doesn't make them worthless at all. In my state, there are over 400 state laws effected by marriage. This is a long battle that will not be won over night. The polling trend is strongly in our favor, and more and more people favor full marriage equality. Why do you suppose the attitudes have changed so much over the last decade? Because of the visibility of the fight we've been having, and because the public is seeing that gay marriages in other countries and in a few of our states are normal. The more they accept our relationships as normal, the more the laws will change to reflect that. As soon as enough states pass full marriage equality, either the federal government or the courts will eventually grant all of the federal rights associated with marriage. So each state that passes it is an important step toward that goal.

    Posted by: Reverse Polarity | Jul 28, 2011 11:10:50 AM

  25. I think the Times quote exactly portrayed the meaning of the full quote.

    I think that Larry is too anxious for the end result to cherish a milestone along the way.

    Yes, my marriage is not as legal as my brother's, but it sure is a hell of a lot more legal than it was 5 years ago.

    I wish he would come down off his pedastal. Does he really think that those who don't agree with him just aren't smart enough to see how he is right?

    In a dificult personal time, I drew myself a cartoon of two people trying to paddle a canoe up a waterfall. They were half-way up. The man in the front of the canoe was saying "can't you paddle faster?"

    I think Larry is like the man in the front -- in full awareness of the struggle ahead, but blind to the accomplishments so far.

    Posted by: TC | Jul 28, 2011 11:20:53 AM

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