In Canada, a gay professor against gay marriage : « Well, I’m not interested in equality »

In June 2005, marriage between same sex people was implemented in Canada, after six years of legislative ordeals. Ten years later, Ryan Conrad, American activist and Professor at the Concordia University in Montreal strongly opposes gay marriage. He is himself homosexual. Interview.

prof palmz

Ryan Conrad

– Why are you against gay marriage?

The failed gay marriage referendum in my home state of Maine in 2009 really made it crystal clear for me. Hundreds of thousands of dollars were being spent to make sure middle class gays could fortify and consolidate their property and wealth through marriage while LGBT youth programs and HIV/AIDS services were closing, not to mention the economy was going down in flames.

So when wealthy gay liberals and their allies began descending on the state in 2009 to try and win this referendum (which they lost), clear lines were drawn about whose lives were valuable and whose were not. This is when I started to write very critically about gay marriage.

– Aren’t you afraid of isolating the gay community even more by adopting a liberationist standpoint in such a widespread institution that is marriage?

The option is to either reinforce the deeply inequitable institution of marriage with our participation or to fight for its deinstitutionalization so that all people have access to health care, freedom of movement across boarders, and family law protections regardless of marital status or composition of their family. Social and economic justice is a long term fight. I’m not here for the short term gains that as a movement we’ll end up having to fight against later.

– But do you understand how « a gay man against gay marriage » may catch people off guard?

Sure it can be confusing when we only communicate in bombastic headlines or sound bites, or when it is assumed that all gay and lesbian people have the same political orientations.

But the reality is, I’m opposed to all marriage, gay or straight, being the nexus through which material and economic benefits are distributed by the state. In essence, I’m against marriage privilege, where conjugal couples are given more rights than any other familial form. We just happen to be at a historical moment where the question of gay marriage is at the forefront of our conversations about marriage and family law. In the nineteen seventies many radical feminists were making the same arguments I am making today.

– In France, there was a wide wave of protest in France following the proposal of the law that would allow gay marriage.

It is important to take each conversation about gay marriage in its geopolitical context. It’s also important to not allow your adversaries to define your political position.

Just because a bunch of homophobes don’t want you to get married, doesn’t mean you should then fight to get married. That’s reactionary.

And we need to remember that these people don’t just want us not to be able to get married, but want for us to not exist.

I still think the primary fight everywhere is to uncouple marriage, the religious, spiritual, amorous coupling from marriage the social and economic contract between two people and the state. France has moved this direction with the PACs, but there is more to be done in order to devise a system of family law that values all families, not just an ideology of family.


Manifestation en faveur de l’ouverture du mariage aux couples de même sexe, Montréal. Crédits photo : CrossWorlds/Palmyre Serey


– Do you understand why some gay people want to see marriage legal for them?

Sure, there are plenty or reasons why gay people might want marriage as it stands today, whether for the legal and material benefits it has, or for the cultural recognition it bestows.

But it’s important to remember how marriage impacts people. For example, marriage is pushed by conservatives as a solution to get people off welfare or social assistance, while marriage provides tax breaks for upper and middle class people. But it does not work for the poor. This means that marriage doesn’t work for the majority of its citizens, including its LGBT population. So I think we need to be asking who does marriage work for and who is making the demand for it.

– How do you envision an effective approach to achieving equality?

Well, I’m not actually interested in equality.

Equality means demanding an equal stake in the institutions and social systems as they are. I’m interested in social and economic justice and these things are not achievable by being included in the institution of marriage, state militaries, or non-discrimination laws that only grow our already overflowing prisons. In essence, Against Equality demands we rethink this whole equality thing.

– Tell me about this « Against Equality” movement.

Against Equality is not a movement, but a digital archive. We have worked for the last six years to archive and present writing and visual materials that show the intersections between queer life and class, race, gender, citizenship, ability, amongst other things. Our goal was to create a chorus of other likeminded queer and trans activists critical of the politics of inclusion so that we could challenge the conversations happening nationally in the United States at the time (remember, I come from there).

We are an all volunteer run project that has published four books, given over sixty lectures, created two public art projects, and contributed writing to numerous magazines, journals, and books.  I think we succeeded in doing that, and we continue the project today.

– In your book Against Equality: Queer Revolution, Not Mere Inclusion, you compare marriage to the military. Why?

In our book we use a similar lens to critique gay marriage, gays in the military, and gay inclusive hate crime law. These three issues have been the pillars of gay and lesbian politics in the United States since the nineteen nineties.

This holy trinity of gay and lesbian politics all leave the same bad taste in our mouths, with its central goal of inclusion instead of radical transformation.

Propos recueillis par Palmyre Serey.

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