Marriage equality

[Not about language.]

I was about to post on AZBlogX (Arnold Zwicky’s Blog X) about a topic in the area of Gender and Sexuality, namely the frequent configuring of same-sex couples on the basis of opposite-sex couples: straight people ask, “Which one of you is the man and which one is the woman?” (a question I have always found deeply insulting); and even some same-sex couples, now that they are offered the possibility of civil marriage in some jurisdictions, go on to adopt the labels husband and wife and the wedding rituals that go along with them. (I was going to quote from a NYT story a little while ago about arrangements for same-sex weddings, and I probably will, eventually.)

But then the news came from San Francisco: from SFGate (the San Francisco Chronicle website), an hour or so ago:

Chief US District Court Judge Vaughn R. Walker has ruled — California’s Proposition 8 which banned gay marriage [this nonrestrictive relative cries out for flanking commas, but I guess the columnist, Yobie Benjamin, was in too much of a hurry] is unconstitutional. It is the first federal judgment against Prop 8’s legality.

I heard it first through the local mailing list for QUEST (Queer Employees of Stanford), with exciting local details, like the Santa Clara County clerk of records’ office announcing that it would be offering marriage licenses for same-sex couples — though it’s probably already been legally blocked from carrying out this plan (but still it’s a nice thought from my county offices). In a little while, minutes in fact, I’ll be off to a monthly gathering of QUEST-folk, at a restaurant a few blocks from my house. Wearing my best fag-lavender polo shirt, with my wedding-equivalent ring on a silver chain around my neck.

As my grand-daughter put it recently, Jacques and I weren’t allowed to get married — so we racked up a series of domestic partnerships, the last of which (contracted while his mind was still up to it) granted by the city of Palo Alto. On February 14, 1996. Valentine’s Day, and a beautiful day it was (not always a sure thing in these parts in the middle of February). There was a ceremony inside City Hall, then a party, put on by the city, on the plaza outside.

Elizabeth, bearing small wedding-equivalent gifts, came to see her fathers get domestically partnered. A surprising number of the couples were there with their children, so it was very much a family occasion, and most of them had been certified as domestic partners — an almost entirely symbolic status, but a powerful symbol for us nonetheless — several times before, though not in such style.

Later, our friend Robert Emery Smith (aka ModBob), who’s a professional photographer (among other things) came by to take pictures of Jacques and me. His wedding-equivalent present to us. There was some discussion about where J and I would pose (answer: on our front patio, among the cymbidium orchids that were my annual birthday presents to him) and how we would be arranged.

The classic wedding photo has the couple standing or (very often) the bride sitting and the groom standing — in either case, ensuring that the man will be shown standing above the woman. Also, quite often with the groom behind the bride, looking proprietary while she is shown off to the world, sometimes with his hand on her shoulder (to emphasize the gender inequality even further). In any case, the couple are facing the camera, and the world, presenting themselves to an audience.

All three of us just hated the whole business and the gender-relationships baggage that comes with it (we’d read our Goffman, after all).

In the end we took a couple of chairs out there, and sat facing each other. We’re symbolically equals, and we’re in this for each other, not an audience (though J’s kids, and the rest of his family, were just as pleased by the occasion as my daughter was). (We also decided not to go for formal wear.)

Here’s the one we picked from among the finalists ModBob offered us:

(In the photo you can see my wedding-equivalent band — black hematite — but not his.)

A determined reader of gender/power can still find differentiae: my hand is on top of his; even though we’re sitting, he’s still recognizably taller than I am; my hair has gone white, while his is still dark, so perhaps I register as the older (and so I am, by all of 16 months); his hands are clearly bigger than mine, and we all know what that signifies (in this case, accurately); I’m on the left as you look at the photo, and maybe that gives me an edge; and you might imaginably see something in the light vs. dark contrast of our clothing. But  overall, in the photo we’re equals — very different people, but equals.

In the real world, I was already into my role as his caregiver, as the last seven years of his life unfolded — an emotionally wrenching assignment of roles that we both resented passionately. You can’t tell what’s behind the picture.

But we were intensely happy that day.

7 Responses to “Marriage equality”

  1. arnold zwicky Says:

    ModBob’s most famous photo would be this one, Craig and Apache (Craig is the young man, Apache the wolf-dog):

    seen here in an Xmas-card version:

  2. Jonathan Lundell Says:

    Walker’s opinion is worth reading (and hey, it’s written in language).

  3. Kim Darnell Says:

    the picture of you and jacques made me cry, because this is exactly how i remember the two of you — happy and in love and wonderful together 🙂

  4. arnold zwicky Says:

    A footnote to Kim Darnell’s comment: Kim was a housemate of Jacques’s and mine in Columbus (Ohio) — if I recollect correctly, after Philip Miller and before Ann Burlingham, who was our housemate for the longest time.

    During the years from 1969 through 1998, there were a great many visitors in that house, some for fairly long stays, in addition to the long-time residents and the housemates. At the peak, there were four long-time residents: Ann (until she died), Elizabeth (until she went to college), and Jacques and me (until we moved to California full-time, after 13 years of commuting between Ohio and California).

  5. Commencement photo « Arnold Zwicky's Blog Says:

    […] it catches me in the fag-lavender shirt that I’ve mentioned twice on this blog (here and here), with its color somewhat intensified by my manipulations of the jpg file that Laura sent […]

  6. In September and October « Arnold Zwicky's Blog Says:

    […] you’re free to choose a suitable date. We thought about the date of our most important domestic partnership, in Palo Alto, but that was Valentine’s Day, which is also my daughter’s birthday. We […]

  7. marriage equality « Arnold Zwicky's Blog Says:

    […] Previous postings on marriage equality here, here, here, and here. […]

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