Our friends Chaia and Amanda got married last Saturday. We only heard it was happening that morning. My wife Debi wore a flamboyant silk scarf and floppy-brimmed black and silver hat with a feather that caused Rowan, 15, to ask, Wheres your sword? I chose my father-in-laws three piece suit, a lavender shirt and purplish tie. Rowan wore the bell-bottomed denim suit I got married in the first time (not to his mother) in 1973: he looked a good deal better in it than I had done. He put on my fathers British bowler hat. I asked him how many weddings he had been to. He said this was the first.
Is it only our gay friends who are getting married these days?
The wedding was in a big tent on a muddy patch by a parking lot. We were glad we had our big boots on. But the sun was out and hundreds of smiles greeted the brides. Some were more dressed up than others. Chaia was in a smart suit. Amanda wore her blue jeans and complained that Chaia had not allowed her to give her flowers. Their son Jacob, 16, Rowans friend, looked happy and handsome.
Our local town, New Paltz, had drawn the big media spotlight a couple of weeks before when the Mayor, Jason West, 26, decided that by his reading of the state constitution gay marriage was legal in New York. He performed 25 gay marriages. Most people probably support the mayor. This is a college town, hes from the Green Party, and the most amusing comment in the paper from a local businessman was that the gay weddings would surely increase property values.
But some are vehemently opposed. The District Attorney charged West with 29 misdemeanors for presiding over weddings without marriage licenses. Ministers fulminated in the newspapers.
The state Attorney General, Eliot Spitzer, a liberal hero for going after the Wall Street swindlers of the dot com boom, concluded that the marriages were indeed illegal.
We had run into Chaia at a big demonstration backing West the day he was arraigned. 700 people and national network TV massed outside the Town Hall. To face the music, West came out of his office on one side of the building and walked through the cheering crowd past the doors of the fire station to the town court on the other side. It must have been a good thirty years since Debi and I had been in a demo with a crowd this young. When we started chanting All we are saying is give love a chance we felt like ancient bearers of history.
Chaia has been active in the Green Party and knows Mayor West. She and Amanda bought a nice suburban house on a rural road a while back. The first time our two families went out to eat together I made them laugh by assuming Amanda was the birth mother, because Jacob had her last name. When you cant get legally married, one of the few things you can do to make sure your son is recognised as yours, is to give him your last name. Chaia was the birth mother. No child I know has been more planned, wanted and loved than Jacob. At the demo she joked, You only feel really at home in a town when you have demonstrated outside its town hall.
They said their vows under the tent. We clustered outside. Jason West, though still claiming he had broken no law, had decided to abide by the DAs ban. So Wests elected Green Party colleague introduced two Unitarian Universalist (UU) ministers who would perform civil, not religious, ceremonies. First, Kay Greenleaf, the UU minister in nearby Poughkeepsie was married to her partner. Then she performed the rest of the weddings. As Unitarians, Debi and I were proud to see the UUs do their civil disobedience duty, the latest step in a long road of civil rights campaigns.
It was political theatre. But Chaias tears attested that these were also real weddings. One step closer to equality.
Opponents complain that gay marriage changes the meaning of marriage, which has always been for the raising of children. But 27% of gay couples in the 2000 Census recorded that they were raising children. And the last straight friends of ours to marry do not intend to have children. Should their wedding be made illegal?
A recent USA Today/CNN/Gallup poll found that 54% of Americans support civil unions, 42% oppose them. In July civil unions were opposed 57% to 40%. It seems that it is the weddings themselves that have changed the atmosphere.
By about two to one, Americans still oppose gay marriage, as distinct from civil unions. The pundits consensus is that President Bushs proposed amendment to the Constitution to outlaw gay marriage will never pass. He has shored up his conservative base, but changing the Constitution to discriminate against a group of people doesnt sit well with most Americans.
Its the weddings, but also the TV programs like Queer Eye for the Straight Guy. In this amusing show, five gay experts help a scruffy straight man be born again as a well groomed, smartly dressed wooer of the opposite sex. This is the true religion of most modern Americans the makeover that makes all things new. That these apostles of consumerism should be gay is fitting. Havent shamans and priests often been gay? But now in the open. The Queer Eye guys are smart, witty and charming. They seem to genuinely love the straight guys they save, while the saved are touchingly grateful.
As the French say, the more it changes, the more it stays the same. There may be nothing truly subversive in gay marriage. The horses will not be frightened and property values will not fall. Many children will be made happier for a while, until they forget it was ever an issue.