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    Friday, September 30, 2005

    The Commitment


    Louis Bayard writes a great review on Dan Savage's new book
    The Commitment
    . Some highlights:

    I've always felt that my "dignified" gay relationship really does have a certain dignity, which is largely the product of surviving in the face of society's vast indifference. I don't think I could have expressed it, though, as well as Savage does: "Unlike heterosexuals, we had to do the hard work of building a life together in order to be taken seriously, something we did without any legal entanglements or incentives. Without the option of making a spectacle out of our commitment -- no vows, no cakes, no rings, no toasts, no limos, no helicopters -- we were forced to simply live our commitments. We might not be able to inherit each other's property or make medical decisions in an emergency or collect each other's pensions, but when our relationships were taken seriously it was by virtue of their duration, by virtue of the lives we were living, not by virtue of promises we made before the Solid Gold Dancers jumped out of the wedding cake at the reception."

    I admit that I feel this way, a bit. I take my own relationship with A more seriously than I take married or engaged heterosexual relationships who have been together for a shorter period of time beause I feel like we earned something by being together for six and a half years and living together for more than five and a half. A lot of these couples I know who are marrying or married never lived together before they said their vows. We moved to New York City from a little city in the West together. If we hadn't been together as long as we have and been as strong as we have, we wouldn't be taken seriously because we aren't married. We had to make our relationship "real" through serious commitment and hard work and insistence, rather than just saying, "We're real because we're having a party about it."

    "The problem for opponents of gay marriage," Savage writes, "isn't that gay people are trying to redefine marriage in some new, scary way, but that straight people have redefined marriage to a point that it no longer makes any logical sense to exclude same-sex couples. Gay people can love, gay people can commit. Some of us even have children. So why can't we get married?"

    I love this argument. Marriage has become an institution decent enough that queer folks actually want to join it. And we can thank the feminist movement for making marriage a contract between partners. Gertrude Stein, in 1917, said "There's no such thing as being good to your wife." She would know; her relationship with Alice B. Toklas was far too similar to most hetero marriages at the time. These days, such a quote might seem unduly harsh. (Though I would say the word "wife" still often has the connotation of "personal assistant/slave".) At any rate, now that marriage is about signifying commitment between two equal partners, it actually bears some application on the lives of queer folks who want to commit to their partner, whereas it once meant the mimicry of a pretty sick, oppressive institution.

    Mind you, I don't think marriage has been entirely rehabilitated. And I don't think it will be for some time.

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