I shall be officiating at a same-sex wedding in a couple of weeks. I plan on deliberately using very traditional language, to emphasize that this is not a “service of commitment,” not a “celebration of our love,” no skim-milk substitute, but the res in re, heir to every wedding that has gone before and joined in the nurturance and blessing of all to come.
I love the way the ordinary, familiar words of the service jump up and holler for a same-sex couple and their congregation: Do you take this woman to be your wife, to have and to hold from this day forward? (Truly? You do?)
A college friend, Ed Cardemona was the first gay person I knew…though of course, Ed was only the first person whose sexuality was declared openly in my presence. In fact, as would eventually be made clear, there were gay and lesbian friends and relatives populating all the corners of my life, people I knew well…but not yet well enough.
So it was Ed who had to put up with my theorizing, grilling and dim attempts at understanding. Wherever you are, Ed, THANK YOU!for inching me that much closer to love and a loving God all those years ago! God bless and be with you and yours (and if you aren’t married already, can I marry you?)
Ernie and Bert, from “Sesame Street” are on the cover of the New Yorker this week. My kids used to call them “Eenie and Burp,” and, as is true for so many of their childhood malapropisms, they grew out of it and I didn’t. So it’s Eenie and Burp I recognize in the drawing, the back of their heads just barely visible in the light thrown by their television. One head is low and round, the other high and pointed, each with its tuft of black hair. They lean closely and lovingly together, and on the screen before them, the Supreme Court justices appear… Eenie, do you take this puppet Burp to be your husband?
Back in November, Maine became the first state in which legal recognition of same-sex marriages was granted by popular vote rather than legislation or judicial fiat. The Defense of Marriage Act, a federal law that declared marriage a fragile and faltering thing that must be protected from (rather than confirmed and strengthened by) the love and commitment of same sex couples, was struck down by the Supremes and so, this summer, gay and lesbian couples—mostly, in my neighborhood, middle-aged and long-joined—are celebrating by getting openly, formally and legally hitched.
Like so many long-sought and longed for social changes (the election of a black president, for example) it seems suddenly, well, sudden.
“Within my lifetime! ’ I found myself saying the other day. and my youngest daughter Woolie responded.
“No, Mom: Within MY lifetime.”
Woolie will be twenty-one this summer.
Her father, my first husband, Drew, a state trooper, was a sturdy and enthusiastic advocate for gay, lesbian, transgender and bisexual rights. (For more about this, you can hear me describe him in a YouTube video: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rj-_sHDXiEI- )
Drew died in 1996, when Woolie was three years old. Between then and now—what we could call his “death time”— heterosexual couples met, fell in love, got engaged, married and divorced, sometimes all of the above within the span of a single year: Carmen Eltra and Dennis Rodman, Renee Zelweiger and Kenny Chesney, Kid Rock and Pamela Anderson. As a straight woman, I had the privilege of calling myself a widow, with all the rights and privilege pertaining thereto: I pulled myself together with the help of a supportive society, went back to school (ditto), dated (ditto) then entered into a “long-term committed” relationship that turned out to be neither so committed nor long-term as I thought. The break-up, when it came, wasn’t a divorce because we weren’t married, but it still hurt.
Then I met and married my husband Simon, and (cynics take note) so far it’s been everything marriage is cracked up to be.
Meanwhile, America watched In & Out, Will & Grace and Brokeback Mountain. The then-Vice-President’s daughter, among many, many others, came out of the closet and was welcomed with her parents’ love. Drew’s children marched with gay and lesbian friends and relations in Pride parades. When “Don’t Ask Don’t Tell” was repealed, my son the Marine and his friends put on their dress uniforms and went to the “gay” part of San Diego to celebrate.
No one has lived through the past fifteen or twenty years without changing his or her mind at least a bit (and mostly a whole lot) about homosexuality. NO ONE. Even Sarah Palin, the darling of the Far Right, when declaring herself opposed to same-sex marriage felt compelled to add “but I have ALL KINDS OF FRIENDS!” No homophobe felt obliged, circa 1975, ‘85 or even ‘95, to make such a disclaimer, but by 2005. homophobia was uncool even for conservatives.
It seems the blink of an eye since Drew died…certainly it seems no time at all since Woolie was a little kid. His life came so close to this moment that it seems ridiculous for him to have missed it. Surely he could’ve stuck around to see the happiness of friends he got to know so well, back at the Gay and Lesbian Pizza nights he attended as the Maine State Police’s first Civil Rights Enforcement oFficer. Surely he could’ve had the chance to dance, joyously, at their weddings?
“The times they are a changing” has become “the times they are a’changed” and swiftly we will forget that the times were ever other than they are. This summer marks a moment strange, new, scary and sacred. Many of the brides and grooms getting’ hitched this summer are, like me, middle-aged, with years of unrecognized having, holding and “forsaking all other” under their belts already, but they are endearingly nervous all the same.
I can only imagine how wonderful but at the same time disorienting all these changes must be for the couples involved.
Would it be helpful for the seriously disquieted to know that only an idiot gets married WITHOUT trepidation and disorientation?
That is, there is a baseline anxiety that comes when ANYBODY anticipates ANY wedding, and that anxiety is directly, intimately connected with sacredness of the act. There’s a reason “sacred” and “scared” share an etymology: The sacred is always unsettling.
The tension (and sacredness) naturally increase when it comes to a same-sex wedding, both for the couple and for everyone who loves them. For this moment in the summer of 2013, a same-sex wedding is a novelty. The back story of these ceremonies hold a lot of pain, ignorance , discouragement, shame and fear. Friends, this is your blessing and your curse: Everything shall be more vividly experienced: the beauty and sweetness, and the fret.
Though I’m sure their sang-froid will irritate us old folk when the time comes, our children’s children won’t have to lug so much baggage up the aisle. Theirs will be ordinary weddings for ordinary people, and only the geezers will know what a miracle such weddings are. But for now, a marriage between one man and one man or one woman and one woman is an extraordinary, excruciating blessing. I, for one, plan to revel in it.