March 7, 2012

What do we mean by Love(=Love)?

In the LGBT community, we love the phrase Love=Love. It’s plastered everywhere—from outside the Center to shirts we distribute to the entire campus. But I can’t help but wonder what message people are actually receiving. After all, Love=Love seems to be more than just a trivial tautology, else there would simply be no point.

While loveis an unfortunately vague and overused word in the English language (e.g. Mean Girls),judging by the art on the T-shirt, which includes gay and straight couples holding hands, I don’t think we’re talking about my love for Italian food or God’s love for humanity. We seem to be talking specifically about romantic love, and I think most people interpret the shirt as meaning gay/lesbian romantic love=straight romantic love.

That seems simple enough. However I think that many people, upon seeing this shirt, draw more than this. Consider the application of this to political rights, where we might want to say gay romantic love=straight romantic love, therefore gay marriage. However, the only rights that we can really derive from the statement gay romantic love=straight romantic love are those which are guaranteed solely in virtue of romantic love. And, thus, I am left asking what does romantic love in and of itself entail.

I feel that in our culture we are taught that love justifies pretty much anything (note how we’ve lost the “romantic” part--though it's still implied). While the hopeless romantic in me loves Disney movies, there is a recurring message that love solves everything; Hercules literally becomes a god through romantic love. Or what about romantic comedies, such as Made of Honor, in which Patrick Dempsey does everything he can to break up his best friend’s wedding because he is “in love”with her? Made of Honor ends up with Patrick Dempsey happily on his honey moon with his now-wife. No regrets. No mention of the now-ex-fiancé who was literally rejected at the altar.

How often dowe try to use love to justify things we normally would never even consider? How many times have you seen your friend, once they have a boyfriend or girlfriend, disappear from your life to spend all their time with their boy/girlfriend—previous plans discarded? I once was told not to date during my Freshman year, because apparently love demands me to sacrifice my grades despite my education’s $59,900/year price tag. And sometimes, romantic love apparently demands we even violate others ’rights—what is it we say about those we love? That for him/her, we’d let the world burn? Dante once wrote,
“People in love cannot be moved by kindness,
and opposition makes them feel like martyrs.”
Once we are in love, we appeal to love to ignore the normal rules of kindness, and we start sacrificing others in devotion to love, and we hold ourselves up as somehow sanctified by our sacrifice. We start feeling not only justified in our actions by romantic love, but entitled through it.

And so we return to my original question—what we can derive from romantic love? It is so tempting for those fighting for LGBT rights to equivocate on romantic love and capitalize on the cultural primacy of love to try. Love=Love à{Rights} without clearly establishing what rights romantic love can actually give. Turning romantic love into rhetoric, however, makes us lose sight of how beautiful and valuable romantic love itself is. We must return to ask what exactly love is, and in determining what romantic love is—and is not—I suspect we will find it to be more than we even wanted it to be, even if not in the way we originally thought.

We consider ourselves a loving and accepting community, so let us figure out what we mean when we say that. Let us explore what love actually means.


  1. Well, doesn't romantic love that is equal to more socially acceptable love entail a right to marriage at least? If marriage is a love based institution, then it has to be. Unless we find there to be some psychological damage associated with non-heterosexual love, I can't see any justification for denying marriage equality. If marriage isn't about love, what is it about? (I have a variety of responses for different answers, but I won't just write all of them if there's no reason.)

  2. Interesting I was just thinking about this while running today and I think I agree with you... if you're saying that love has become a bit institutionalized and thus belittled. And kyle, I'd argue that marriage isn't really about love anymore. It makes economic sense and its what's expected of us after we date someone for too long and, hell, some religious people probably do it just so they can finally "get it in." Not saying that us in the lgbt community shouldn't be able to get married, though.

  3. I think marriage is about love in a big, big way. Committing to be with someone for the rest of your life, to potentially have children with them, to be faithful to them - even if it ends in a divorce, it's an enormous commitment which is as least initially built on love.

    I think another thing about the Love=Love is that it implicitly also says Sex=Sex. A lot of arguments against homosexuality focus on how sex between people of the same gender is "unnatural," while I hear a lot less often that love between people of the same gender is "unnatural." (Not to say that those same people don't believe that.) The LGBT community saying Love=Love is a way of making people realize that being gay isn't just about sex, that's it's also about love; but at the same time, because romantic love almost always includes some aspect of the physical, it's implicitly refuting those people who say that homosexual sex is unnatural and wrong.

  4. @Kyle: What is marriage about? Good question. I'm concerned if we make it about sex or romantic love, then what about those who consider themselves asexual or aromantic? Do they then not have the right to marriage? I would guess it means something different from the societal perspective than from the personal perspective.

    But this brings up a really good point I hadn't thought of. Shouldn't we, before demanding gay marriage, figure out what marriage is? And then we get into the question of what marriage should mean...