Message to one in four (and maybe more) readers of this column: go, go, get married while you still can! Who needs Dutch citizenship when a ticket to San Francisco is just $219 round trip? Your professors will understand your absence — hey, depending on what major you’re in, they might even come with you. Time is running out, planes fill up quickly, and you’ve got clothes to rent and a photo op in Golden Gate Park to arrange. Don’t worry about a court-ordered annulment coming your way in the coming days; you’ll still have been married longer than Britney Spears was, and if your marriage is dissolved through no fault of your own then you get to keep the gifts!
And if you haven’t yet found the man or woman whom you’re ready to call your lawfully wedded spouse, well, don’t say that the YCC doesn’t do anything relevant. A nifty little side effect of the new Yale Station dating service is that with a few mouse clicks, lo and behold, you can get a nice alphabetized list of every queer in the college. I signed on yesterday — for anthropological purposes only, of course — and after selecting “no response” for every question on the survey, I had myself an inventory of 20 like-minded homosexuals whom I could conveniently e-mail to pop the question.
On Feb. 18 a state judge postponed a ruling to block San Francisco’s new same-sex marriages, but nothing will erase Mayor Gavin Newsom’s extraordinary act of civil disobedience and the newfound vivacity of the marriage rights campaign. As of today, the sky has not fallen over San Francisco, as it has not over Holland, Belgium, Ontario and British Columbia. Nor will Massachusetts sink into the Atlantic this May when it becomes, fingers crossed, the first state in the union to recognize same-sex marriage. Americans are learning this week that letting gays tie the knot is a surprisingly boring endeavor.
You should remember, though, that if you come back to Yale with a ring around your finger, you might find it rather hard to get the respect that you and your hubby/wifey might deserve. Yale commendably gives same-sex partners the same benefits as married straights. And Connecticut is not one of the 38 states that has explicitly defined marriage as straights-only, although that doesn’t mean that your California license is worth anything.
But you sure won’t get any of the thousand-plus federal benefits to which married couples are entitled, as that venomous conservative known as Bill Clinton assured when he signed the Defense of Marriage Act in 1996. That bill denied federal recognition of any same-sex marriage license, in essence relegating marriage rights to the states. It was a particularly insidious act, as Al Sharpton made clear in a recent presidential candidates’ debate, “I am unilaterally opposed to any civil or human right being left to states’ rights … And if we start going back to states’ rights, we’re going back to pre-Civil War days, and I think that that, in its nature, is wrong.” Even if you’re not fond of Rev. Sharpton’s style of rhetoric, you’ll admit that this deserves an amen.
And New Haven, great city though it is, will not be particularly hospitable to your newfound marital bliss. Despite the praiseworthy attempts by Project Orange and other organizations to fight for equality, New Haven still finds itself without a domestic partnership registry. In many respects this reflects the influence of two powerful religious interests: doctrinaire Catholics with the Knights of Columbus and the African-American religious community. The former would do well to consider that Mayor Newsom is himself a devout Catholic. As to the latter, a quick listen to the brave and eloquent Massachusetts state Sen. Dianne Wilkerson, a black woman, is in order.
On the floor of the Statehouse, stopping several times to cry, she gave an impassioned and unforgettable speech in favor of gay marriage. Her mother, she said, was barred from giving birth in the public hospital in the Southern town where she grew up. “I know the pain of being less than equal and I cannot and will not impose that status on anyone else,” the senator said. “I could not in good conscience ever vote to send anyone to that place from which my family fled.”
This Friday a California state court will probably issue an injunction to stop San Francisco’s issuance of marriage licenses to same-sex couples. But it will hardly bring the marriage rights movement to a stop. “The world only spins forward. We will be citizens,” Prior reminds us at the end of Tony Kushner’s “Angels in America.” One of the nice features of liberalism is its ability to overcome all setbacks; short of destroying them (and watch out for those geneticists), there’s no way to keep people oppressed for long. Full citizenship might be far away, but it’s always coming nearer.
And while homosexuals’ acceptance of the concept of marriage, a flawed institution at best, is open to debate, what’s at issue is not the need to get married, but the option to do so. Indeed marriage and citizenship are inseparably linked, as former Yale professor Nancy Cott has argued. So go, fly to San Francisco. Get that marriage license as fast as you can. Because for gays, being allowed to marry is about much more than love. The fight for marriage rights, at its core, is a fight to be American.