Changing Co-Workers Opinions About Gay Marriage

Steven PetrowQuestion for Steven: For both my partner and me, getting “married” is as much a political statement as it is about our love. Generally, I don’t bring politics into the office (and I don’t like others who do), but I want to raise everyone’s awareness of the marriage-inequality issue, especially because we live in a state where we can’t legally partner. How do you suggest I do this political consciousness-raising without crossing the line into inappropriate office behavior?

Steven Answers: You’re right about not bringing politics into the office; workplaces generally have enough drama of their own without adding political and social issues to the mix. Not to mention that coming on too strong about gay marriage (or any other social issue) can complicate your relationships with superiors, subordinates, and peers, sometimes causing bruised feelings and rifts that are hard to heal.

That said, your “wedding”—legal or not—makes you something of an ambassador for marriage equality. And as any good diplomat will tell you, one of the best ways to change hearts and minds is to give people concrete examples to consider. In other words, use your impending ceremony as a teachable moment. Here’s a strategy you can use over several weeks or months to help your co-workers learn about the inequalities we face:

Spread the joy. I’d guess that most of your straight colleagues don’t view your impending nuptials as a political event, so why not do what your straight colleagues do when they’re engaged? That is, talk about the love of your life, your impending ceremony, where you’re going on your honeymoon, and other ceremony-related topics, just as any engaged couple would. When spouses and significant others are invited to office parties, introduce yours to your colleagues, and let them get to know the two of you as a couple.

Raise the stakes. Over time, without getting angry or too aggressive, you can begin to talk about the fact that you and your partner can’t legally marry or qualify for any of the more than one thousand federal benefits provided to married straight couples. Bring it up in context: when talking about taxes, for example, mention that you won’t be able to file a joint tax return. When the water-cooler chat turns to worries about retirement savings, you can confess that you lose sleep over it—especially because you and your spouse won’t have the same survivor rights to each other’s pensions that straight couples do. Let your co-workers see how unfair laws can hurt good people. That’s been known to change some minds before.

Be strategic. Don’t ask office colleagues to sign petitions in favor of same-sex marriage or challenge them to debate it with you. But if you’re asked about gifts or if the office decides to throw a wedding shower for you, let them know that you’d appreciate a donation to Freedom to Marry or one of the many other organizations fighting for same-sex marriage. Just don’t hold it against anyone who decides to get you a nice candy dish instead.

Be aware that even a friendly co-worker who genuinely likes you and your partner may not

completely agree that you should be allowed to get legally married, and you may not be able

to change their stance. You’ll need to decide how to handle that situation if it comes up. Can you be philosophical about it, and agree to disagree? Or would you equate a marriage foe with someone who gets along with people of all races but just thinks their kids shouldn’t go to school together? If the latter, you may want to request a transfer to another department—or at least a cubicle far, far away.


Steven Petrow is the go-to source on contemporary etiquette, as cited by The New York Times, People, Time, and NPR. His sometimes gentle, sometimes snarky, always insightful advice has made him a nationally recognized expert on modern manners. In addition to his three prize-winning etiquette books, Steven writes the “Civil Behavior” column for The New York Times and is a sought-after speaker on all matters of civilized living in the 21st century.