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The Genders Are Familiar, but the States Have Changed

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Sunday’s New York Times wedding listings are always a good source of mindless entertainment. Columns of announcements, each announcement usually headed by a photo of the happy couple, let us in to the elite world of the rich and famous, or, more often, the offspring or even great, great-grandchildren of the rich and famous.

The smiling faces above the relevant information might belong to two doctors who met while getting their degrees summa cum laude at Harvard or magna cum laude Yale. Or the announcement may state that their parents or grandparents founded a company that has become a household word. Or the great grandparents of one or both were named Hearst or Rockefeller, Tisch or Roosevelt. Phrases like the following abound: “founder and chief executive of,” “special council to the House select committee on,” “director of,” “chairman of,” “president of,” “writer … director … producer.” If the jobs and educational backgrounds of the potential bride and groom seem lackluster, than you need to read on to discover to whom they are related.

A little over six years ago, in August 2002, the Times began publishing same-sex union announcements. Gay and lesbian relationships were given seemingly equal space with the marriage announcements of heterosexual couples. Of course, when a picture of the happy couple was present, the write-up had to include a bit more explanation of who was who: “John (left) and Robert,” or “Dr. Theresa Rich (right) and Thea Barnett, Esq.” The sexuality might be different, but from reading the profiles, it was clear that the folks lucky enough to have their announcements published in the Sunday Times were still of the elite in the worlds of money, education, the arts, etc. They were and continue to be the movers and shakers of our society. Of course, at this point, the relationships that were being celebrated were all called “commitment ceremonies,” or affirmations or communions. The term marriage was not used, nor was the word wedding.

Changes came to the announcements, however. As various states and Canada allowed actual gay marriages, marriage announcements began to predominate. Linda and Sue now were getting married in Montreal, in Provincetown, and then, this past year, in Malibu, in San Francisco. Although many of the couples were of traditional age to marry, it was clear that many couples of long standing who had stayed together through decades of living in a homophobic society, of forcibly living closeted lives, were now openly declaring their relationships. Balding men smiled out from the many of the photos. An iconic lesbian couple, Del Martin and Phyllis Lyon, feminists and gay-rights activists who were together since 1952, married in California on June 16, 2008, the former in a wheel chair. Just two months later, Del was dead at the age of eighty-seven. 

Many of the California couples whose marriages were announced and whose meetings were often described seemed quintessentially California. Whatever the state of California might actually be like, the glow of health and cutting-edge lives seemed to radiate off the pages of these announcements. Movie couples, couples who met at pool parties, entrepreneurs, and lawyers with wealth and influence were getting married in their cliff homes overlooking the Pacific.

As I read today’s listing, I know that I look in vain for any joyful news from California’s lesbian and gay citizens. News of their lives has vanished from these pages, as though they no longer had relationships to celebrate, at least not by a wedding. Perhaps planning on a marriage ceremony, it seems that many couples have not chosen to have commitment ceremonies when marriage for them was outlawed. So it seems that for now anyway, California gay and lesbian couples have disappeared from those pages.

The absence of these announcements did not come with any warning or explanation from the newspaper. The Times did not feel it necessary to explain in a sidebar why they no longer appear. The reader would have to look elsewhere in the paper to find out that what was once joyous is now illegal, that what was once worthy of photographs and funny anecdote is now forbidden. With a shiver, I suddenly find myself wondering if German citizens in the late 1930s had a similar experience when any mention of Jewish people was stricken from their newspapers. With the passing of Proposition 8, even the future of once legally married gay and lesbian couples is unclear. 

And now, who do we read about? The stolid citizens of Connecticut have replaced the glamorous boys and girls of Hollywood and the Russian River. This new “C” state has legalized gay marriage, but I cannot help wonder about the fate of these unions. The many demonstrations all over the country, in California but also in my home state of New York and even in my home county of Westchester, are rays of hope in the future. One marcher held a sign that said, “When Can I Vote on Your Marriage?”

It seems to be a never-ending battle for justice. One commentator mentioned that the reason Proposition 8 passed in California was that many black and Latino voters who came out to vote for Obama also pulled the lever down for this proposition. In other words, groups that had traditionally had to fight for their rights voted to take away the rights of another group. This is depressing.

The inability of certain citizens to understand what equality means is difficult for me to understand. At a time when so many state-sanctioned straight marriages end in divorce court, it seems strange indeed that some people would want to legislate away a whole group’s attempt to foster lasting commitments. Maybe the folks who voted for Proposition 8 are just jealous. Maybe the women can see how much better their lives would be if they could just hang out with their girlfriends. Maybe the men think of a gay male relationship as one big boy’s night on the town. Otherwise, I cannot think of any way that a rational adult could feel that allowing gay and lesbians to marry could in any way impinge on whatever relationships they have in their lives. It just does not make sense. 

As for the NY Times wedding announcements, I look forward to the day when the listing, as selective as it has always been, still includes weddings of gay and lesbian people from every state of the union.


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