I, for one, having come of age in the deeply homophobic 1980s, am mostly amazed at how quickly the cause of marriage equality has been won. Let's not fool ourselves: there's still a lot of homophobia -- some virulent, some subtle -- in America. But the Supreme Court's 5-4 decision on marriage equality signifies a shift in the culture, and I see it as a significant milestone in the fight against the criminalization of the queer.
It's interesting, then, to consider two recent stories that have made their way onto various blogs and news feeds, both concerning gay male murderers and marriage. On March 28, 2015, the Guardian UK ran the story "Convicted Murderers Become First Gay Couple to Marry in Prison." More recently, a Canadian newspaper reported that a man convicted of a brutal murder had posted a dating profile in his search for a "prince charming" interested in "a long term committed relationship."
Most of the reader comments on these stories express outrage that murderers should be able to seek love or get married. But are these gay murderers so different from their heterosexual counterparts who have long taken advantage of their fundamental right to marry?
These stories gain much of their interest (and, indeed, most of their irony) in relation to the "politics of respectability" that has underlined much of the marriage equality movement. These arguments have positioned gays and lesbians as good people who have earned the right to marriage. But marriage -- and, for that matter, love -- are not just for the good. By recognizing marriage as a fundamental right, our society acknowledges that even the most despicable people can get married.
It wasn't so long ago that LGBT people were widely considered despicable, no better than murderers. In researching my book on the "homicidal homosexual" in the American theater, I was surprised at how often the story of Leopold and Loeb (the infamous murderers of Bobby Franks in Chicago in 1924) was taken up by queer theater-makers as a romantic story.
John Logan's play Never the Sinner depicts the two killers waltzing together to Irving Berlin's "What'll I Do," while Stephen Dolginoff's musical Thrill Me concludes with the convicted lovers singing that they'll be together for "Life Plus Ninety Nine Years." The wedding imagery is taken even further in Tom Kalin's film Swoon, which imagines Leopold and Loeb exchanging rings and vows.
The most "queer" version of the romantic Leopold and Loeb appears in Laural Meade's Leopold and Loeb: A Goddamn Laff Riot, a "deconstructive vaudeville" presented in Los Angeles in 2003. The characters of Leopold and Loeb are each performed by a pair of actors -- one male and one female -- giving us four actors who continually alternate lines and express contradictory feelings and thoughts. When asked in court if they plead guilty, the Leopolds and Loebs respond by putting on wedding veils and dancing to the ABBA song "I Do, I Do, I Do."
Part of the reason queer artists imagined the "gay wedding" of Leopold and Loeb in the 1990s and early 2000s is that it allowed a community that felt criminalized to imagine that even the worst among us might find love. But to varying degrees these representations also parody notions of traditional marriage, showing that the love of these anti-heroes does not fit within the standard romantic narrative.
Now that we've achieved marriage equality, will we lose interest in these subversive criminal romances? The continuing popularity of shows like Never the Sinner and Thrill Me indicate that there's still an audience for these complex representations.
Many queers have no desire to be "respectable," and others may still feel criminalized by the strong homophobia that operates in certain corners of American society and politics. Therefore these dramatic representations of romantic queer killers speak to our fantasies about the ability of the "despicable" to find love and even to get married.
Those more recent real-life convicted killers -- the ones getting married in the UK and seeking love in Canada -- are guilty of truly horrific crimes. But those criminals are still human, and they have a fundamental right to marriage. And so do we.