mother thought the whole thing was a bad idea. Her reason?
It would be akin to telling my 80-something-year-old married-for-60-of-those-years
relatives, “Hey, by the way, you see that woman on the left
in the combat boots? I’m screwing her.” Never mind that my
great aunt and uncle had known of my high school boyfriends.
This was different. My mother did eventually come around,
but it seems like all too many people take her gut reaction
and run with it: Discussing gay relationships means discussing
sex in some way that discussing straight ones doesn’t.
the kid in Louisiana who was sent to the principal and made
to write “I will not say bad words in school” over and over
because he explained in response to a classmate’s question
about his mother and father that he had two moms because they
were gay. What does ‘gay’ mean? the classmate asked. When
a girl likes another girl, he replied. A conversation more
G-rated than most Disney movies. But the teacher’s report
home to his mom had written in indignant script across the
top “He explained to another child that you are gay and what
being gay means.” The horror.
comes to mind now as the debate on gay marriage has suddenly
taken center stage, with the echoes ringing from Boston to
Sacramento, from Northampton to the Castro. I can’t help wondering
if, religious fundamentalists aside, the underlying reason
that so many people stumble over the pairing of the words
“gay” and “marriage” is that they’re still stuck on gay relationships
being about sex. All this shrieking about “threat to the foundation
of society” and “non-ideal situations in which to raise children”
may well be rooted in a failure of the imagination.
is a long-term relationship between people of the same gender
so hard to imagine? For those of us in such relationships,
or who have friends and family in them, this difficulty is
a little confusing. There’s very little about stealing the
covers, divvying up the chores, or taking the time to learn
and understand and support and grow with someone over the
long haul that necessitates having opposite genders involved.
Is there something about marriage we’re missing?
has a theory, which makes sense to me: Most of how mainstream
American society understands dating and marriage is
actually still dependent on gender roles. The girl wants commitment,
the guy is nervous about being snared. The wedding is the
bride’s special day and she is invested in choosing the flower
arrangements while the guy pays the caterer and arranges the
transportation. At home, today’s guys might “help” with the
housework, but it’s still the woman’s responsibility to coordinate
and plan the effort and nag for compliance. A working woman
has a dilemma in terms of “balancing” career and child raising,
whereas for men, it’s not working, if anything, that causes
a dilemma. Women want their husbands to talk more about their
feelings, men are withdrawn and want to feel in control of
the remote. Men need to be kept from staring at other women
by jealous wives who constantly wonder if their looks are
going down the tubes. Women spoil their kids, men discipline
of stereotypes is long, totally inaccurate, and widely believed,
even by a lot of people who consider themselves exceptions
in one way or other. Even if they don’t believe that’s how
it ought to be, too many people’s idea of “marriage” is still
a negotiated truce in the gender wars.
of that is happening in same-sex relationships, that leaves
only one thing distant observers can be pretty sure is
happening: sex. This is why more than 35 years after Stonewall,
a Massachusetts legislator can still refer to gay families
as a “lifestyle.” And why right-wing cranks can call same-sex
marriage “marriage for sodomites” and sarcastically say “Well
OK then, I want to marry my dog.”
why the opening of the floodgates for same-sex weddings in
San Francisco is for so many of us deliriously joyful. It’s
not only the glimmer of hope (maybe it’ll actually stick!).
It’s the images of those weddings out there in the world,
hundreds of them, images of couples of all ages (though a
heavy proportion of older, longtime couples), races, and styles.
Couples with kids. Couples who drove hours and camped out
on the sidewalk in the rain. (Note to Schenectady: Being the
first on the East Coast to follow San Francisco’s lead could
be a surefire answer to your economic woes.)
stop looking at the pictures. As of this writing, there were
hundreds at Yahoo!’s news-photos section on same-sex marriage,
and nearly every one brought tears to my eyes. The radiance
in the faces of these couples should be recognizable to all
but the most hardheaded fundamentalists as something conspicuously
more profound than lust or afterglow.
people from Sen. Barbara Boxer to Rep. Barney Frank are agonizing
over the possible backlash—and it may well come. But the power
of the San Francisco weddings is that, unlike abstract legal
arguments, lobbying and protests (which are all absolutely
essential), they are a very public face of real families just
going about being loving and committed, taking a break from
demanding something and getting a chance to fulfill long-held
dreams. This can hardly be threatening unless you’re afraid
of your own shadow. It could be the gay-rights-movement equivalent
of little black children integrating a school. Next to the
simple beauty and familiarity of what these couples are doing,
the few lonely protestors look downright silly.
my favorite pictures of the bunch is of two men heading down
city hall steps, grinning, each wearing a Snugli with one
of their twin baby girls in it, one holding a marriage certificate.
And I have to say, if this makes you think first of sex, you’re
the one who’s a pervert.