Scenes from a neo-marriage culture

Posted: May 19, 2004 12:00 AM
So it begins, in Massachusetts:

"I will try not to make any mistakes," one official said to two men in Boston City Hall. "But since it's the first wedding, I might call one of you the bride." Their marriage license reads not "Bride" and "Groom" but "Party A" and "Party B."

At the wedding of Julie and Hillary Goodridge, who lent their name to the historic Massachusetts supreme court decision ordering same-sex marriage, guests sang, "Here come the brides, so gay with pride, isn't it a wonder that they somehow survived."

"I pronounce you spouse and spouse," intoned Joan Drysdale, justice of the peace in Provincetown, Mass.

"Getting married is the thing my parents understand," Jon Anderson explained. "It's the legitimizing feature. Getting married is what makes it real for them."

The very first recipient of a marriage license in Provincetown had less traditional views, according to the Boston Herald: Jonathan Yarbrough called the concept of marriage forever "overrated" and said he, as a bisexual, and his partner, Cody Rogahn, who is gay, have an open marriage. "I think it's possible to love more than one person and have more than one partner, not in the polygamist sense," he said.

Personal aberration or the future of neo-marriage?

Chris McCary and John Sullivan of Anniston, Ala., began their marriage with a lie, checking the box on the marriage application form indicating they intended to live in Massachusetts. In fact, according to The New York Times, Mr. McCary said outside the town hall of Provincetown afterward he had no immediate plans to move. Mr. McCary, a divorce attorney, said, "Our marriage license may not be worth a lot now in Alabama, but someday it will be." Jesse White and Mariah Hegeary of Santa Fe, N.M., plan to fight for acknowledgement of their marriage in New Mexico.

In Provincetown, as many as one-third of the couples issued marriage licenses Monday are from other states.

In Rhode Island, Attorney General Patrick Lynch suggests Massachusetts gay marriages may well be legal there. Connecticut's attorney general Richard Blumenthal simply couldn't (or didn't) say how Connecticut courts will treat Massachusetts marriages.

"Courts" is the key word here. Gov. Mitt Romney suggests "an issue as fundamental to society as the definition of marriage should be decided by the people." But at this point, "leaving it to the states" means "leaving it to the state judges and attorneys general," not the American people.

Meanwhile, at a press conference sponsored by the Alliance for Marriage in Washington, D.C., legendary civil rights activist Walter Fauntroy was "on fire" (according to one observer), calling on Democrats in Congress to support a constitutional amendment to protect marriage. A new Wirthlin poll ( released at the conference shows the gap between opposition to same-sex marriage and support for a constitutional amendment appears to have closed: Two-thirds of Americans now say they favor (and 57 percent strongly favor) the actual text of the proposed marriage amendment. Fifty-six percent of Democrats (and 63 percent of independents) now support the proposed marriage amendment. Fauntroy promised to lobby Democrats hard on this issue.

President Bush issued a statement repeating his call for constitutional protection for marriage: "The sacred institution of marriage should not be redefined by a few activist judges," he said, creating a clear difference between his position and that of Sen. John Kerry.

Last night on public radio in Boston, Brookings Institution fellow Jonathan Rauch predicted that Massachusetts will be just the beginning of a decades-long national conversation on the meaning of marriage.

I'd like to think it won't take quite that long, but perhaps he is right. In Massachusetts a new vision, call it "neo-marriage," is being created and imposed against the wishes and the values of the American people.

Whether neo-marriage will prevail, or whether the American people will find a way to sustain our own historic marriage vision, is now uncertain, but the battle is launched.

The future is undiscovered territory. The choice is really up to you.