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

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.

 

Comments

  1. Alex Parrish says

    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.

  2. kodiak says

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

  3. Nick says

    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!

  4. Nat says

    “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.

  5. John says

    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!

  6. Frank Selvaggi says

    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.

  7. Really? says

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

  8. uffda says

    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.

  9. philip says

    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” ——-About.com

    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.

  10. MRay says

    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”.

  11. Marc Fuentes says

    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.

  12. says

    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.

  13. george says

    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.

  14. ohplease says

    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.

  15. Wavin' Dave says

    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.

  16. says

    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.

    Werk.

  17. Glenn says

    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.

  18. peterfrnd says

    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.

  19. Jonathan says

    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.

  20. Jim says

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

  21. Paul R says

    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.

  22. nodnarb says

    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.

  23. Reverse Polarity says

    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.

  24. TC says

    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.

  25. Whitebread says

    “I do not disparage those who choose to marry” quote from Larry Kramer.

    You did disparage their marriage, Larry. You reduced their marriage to “feel good” exercise. And now you wanna play victim and misunderstood.

  26. says

    well….to be fair, it’s not Kramer who is “disparaging” their marriages – he’s simply pointing out the factual reality that they’re not yet truly Equal marriages.

    they’re not.

    As a Canadian living in the USA, it’s frustrating to see the way the “gay marriage debate” is playing out here. It’s frustrating, Kramer articulates that frustration perfectly.

    He’s not saying “dont’ be happy” he’s articulating the very real frustration that we’re feasting on scraps.

    it’s a step forward, but it’s frustrating to still be celebrating these baby steps in 2011.

  27. says

    Larry will always be Larry, seeing the darkest cloud in every silver lining. We shouldn’t expect less from him. And, as usual, he’s right, but he’s not as right as he thinks he is, and everyone else is not as wrong as he thinks we are.

    Until there is federal marriage equality, our marriages ARE far less meaningful than any heterosexual marriage. And, a majority of gay couples in the US still cannot marry at all. So, shouts of victory are premature. However, it’s not like any halfway knowledgeable gay person doesn’t know that. It’s actually ok, even if Larry doesn’t join in, to celebrate each victory and be momentarily happy before getting back to the bigger fight. He’s still applying his (entirely appropriate) AIDs rage to every struggle and failing to see obvious forward momentum.

    Imagine a gay world only comprised of sour Larrys? Shudder. Bless his passion, but . . . He also underestimates the importance of each state victory in the eventual Supreme Court landing. Without these steps, a SC victory is unlikely. Each step means more than its face value, and he should know that by now, as much as I understand his frustration that equality isn’t likely during his lifetime. The way gay couples are seen in the US now, compared to only 15 or 20 years ago is remarkable. It’s hardly just pretend feel-good stuff.

    He does make an excellent point that heterosexuals often don’t get it. I’ve had straight allies in VT look at me funny when they see Freedom to Marry is still active in our state. They think we’re done, and many have no idea how unequal “equality” is even within the states that have it. It really does need to be emphasized how important the federal component is before we have anything like true equality. Most of us understand that, but the mainstream doesn’t because the media usually ignores it. If Larry calls some more attention to it, good for him.

  28. anon says

    Larry’s an ugly old crank who should shut up. Most people aren’t in the privileged position to be quoted in the Times, have TV producers’ numbers in their rolodex (or smart phone equivalent), or any ability to reach a large audience through multiple channels so quickly, yet all he can do is complain that the world treats him so unfairly. It’s very immature and the hallmark of a sore winner.

  29. MichaelJ says

    Previous comments by Nat and Glenn pretty much sum up what I would say about Larry Kramer and his latest effort to brand himself as a leader who cannot be criticized.

  30. deedrdo says

    what he said is fine. and true. what’s annoying is that he feels like he has to lecture “us” on something we already know. as for me, i say seize any moment you can find to express your love.

  31. bobbyjoe says

    Reverse Polarity has it right.

    As is often the case with Larry Kramer, he’s both right and wrong. Yes, these marriages are still second-class. But who’s simply accepting these and nothing more, I’d ask? It seems like a strawman argument.

    How exactly does Kramer propose we get to full equality, without winning these battles along the way? It’s like Kramer was a WWII general who ignored the fact that the war was taking place on multiple fronts and just kept haranguing the other generals with “hey, why don’t we just run in and shoot Hitler?” It might sound good for a second or two, until you realized it was simplistic (and virtually unobtainable) in the face of the current reality. Kramer seems to have missed the fact that the marriages in New York ARE demanding more, and are one more major plank in the actual device that will bring full equality. Nobody’s stopping here except strawmen.

