News & Politics

Finally, Marriage Licenses for All

The legalization of gay marriage is a huge milestone in the fight for equal rights. Still, it begs the question: why do people get married, anyway?
Everyone I know in California is getting married this weekend. Everyone queer, that is.

Even some of my heterosexual friends are getting in on the action, because no one wants to miss the groovy free-love-and-a-license party down at City Hall. There are some spoilsports, of course. The County Clerk of Bakersfield, (our Country-Western music epicenter!), has outlawed ALL wedding ceremonies so she wouldn't have to face the horror -- the horror, I tell you! -- of watching a groom and a groom kiss each other with tears in their eyes.

Or, maybe her phobia is dykes in tuxes. She says she "doesn't have the resources" to perform marriages of any kind, but behind everyone's back, she was writing a right-wing freaker group begging for solace and legal support.

I can't believe someone this ignorant is still hanging around the State bureaucracy, a gay enclave if there ever was one.

Back in San Francisco, there wasn't a dry eye in the house when Daughers of Bilitis founders, Del Martin and Phyllis Lyon got married in City Hall yesterday, by the studly mayor who started the whole gay wedding stampede in 2004, Gavin Newsom.

Del and Phyll are so frail, at their age, it makes you choke up to think of how they've been together since the 1950s, asking for nothing more than a little respect. They are more radical than young people a third their age!

In one California local newspaper after the next, we see the photo story behind gay marriage: it's largely an elderly revolution. These are couples who've been together for decades, coping with the health and legacy issues than any old person does, wanting their beloved to be by their side without harangue and humiliation.

I remember when Newsom first declared San Francisco a "get married!" zone; it was Valentine's Day and the whole city spontaneously broke out in red balloons and pink garlands. You couldn't walk down the streets without people smiling at you like they'd just been dusted with sugar and kissed by the Easter Bunny. It felt as if, for one day, Love Prevailed. And that was a real love, not a romance, because we were celebrating a long-overdue social justice that would not be denied.

Newsom's wedding licenses were subsequently scrapped by the state, under pressure from the homophobic evangelical lobby -- and for the five zillionth time, marriage activists went back to the drawing boards ... how many times do we have to say, Yes, I Do?

This time, even Arnold Schwarzenegger, our improbable governor, cannot put on the pretense that he gives a shit about the Haters. (This is a guy who gave Penthouse an interview in 1981, his weightlifting prime, boasting that American men were too uptight aboutgetting their dicks sucked by other guys; that it's not such a big deal in Austria ... really!)

So, marriage licenses for all, freshly minted, are finally here. It's already a fact in life in so many states and countries; soon the only hold-outs are going to look antediluvian.

However, there are good friends and lovers ... who just don't wanna get married. They are all for justice under the law -- and toasting the bride next door -- but they don't want to be swept into the nuptial tent themselves.

One of our readers, Chris, commented on a previous post:
What should I do about my long-term lesbian relationship? My wife keeps saying she wants to get married, and I don't, because I think marriage is bullshit. It's propagated by a misguided human delusion that we won't die alone and that we can belong to someone -- or whatever people who believe in marriage think.
Chris isn't the only one to wring her hands and hide from the bouquet toss.

I'm not married myself. I never thought twice about getting married, to a man or a woman, for the first few decades of my life. It was never part of my parents' scheme for me, nor did I feel any peer pressure in the 70s, when I was first falling in love. I came of age at a time when weddings were seen as square, anti-feminist, state-pimping bullshit.

My friends who did tie the knot, squirmed as they made their announcement, apologized profusely, and choked out explanations that their parents were putting in the screws.

I patted them on the back and said, "Hey, don't worry about me; I'm your friend no matter what!" As if they had admitted war crimes!

Marriage was seen, in my milieu, as a bourgeois millstone, likely to end in divorce, that was better left uncommented upon, for the sake of sparing everyone the humiliation.

