Wedding announcement musings

I live on the People’s Republic of Martha’s Vineyard, which is an island vaguely associated with the Commonwealth of Massachusetts, where gay marriage recently became the law of the land. Last Sunday the weather was particularly fine. I was on the back porch, setting up for a cookout, when my neighbor Andrew came crashing through the underbrush that separates our houses. He had just come from a meeting with the minister of the Unitarian-Universalist Society of Martha’s Vineyard, during the course of which he had discovered that my wife and I are members of that church.

“We’re getting married in your church,” Andrew said. “Now that it’s legal, you know. I’m Jewish and Ron is Methodist and we wanted some kind of religious thing, so we said, ‘Let’s see what the Unitarians say about it.’”

“Maybe the rainbow flag on the church flagpole gave a clue?” I said.

“Well yes. And we just met your minister, and she was great, and it’s all set up.”

My wife Betty joined the conversation and gave Andrew a hug when she got the news.

“What’s the date?” she asked.

“September 11,” he said. “We have decided to reclaim that date from the haters. It will be a day of joy.”

“Well congratulations,” I said, and we shook hands. “And good luck. Personally, I think marriage sucks.”

My wife said, “He’s an asshole. Don’t pay any attention to him.”

Andrew said, “Well, Ron and I have been together twenty three years. So it’s not like we don’t know what we’re getting into.”

As it turns out, Betty and I just had our 23rd anniversary. Our oldest child is 23 years old. Betty and Andrew and I chatted a little about that, and then Andrew headed back to his place. Later in the day Betty and I saw Ron and gave him our congrats.

So that all transpired about 2.5 days ago, and since then I’ve had a few moments to reflect on that short conversation.

A little more context: Ron and Andrew live in Cambridge; their place on the Vineyard is their “little getaway”. So we only see them on weekends, and hardly at all during the winter. Betty and I bought our place about a year ago. We see “the boys” a few dozen weekends per year. We have done some favors for them, and they for us. So we’re friendly, but hardly intimate.

I am surprised at how much spontaneous joy I felt on hearing Andrew’s announcement. By which I mean, I’m a liberal and I’m a Unitarian and I have plenty of gay friends. But I’m also a traditionalist and pretty conservative in my own way.

[What other explanation than inate conservatism can one offer for 25 year of monagamy? If that’s not conservative, then what the hell is, y’know? And it’s not as if I haven’t been tempted. But I have always placed a very high value on the idea of marriage, and on my wedding vows, and all that other happy horse shit.]

So even though I’m a Unitarian, and even though I have gay friends and am very pro “whatever floats your boat”, and even though I got married by a Justice of the Peace in an outdoor ceremony under a tree, which lasted all of 4 minutes and did not mention God, (in other words: no church wedding) still I am very old-fashioned about marriage. I confess a visceral feeling of disdain bordering on contempt whenever I hear about a divorce. “How could you get divorced?” I think. “Doesn’t your solemn word mean anything to you?” I try not to be judgemental, but I am. I’ve always thought that marriage was kinda, forgive me, a sacred institution. And yes, I know how quaint and corny that sounds.

The point being: until two days ago, I didn’t really “get” the idea of gay marriage at all — even though I supported it politically, on the basis of “equal protection.”

In other words, I thought of gay marriage as gay “marriage”, in quotes, some kind of conterfeit of the real idea of marriage. I thought of “real” marriage as one man, one woman — and then they have children and live happily ever after. Traditions from time immemorial. Etc, etc. Why would gay people want to get married? It did not make sense to me. Us straight people have marriage; gay people have cosmopolitan culture and the “Queer Eye” happy-go-lucky narcissitic lifestyle. Never the twain shall meet.

Anyway, when Andrew told me that he and Ron were to be married, I felt a great, deep joy for them that quite surprised me. Clearly these two people love each other. Clearly they understand the idea of long-term commitment. And clearly they value the idea of a wedding: a day on which their love for each other and their promises to each other are at the top of everybody else’s list. They should get to have a day like that. Damn! Why not! Of course they should! What has all this stupid anti-gay-marriage bother been about? I got to get married, and not only was my wedding day a day of great joy for me, but also the memory of that day gave me strength in later days of great tribulation. Why should not Ron and Andrew get to have a day like I got to have?

I would not want to marry another guy. But there are a lot of women that I would not want to marry either. And there are tens of millions of women in this world who would not want to marry me. So what?

I am astonished that my two neighbors have been together for 23 years, as long as I have been married. Twenty-three years is a long time.

I love my wife. One of our tag-lines comes from a made for television version of “Jane Eyre.” Whenever either of us reads the other’s thoughts — which happens all the time– I am given to saying “We are ONE SOUL, Jane!”

Betty and I may be one soul now, but we would have long since gone our separate ways if we had not had children. Being married is just too difficult, sometimes. At least it was for me, until I got used to it. And the alternatives are very tempting. For Betty and me, as for countless other couples, it was our mutual devotion to our children,our desire to not hurt them, that forced us to get along; nay, forced us to learn to really love each other, despite our manifest flaws.

Having now been married 23 years I’m reasonably confident that I shall spend the rest of my life married to Betty. I know what marriage is all about, and, having paid for my ticket up front, I want the full ride.

But I’m all the more impressed that Ron and Andrew have been together for 23 years. Think about it: their kind of (homosexual) love has been derided and disdained and persecuted. They have not had any social institution such as marriage upon which to rely when times got rough. They don’t have children. They’re both good-looking guys. So why the hell are they still together after 23 years??

