Sunday, February 22, 2004
We ought to codify that
He and his partner were married in Ontario over Thanksgiving break. They met there years ago, and the city legalized gay marriage last June.
Before I go any further, I should mention that Richard Mohr gets a fair amount of press. There was an article about him in the St. Louis Post-Dispatch last week, and he was featured on a nationally syndicated radio show the week before that (admittedly, it was a nationally syndicated philosophy show). There's a rumor that he has a publicist. He's not egotistical about this at all. But it's part of his career, part of his life as a gay rights activist, and he's not shy about letting the department know when he's in the news.
I hadn't heard about the Times' wedding announcement.
Getting him a gift was out of the question. Dirt poor grad students do not buy gifts for their professors. Besides, what do you give a man who wrote his own coffee table book?
Actually, I wasn't sure what I was supposed to do. In addition to the fact that he hadn't let the department know, I already thought of him as married. For all I knew, the announcement in the Times was the goal and the Ontario ceremony was merely a means to that end.
A few weeks later an article in our local paper caught my eye. It was about Richard Mohr and his marriage, and one of the themes was that many of his and his partners' relatives and friends hadn't treated the marriage as if it were on a par with heterosexual couplings. This clearly bothered them. It was touching.
I decided to buy a greeting card.
My first stop was the Quad Shop at the student union. Their selection isn't particularly broad, but it's skewed towards the campus community. It seemed possible that they might have a gender neutral wedding card.
But no. There was a card for the pedophile crowd, showing the naked butts of a young boy and girl, but nothing that might plausibly be considered appropriate for the occasion of gay nuptials.
The closest thing I could find to a gender neutral card featured two peas, one in a top hat, the other sporting a white veil. I'm not up on my Mendeleev, but I don't think peas come in male and female varieties. In a pinch I could believe that both peas were of the same gender and that one pea had opted to deliver its vows in drag.
I considered and rejected the idea of buying that card and writing something clever on the inside.
My next stop was the University bookstore. They had the same selection of cards.
I stopped by an independent bookstore next, knowing there wasn't much hope.
Eventually, I found my way to a Hallmark shop. They had cards for birthdays, sickness, sadness, graduation, friendship, anniversary, inspiration, general congratulations, love, apology, birth, baptism, confirmation, bar mitzvah, retirement, sympathy, home ownership, gratitude, greetings, appreciation, forgiveness, fortitude, fondness, engagement, Christmas, Kwanzaa, New Year's, Jewish New Year, and, of course, heterosexual marriage.
They even had the card with the peas. I bought it, since the inside was blank, and headed back to the University bookstore. There, I bought a package of Picasso postcards.
One of the postcards featured a painting that seemed to me to be homoerotic in a romantic kind of way. It had two shirtless adolescent boys, one playing pan pipes while the other watched. I pasted the postcard onto the front of the greeting card, covering the peas and their wedding regalia. On the inside I wrote, 'congratulations' and signed my name.
It turned out to be a pretty nice card, better than the sappy pre-packaged sentimentality pervading most of Hallmark's catalog. But it shouldn't be this difficult.
Because I work and study at a university, and because my social circle is heavily salted with left-leaning political activists, I probably know more gays than most Americans. All the same, Richard Mohr's marriage was the first among my gay friends and acquaintances. At first I wasn't sure how I ought to respond. Even when I knew where I stood the infrastructure wasn't designed to support my actions. But the raw materials were there.
Polls consistently show that Americans strongly oppose gay marriage but that there is growing support for civil unions. I'm not sure that I believe those numbers. I think a lot of the civil union supporters see civil unions as a way to advance gay rights without poking the religious right in the eye.
But, as Josh Marshall observed a few days ago, establishing civil unions for gays amounts to official endorsement of the idea that their unions are inferior to heterosexual relationships. It grants rights while taking dignity.
That's a realization he came to because he was confronted with the spectacle of the San Francisco weddings. For the first time he saw married gays and it forced him to rethink his position. Chalk up one vote less for civil unions.
The raw materials are there.
Americans don't believe in discrimination. Opposition to gay marriage can't withstand acquaintaince with the real marriages of real gays. Even if you don't personally know any of the San Francisco couples, their stories and pictures are showing up all over the web.
The thing that strikes me is how normal the couples are. I read their stories and look at their pictures and what I see are people who are in love, people who are overwhelmed by the opportunity to express that love.
Here is one of the most moving pictures I have ever seen. I have no idea who these people are, but their joy is palpable.
I know it's not macho, but it makes me cry. Lots of people cry at weddings.