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By Arlene (Ari) Istar Lev

The Marriage Bed

Posted By on June 30, 2009

Marriage Bed
By Arlene (Ari) Istar Lev
Both of us had lived lives outside of the mainstream. We traveled with our thumbs out throughout much of the Northeast delayed only by border searches routinely done for all long-haired types. We shared a bed whenever we could throughout high school and then lived together in college. We had been out of touch for a number of years when Jerry Garcia died. I felt sad and knew that an era had surely ended. I found a postcard with a picture of Janis Joplin and Gracie Slick, and sent it to him with a message … "what a long strange trip it’s been… please call." He did, and excited about renewing our friendship, we planned a family outing. He invited us for a barbecue with his wife and his 6-year old daughter. It was a very nice weekend, until the subject of marriage came up.

The truth is, I was upset he hadn’t invited me to his wedding. He says it’s because we fell out of touch, but as I remember it, he fell out of touch with me. He says that he didn’t think I would come to his wedding, but I wonder if he simply did not want me, his ex-girlfriend the lesbian at his wedding. When I mentioned that my partner and I were planning on getting married his body suddenly got rigid, and he glanced quickly aside to his daughter and said, "Let’s not go there, OK?" His daughter, undaunted by his reaction, turned to me and said, "Who are you going to marry?" I just laughed lightly and said, "Her of course" pointing to my love. His daughter, without missing a beat said, "Women can’t marry one another." And just as I got ready to say, "Of course they can," I was cut off (vibes can be as strong as guns you know), signaling an end to the conversation.

Over bagels in the morning I confronted him. He said, "Well, women can’t marry; it’s illegal." I said, "I don’t think she was asking a question about federal law. I think she was trying to understand the nature of our relationship." He said that he wanted to raise her to "come to her own conclusions about lesbian families," apparently without allowing the information we — who lived in a lesbian family — might bring to the conversation. None of this, of course, slowed down her curiosity; if anything, it just piqued it more. His daughter wanted to know how two women could have a baby if they didn’t have "fertilizer." She also asked Daddy privately if my (handsome butch) partner was a man or a woman.

I do not think he is homophobic in the way most of us mean that word. I can’t imagine that he would vote to outlaw gay marriage; I actually imagine he would vote for it, if he votes for anything. He spent part of weekend discussing a mutual old friend, who is also gay and expressing frustration at how closeted this friend is. I do not think it ever crossed his mind that his attitude might be contributing to our friend’s discomfort.

Clearly though he is struggling with homophobia. Silencing his daughters’ questions, with the quick glance of an eye or the sharp motion of his hand, he was sending his daughter an explicit message about our family — that there was something different, something that needed to be treated delicately, something perhaps dangerous. I was appalled to think that my marriage was a conversation that should be hidden from children.

But something else is gnawing at me. Why was he so concerned about the "legality" of marriage? This is a man I used to live with without the benefit of a marriage license. I had thought that the one thing we had both learned trucking through the back roads of communal America was that we didn’t need to live our lives within the narrow places determined by the letter of the law. When did the law become the arbiter of what is morally right or wrong or whether or not we could use the word family to describe ourselves?

What in my eyes is one of the most conservative things I had ever done, marry and have a family, was — in his eyes — a sign of my continued rebellion. Although it would be an important political step forward to have same-sex marriages honored in this county, as I lay cuddling my partner in our marriage bed, I know that we do not need any outside authority to validate the sacredness of our union. If the existence of our marriage makes me an outlaw still, then so be it.