The answer is obvious. Like Betty and I, Ron and Andrew have become one soul, Jane. And if the process whereby two souls become one soul is not what marriage is all about, then I’m totally confused.

So anyway, the idea of “gay marriage” took a little bit of getting used to. I’m used to it now, thanks, Ron and Andrew. And good luck. They only thing I ask is, please try to keep the reception quiet after, say, 11 PM.

Another thought I had was about their choice of September 11 as a wedding day. Basically, I think it’s breathtaking. The choice of that date for a gay wedding day is either a profound afirmation of love in the face of hate, or an insensitive tacky political statement.

Somehow I don’t think it’s the latter. But in any event I wish “the boys” great joy.

As a final note I’ll mention that one of my gay neighbors is a TV news producer for one of the big networks in Boston. On a few occasions I’ve teased him about his role in dumbing down political discourse in America, about the role that corporate news plays in distracting people from real issues with happy news, clebrity gossip, fake scandals and jingoistic blather. Not to mention a platform for reactionary homophobic ravings.

“John, John,” he says. “What an idealist you are! Television news isn’t about news! It’s about product placement. If you want news, by all means listen to NPR. Or better yet, use the internet. The last place in the world that you should get news is from television.”

And this from a television news producer for one of the most respected local stations in the country.

I guess what I’m saying is that I don’t know what to think of anything anymore, but thank y’all for listening.

(I originally posted this, in slightly modified form, in my diary at Apologies in advance for any misformatting of the link.)


  1. I am crumudgeonly enough to think the choice of Sept. 11 is unfortunate at best. For one thing, I’m really not a big one for turning personal/community occassions into political statements, which is what “we’re going to take it back from the haters” is.

    I could have gotten married on the anniversary of Kristelnacht to stick it to the Nazis, or on any of the dozens of dates on which tragedies for my people (however defined)occured. But such an act would have, in my opinion, defiled my wedding by making it into something different from what it should be.

    I’ll be the first to say my view is shapped by my being a traditional Jew. In traditional Judaism, a wedding has two components: it is a highly personal contract between a man and a woman, and it is a broader community event in which the change in status of the married couple is recognized and celebrated by the community. (I wouldn’t call it a religious ceremony. And God doesn’t figure into much except in the general benedictions expressing gratitude for bringing us such a joyful occassion.) To incorporate within such a ceremony a desire to send a message to someone else is, to me at least, something of a detraction and degeneration of the occassion.

    Nor am I sure what “taking back from the haters” is supposed to mean. The terrorists? Those who have exploited 9/11 sentiments for their own agendas? Both? Someone else?

    I also really loath the modern American tradition that religion is some sort of voluntary spirtual spice you sprinkle on your lives based on your personal needs of the moment. “We want something religion and our religions aren’t accomodating enough. Lets check out some competitors! Hello, spirtualism-be-us? Do you make religious ceremonies to order? Great! And you make them _meaningful_ and _tasteful_?”

    An athiest I understand. That person who holds its all nonesense is at least consistent — and is free to find athiestic forms of spirtuality (I don’t pretend religion is the only path of spirtuality, or that all religious peoiple are spiritual). But the person who selects religious beliefs on the basis of what feels good at the moment puzzles me. How do you derive anything beyond a Prozac-like feeling of disconnected contenment from practices that do nothing to challenge you and make you grow?

    Well, all such decisions are highly personal, and if it adds some special significance to the couple in question, I suppose I shouldn’t carp to loudly. But I’ll allow myself a sigh.

  2. I don’t think their choice of date was especially political. I can’t say, because we didn’t talk about it. It may be that was a good date for other reasons, and they weren’t willing to have it ruled out. I’m OK with that.

    Your critique of “religion du jour” is perhaps valid. Or maybe not. I’ve been a member of one Unitarian church or another for the last 20 years, so obviously there’s something appealing about it. But it is a tradtion that is maddeningly wishy-washy and arbitrary at times. On the other hand it doesn’t ask me to accept anything that I find patently obnoxious or stupid, which makes it a cut above any other religion currently open to me. Many people come to the Unitarian church for the precise reason that Ron and Andrew did.

    Who knows, yknow? Certainly the option of a traditional Jewish wedding is closed to these guys. Actually, all tradtional weddings are closed to them. There is no gay wedding tradition.

    But I wish them well and I’ll be curious to see what traditions evolve.

  3. Speaking as an ordained universalist minister (that’s ( Universal Live Church, not legitimate UU) who does weddings with spiritualism (or not) made-to-order, AND speaking as a scientist trained not to believe anything I can’t metaphorically bite, I have to agree with John. Harold’s critique is valid, and it’s not. I became a minister precisely for the reason that John’s friends went to the UU church: to be able to help couples create a wedding ceremony that had more meaning for them than a standard religious ceremony from a church they don’t attend.

    My view of a wedding formed outside Judaism, but it is the same. It serves as the public statement and the private contract. As a scientist, I speak the Language of Doubt and rely primarily upon data. When I customize the ceremony, the structure is pretty standard because it is the one that works, based upon observation and data, to acheive the aims. The vows I recommend are based on the standard, because they force you to vow on the things that matter (material wealth or not, health or not, good times or bad). I’ve done weddings with no mention of any deity, and I’ve done one with the entire Norse pantheon, including Loki. What public and private statements do the couple want and need to make to help them maintain this marriage in the long term?

    Things that challenge you do not have to come from religion, per se. Witness John’s discussion of his marriage vows. He has kept them better than many (or most) self-identified religious couples, and it hasn’t been easy. I’ll take his and his Dear Wife’s faith and faithfulness over the self-serving “family values” talk of the Christian Right any day.

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