I never went to a family wedding ... how bizarre, in retrospect! My single (divorced) mom must have been more of a bohemian than I realized. She certainly rolled her eyes every time the topic came up.

The first wedding event I ever attended, I was 30, and it was an "illegal" lesbian ritual. (And yes, they split up in less than a year). I remember how corny I found the ceremony; we were supposed to sing their one-syllable names out loud, like a chant, as I sweated and stared into my lap to hide my mortification.

I especially get vexed about marital vows. I hate vows that invoke God; I hate vows that insist the betrothed renounce all others -- I always take that personally, even though I'm not supposed to.

I hate the part where someone says they've never loved like this before, and they never will again. Is love really that small and exclusive?

Mostly, I rue those vain promises that are utterly impossible to keep. I feel like screaming into the chapel, "How are you going to live with yourself when you fail? What do you do when you find out this is a child's fantasy?"

The romantic delusions are what twist my gut, and leave me anxiously awaiting the other shoe to drop. The best thing to do, I've found, is politely decline all wedding invitations, and just send my best. I'm always the first person the newlyweds call when they're fighting like cats and dogs.

And yet ... I may someday get married, if it becomes financially or legally beneficial, and I can't negotiate a fairer solution. So far I've worked my way around it, through other legal declarations!

I've already blustered my way into hospitals when my lover was injured at work, saying I was "his wife," because there was no way I was going to endure a roadblock.

At those times, I worked myself into an inner hysteria, thinking about the discrimination I'd face if we were a same-sex couple.

When Chris wrote her question, it made me think, "What does her lover really want, what does she want?"

For some people, a marriage proposal, more than anything else, means, 'I Love You, Above All Others, You are My Destiny." What they want, more than anything, is that emotional dedication. They will find temporary succor in a wedding, but if they're captive to their own demons, that insecurity will never leave them.

How do you make your lover feel secure -- and what part is their responsibility? You can never reassure an insatiable lover enough; and conversely, there are spouses who are such liars and cheats that they would put King Solomon on edge with their antics.

Some lovers, who are in a financially unequal relationships, want legal security. They don't want to be discounted as a SAHM or dedicated muse, if the shit hits the fan.

Then there's the unexpected illnesses, deaths, suicides, that beg for the protection of lover-positive law. Some of the most brutal cases of injustice I've witnessed were instances when one partner lost her beloved suddenly, and the long-estranged "blood family" came swooping in, and took everything away, from snapshots to the family car.

For all these reasons, I embrace an evenhanded marital law, the one decent thing a wedding provides.

Justice is direct; it's rather beautiful to behold -- but the romantic bundle that often goes along with people's hitching papers is another beast entirely. It's probably worth a few heart-to-hearts to get to the bottom of it.

"What do I want this marriage? What are my worst fears -- and most delicate hopes?" If you can't bare your breast about these things, it's probably a bad time to get married.

I, personally, was always attracted to the wedding dress. The party of it all. Then I realized that anyone could buy one, wear several, and march down the street in the Doo-Dah Parade.

I also envied the way that weddings make your long-lost friends come out of the woodwork. There are people in my life, miles away, who I miss terribly, and yet the only time they travel to California is when some high school pal is getting married. I could fucking give birth to a chicken and it wouldn't inspire them to budge an inch. Only weddings get their ass on the tarmac. Weddings ... and funerals -- and I really hope it doesn't come to that!

Which brings us back to dying alone. I love the existential certainty of that fact -- I don't want to die crowded.

But from the other side of the deathbed, I know that being a fierce advocate for my dear ones, to keep them out of pain, to speak for them when they can't, to rattle the cage when they are too weak -- that's something I'll always treasure, and fight to protect. It doesn't mean "marriage," per se, it means legal respect for the diversity of our chosen families. You can keep the cake-topper; I'll take the equality.
Susie Bright is an author, editor, and journalist known for her original and pioneering work in sexual politics and erotic expression. She writes about sex and politics every day at her blog.
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