NEW YORK -- We've had no big celebrations on the streets of this city of tolerance after the federal judge's decision
in California overturning that state's ban on same-sex marriage. For sure there were plenty of fist pumps and happy hearts all around on Wednesday when the ruling came down, especially in the West Village, and Chelsea where I live. It's an arts-and-nightlife area where rainbow-colored gay banners flutter all year long from some apartment windows and restaurants.
This city, cradle of freedom and guardian of human rights, hasn't gotten around to granting gays and lesbians the right to sign on the dotted line until death do us part. We've got a City Council leader and a state senator, representing a Manhattan district, who are gay, and countless officials, celebrities, power brokers and ordinary New Yorkers who are proud of their sexual orientation and don't mind telling you about it. But we've got a stodgy, not to say incompetent, state Senate
up in Albany which last year voted against letting us marry whomever we want.
So we wait for our turn, or for the landmark
136-page ruling to make its way through the appeals process. The first stop is the liberal federal Court of Appeals for the Ninth District in San Francisco, but the most likely terminus is the U.S. Supreme Court
, where all bets are off at this point. For the political parties
and President Barack Obama
, who opposes same-sex
marriage, this is a hot-button issue that, like abortion and immigration
, no one wants to touch.
Still, there's big hope across LGBT land -- that's jargon for lesbians, gays, bisexuals and transgender folk -- and big questions, too.
Just to mention a few:
Will the approval of same-sex marriage strengthen gay relationships? Will official declarations and lawyer-vetted documents grant stability and longevity to those relationships? Does gay marriage -- certainly a measure of equal rights -- provide a solid foundation for the raising of children, adopted or born via sperm donors, and for inclusion in the everyday life of society?
What is it about that piece of paper that gives us the ultimate seal of approval?
It's everything, but it doesn't guarantee living happily ever after any more than it guarantees happy endings to straight couples.
Forever, it seems, the conventional thinking in and out of gay life has been that gay relationships burn out quickly. They are easy marks for infidelity, lies and recriminations. They are volcanic, fleeting, sexually driven (especially among gay men) and devastating when they end, sputtering or imploding, or as in the darker past, in suicide.
This summer the gay marriage theme comes refreshed and redesigned for our new century. We are treated to the little gem of a film, "The Kids Are All Right," about a stable lesbian couple with children, and to the atrocious reality show "The Real L Word." Friends who identify or sympathize with the gay conundrum (though themselves straight) wonder why infidelity (in "The Kids") and transient sex (in "The Real L Word") seem to be the bread-and-butter of gays and lesbians even when they clamor for the right to marry and establish faithful and lifelong relationships in the mainstream.
I don't see a contradiction. I think it's probably true that gay and lesbian couples have a shorter relationship life span than straight couples. I think it's probably true that gays tend to have more short-term relationships or affairs that fizzle within two to three years or within a month. There is, or there was, a meet-and-bed quality to gay and lesbian relationships. Lesbians are known and mocked for wanting to move in together the day after their first date. That's an exaggeration but not a total distortion. Gay men, especially the young and hunky, are known and sometimes reviled for their sexual appetites and nights lived on the disco floor. That, too, is an exaggeration but it is not entirely off the mark.
There's little doubt that legal marriage -- more than flimsy domestic partnerships and civil unions -- will give gay and lesbian couples a serious foundation on which to build. It makes a difference when you declare publicly your intention to live with someone forever, when it is not just sweet words in the night that vanish in the light of day.
But marriage is no guarantee of anything. Look at the divorce rate among straight couples. Look at the number of children brought up by single women (far more than children brought up by single men). Look at the statistics. They tell the story.
In Massachusetts, one of five states plus the District of Columbia where gay marriage is legal, divorces are popping up with some frequency. Some marriages last less than a year. Divorce is costly -- in money and emotional upheaval -- just as it is for straight couples, and even more so for couples with children. With the right to marry, we will also see more gay and lesbian couples splitting, divorcing and fighting over custody of the kids.
But we will also see the positive side of marriage -- the commitment for the long haul, in good and bad times, that is not to be tossed out when the romance fades and the first signs of complacency or boredom set in, or when the eye strays.
So let the wedding bells ring.