Manual TypewriterEssays, Reviews, and Commentaries

By Arlene (Ari) Istar Lev

Do I?

Posted By on June 30, 2009

Do I?
By Arlene (Ari) Istar Lev

As I sit down at my computer, I click open a new email. “Marry me?” It’s the twentieth time my partner has proposed.

Our friends have been racing for flights to San Francisco, speeding up to New Paltz, and booking their caterers in Massachusetts. My email box is stuffed with news about gay marriage, appeals for money and requests to sign online petitions. Thirty people sent me Andrew Sullivan’s article – see, even he’s angry at the Republicans! A friend sent me her first-person report of Del Martin and Phyllis Lyon’s marriage. My heart was full to bursting when I heard that schools in San Francisco brought busloads of children to watch history in the making at City Hall. I click open a new message in my email box. “Marry me?” she whispers across cyber space.

The truth is: I have mixed feelings about marriage.

I’ve heard that being married will give me 1,000 benefits that I do not currently have. That’s a lot of benefits and I want them all! Like any upstanding American dyke, I’m mad as hell at Bush for proposing a Constitutional Amendment that would establish discrimination in American law. I’m proud as punch at all the queer folks who stood in line to get married in San Francisco. I was thrilled to hear the Mayor of New Paltz say, “The people who would forbid gays from marrying in this country are those who would have made Rosa Parks sit in the back of the bus.” I will gladly attend any gay marriage to which I am invited, and I will bring a beautifully wrapped toaster-oven. But I still have mixed feelings about gay marriage.

As a Women’s Studies student, I learned that the history of marriage had little to do with romance or love. Marriage was a contract allowing a man to own a woman and the root of the word “family” was a man’s ownership of his land, his slaves, his cows, his children and his wife. I knew I was never going to marry. This history has very little to do with Phyllis and Del marrying after 51 years together, but still leaves the questions: does the institution of marriage reflect my personal values or describes my hopes and dreams for intimate relationships. I am too romantic to want a shotgun wedding at City Hall and too pragmatic not to realize that forever is a very long time.

My partner, knowing how to break down my resistance, emails me: “Getting married would be a great act of civil disobedience!” My resolve begins to weaken. I think of a friend in San Francisco who just married her partner and wrote that she remembers her parents’ wedding, 40 years ago. An interracial couple, her parents were granted permission by the Loving vs. Virginia decision to marry when she was 7 years old.

I recognize what a radical act gay marriage is at this juncture of history. I also recognize what a conservative institution marriage has been in every era. Although I want the same benefits and protections as heterosexuals, it’s just not so easy to buy into a flawed institution with a very questionable history in order to secure legal benefits for my family We’ve been a family for a long time now. We live together and jointly and legally parent two children together. We have a pile of legal paperwork proving our relationship to each other. We know each other’s habits, have seen each other’s weakness and strengths. Neither a certificate from City Hall nor a Constitutional amendment can change that. No white man in the white house can tear asunder what my partner and I have together.

What the government can do now is to honor what our children already know: that we are bonded in the eyes of powers mightier than the Power Rangers, mightier than the government, and mightier than hatred in the name of religion. My hope is that this whole thing ends the way it should: That people of the same sex in the US will be able to legally marry. However, being able to marry doesn’t mean we should all just do it. Sustaining a marriage is incredibly hard work. Just ask the 50% of heterosexuals who have divorced. We all need to think long and hard about what lifelong commitment, in sickness and health, really means; “till’ death do us part,” means the rest of your life with his dirty socks and her incessant nagging. I may or may not marry. But today I plan to remain open and consciously aware of this special gift of queer love. I want to lovingly nurture it, day by day; honestly “I do.”