Friday, December 28, 2012

Gay Marriage in 1975 and Now

Richard Adams demanded and got a license for his marriage to Tony Sullivan in Boulder, Colorado in 1975.  When the State of Colorado refused to recognize their marriage, they sued.  So far as I know, they were the first to take legal action to establish their right to marry.  Richard Adams died December 17th at the age of 65 after 43 years of marriage to Tony.

Richard Adams, right, with Tony Sullivan, center, and their attorney David M. Brown in 1975

I've written about same sex marriage before, most extensively here.

We forget that not so long ago, the very idea of gay marriage was unthinkably freakish. I think that the reason we have it anywhere at all is because the gay/lesbian rank and file wanted it and demanded it. Gay politicos were very reluctant to waste political capital on something that seemed so impossible when there were more urgent matters or more attainable goals out there like ending employment and housing discrimination and enacting hate crime laws. Gay intellectuals scoffed at the very idea of marriage. Why would any self-respecting Queer want to have anything to do with so patriarchal and proprietary an institution as marriage?

And yet, people really wanted it, and in big numbers.  As I remember, everyone was taken by surprise when crowds of couples turned out and lined up around the block when San Francisco briefly married gay/lesbian couples, and when Massachusetts began same sex marriage.  I notice that the people who pushed hardest for marriage were older couples who had been together for years, and even decades. In some ways, they had the most to lose if marriage initiatives failed. They had households with inheritance issues to think about, and medical issues to think about like access to loved ones, treatment decisions, and care-giving; things most younger people don't have to think about (at least not yet).  A problem faced by a lot of same sex couples, young and old, is hostile families determined to screw the partner if something happens to one of the couple.

Pointless rutting is great when you are young (I certainly enjoyed it, even when I was not so young anymore), but like youth itself, it can't last forever, and most of us would like someplace to go home to when it's over. No one (not even Andrew Sullivan) wants the gay version of the Victorian Domestic Ideal with the regal Patriarch lording it over offspring minions together with the virtuously subservient "Angel of the Household" (who must paradoxically play the role of Tower of Strength when catastrophe strikes the family).

We are all trying to find better ways to live with each other and to make happiness together. We forget that people marrying because they love each other in large numbers is a very recent and very modern innovation going only as far back as the late 18th century.  The historical record reveals that, far from being constant and unchanging, marriage is a very mutable institution.  The institution changes as people adapt to and take advantage of changing circumstances and expectations of life.     Many choose to be alone, but no one chooses to be lonely. 

1 comment:

Unknown said...

Your last statement says it all for me. The institution is a pain in way too many ways, but it is what we have and I wish it would be open to all who do want it. But if I'm honest, what I want is equality and the rights for all who are alive in America today - no stipulations!