    Watching “The Normal Heart” recently, I was struck by again how simultaneously right and wrong Kramer has been. He was very right in the need to sound much louder warning bells during the early era of the AIDS crisis, but he was very wrong in his solution, which was essentially that all gay men stop having sex, which was idiocy and pie-in-the-sky unicorn-ism in the face of actual human behavior. Again, it’s the “gee, why don’t we just shoot Hitler” type of bromide rather than acknowledging the way reality and human behavior actually works.

    Kramer’s an important guy for making sure these conversations get started, but sometimes what he says after it starts is a little pat and naive.

  32. just_a_guy says

    Good for Kramer. I think he deserves his continued voice. And it’s just that: a VOICE. He’s human, and his sometimes-obvious imperfections are surely part of the maybe somewhat-gelded soul that has impressively led him to contribute. Good on him for not giving in to anyone. More of us need to be fighters like him sometimes. I’m proud of u, Larry!!

  33. Mark says

    Larry could have stayed with the original misunderstanding.

    There are good reasons to be angry about marriage equity.

    It encourages gay men to promote the falsehood to themselves that they are “just like mom and dad”, or “just like everyone else”.

    How much value is there in lying to yourself like that?

    Before marriage the project was to discover for yourself how you and your coupling is unique and individual to you.

    That is not what is being offered here.

    It’s the rights and responsibilities of hetero normative society.

    Equity means they have will have to adopt and live by the norms that have evolved to suit average Jane and Joe and their failed marriages.

    As if there isn’t anything valuable about the uniqueness of two men deciding how they will live their lives together.

    What a mess.

    For someone who wants a life, an authentic life those limits are something to get angry about.

    Wake up, after the glow of marriage equity idealism wears off you may find just how little you want more people in your community acting like the creepy inauthentic family down the block.

    Larry is a writer and has been around enough artists and creative types in NYC to know the value of taking the bushel basket off your head.

  34. Marc says

    Hey @MARK | JUL 29, 2011 9:05:56 AM,

    No one is saying that you can’t live your life the way you want. If you think that because people are legally married they *must* have 2.5 kids and a white picket fence, you have not learned one of the lessons Queer Nation was trying to teach – rather that telling the straight world, “We’re just like you, except what we do in bed,” our lives are *nothing* like theirs except what we do in bed. It still seems to me, though, that even in bed our lives are *very* different from theirs.

    Whether or not you are in a monogamous relationship, having the option of legally ensuring the rights and protections of someone you love is worth the fight were are currently having.

  35. Mark says

    Hi Marc,

    Yes monogamy is an issue that separates gay male couples from heterosexual couples but it’s not the only one.

    Much more importantly are the myriad other issues of being men together.

    What we bring to a relationship as men loving another man. The various psycho-social things that keep you together or pull you apart.

    It’s very different than being a woman with a man or a man with a woman.

    My point is a successful relationship between men is much more subtle than people think…and marriage norms have evolved for the subtleties of heterosexual couples…from their joys and from their conflicts, not ours.

    There have been norms to our relationships that have developed over thousands of years. Very few gay men even consider that could be so or that it is worth looking at as we make an official relationship contract our goal.

    So, question:

    Why are we not advocating to honor our own set of norms, the ones that we see fit for our success?

    The norms that are suitable to a successful relationship between men?

    Are we even considering such a task for ourselves?

    If we really believe in equality…why not?

    Personally I think we have been so marginalized by HIV/AIDS and so demoralized by the lack of a cure that we just want to change the topic.

    So it’s like some PR committee decided we are fighting for this now and most people haven’t really thought very deeply about what they are doing or how they might succeed in the new venture.

    Hope you can see I am very much for happy gay male couples, not against “manogamy” either…rather liked it when I had it.

    I do have faith that gay men will eventually discover that the underpinnings of “manogamy” are quite different than the support structure for monogamy.

    I also have faith that those men who want an abiding love with another man will find a way, hetero-based marriage license or not.

    It’s clear to me there is work to be done there…maybe happier work than ending HIV…and perhaps in some ways more difficult.

    :-)

  36. So Left I'm Right says

    Larry Kramer can’t be reduced to a Tweet, which is what these media outlets constantly try to do to writers with a bit of nuance. Thank you Larry for being the crank that you are. You always stimulate debate!

  37. says

    Hi MARK | JUL 29, 2011 11:49:57 AM,

    I’m not entirely sure what you mean by “manogomy” versus “monogamy”. I have never been in a relationship with a woman, so I don’t have direct experience there. I think we have ways in the LGBT community to celebrate our relationships, and we have different traditions. I’d like to correspond further with you about this, but I am getting off topic here. You can go to http://gaytoolmaker.blogspot.com/ and post a comment with your e-mail address (it won’t show up on the blog, so you won’t expose your address to spammers). That way we can carry on this conversation without cluttering up the comments here. :-)

  38. says

    Kramer has a very strong voice. I totally agree on his statements but it’s early to have a celebration. The fight for equality and civil rights is not yet over.