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On Monkeys and Marriage

Trial analysis

By guest poster Jennifer Alesio

[Note from Julia. Jen is a practicing attorney in San Francisco and last weekend got engaged to Courage Campaign Equality Hub Manager Caitlin Maloney, aka Cait, aka Caitie. Caitlin will be writing more tomorrow about their engagement.]

Thursday night, while driving home from work and admiring my ring (forget cell phones, I would love to see a study on traffic incidents caused by the newly engaged for precisely this reason), Terry Gross was interviewing Randal Keynes, author of “Creation: The True Story of Charles Darwin.” She had Mr. Keynes read the opening paragraph of his book:

When 29, Charles Darwin thought about marrying. He took a piece of paper and wrote: “This is the question.” Under “Not Marry” he jotted down: “Freedom to go where one liked – choice of society and little of it. Conversation of clever men at clubs. Not forced to visit relatives and to bend in every trifle – to have the expense and anxiety of children – perhaps quarreling – loss of time… How should I manage all my business if I were obliged to go every day walking with my wife. Eheu! I never should know French, or see the Continent, or go to America, or go up in a balloon.”

Under “Marry,” he wrote: “Children, if it please God, constant companion and friend in old age who will feel interested in one.” He weighed up the points for and against and made up his mind. “My God, it is intolerable to think of spending one’s whole life like a neuter bee, working, working and nothing after all. No, no, won’t do. Imagine living all one’s days solitary in smoky, dirty London house. Only picture to yourself a nice, soft wife on a sofa with a good fire and books and music perhaps… Marry – Marry – Marry. Q.E.D.” [Emphasis added, full transcript of interview available here]

I’d been engaged to Caitie for 5 days when I heard this quote. Some 20 minutes later, I hauled my work-weary, be-suited self up the stairs to our apartment to find Cait in much the same position described by the 29 year-old Darwin (well, “wife on sofa with a good fire and books and music” does read a little better than “fiance on a futon with an electric wall heater and a macbook,” but you take my point). I don’t think I could have been more sublimely happy.

I mentioned this quote to Caitie over dinner and didn’t really think about it again until this morning when I came across Andrew Sullivan’s clever little mash-up of a title: “The Snopes Trial” referencing a particularly hilarious and disturbing exchange during Friday’s proceedings between Defense Expert Tam and plaintiffs’ counsel David Boies. (Jokes are always less funny when explained, but is a rumor-debunking site, and the Scopes Trial, of Inherit the Wind fame, was the 1926 Tennessee state court trial which went head on at issues surrounding the teaching of evolution in schools – Brian’s Jan. 17 post touched on this case.)

Not to mix constitutional apples and oranges (or monkeys and marriage, as the case may be), but analogies to the famous trial debating Darwin and the bible have been flying around on both sides of Perry v. Schwarzenegger (including a couple of mentions on this site, see Rick’s Jan. 15 post and the LA Times). Likewise, over on the right, Perry has been derided as a “Scopes-style show trial” and, in all fairness, the similarities in terms of optics are striking. Both trials had media-savvy legal superstars at the helm (Darrow then, Olson and Boies now), were held on a level of abstract debate not often encountered in a courtroom (at least not any that I’ve been in recently – no offense to my colleagues or the Judges down at San Francisco Superior Court) and both have included heated exchanges focusing on “clashes” between peer-reviewed scientific research and faith-based perspectives, but that’s where resemblance stops.

The constitutional questions are of course distinct: Scopes was an ACLU sculpted state court case turning on questions of free speech and the establishment clause, while Perry is a federal case aimed squarely at fundamental rights and equal protection. Also, it is probably worth a mention that Scopes was ultimately unsuccessful (at least in the short term). That said, the fundamental difference between Perry and Scopes (and why Perry hopefully be in the same pantheon as Loving v. Virginia, Brown v. Board and more recently Romer v. Evans for plain-as-the-nose-on-your-face injustices that were set right by the Supreme Court) is that there is a heck of a lot more at stake in Perry than the heady abstraction of test cases on constitutional theory: for example, my wedding! Lest one think that I have degenerated into bride-zilla in less than one week, I suspect that few Tennessee high school students were kept awake at night worrying about whether or not they would be permitted to learn about “Origin of the Species.” I am actually engaged [temporarily distracted by my ring again] to a wonderful, beautiful woman [permanently distracted by Cait] and even Charles freakin’ Darwin understood that, in reality, nothing else could be as important.

Given the pace of the appellate process, it is unlikely that we’ll see a final resolution in Perry before Cait and I — and thousands of couples like us — are married. So (and I’m really asking!), do we get married in New Hampshire (where Cait’s from) or do we get a license there and then head to the place where we’d both actually like to have our wedding (Jersey Shore. Yes, THAT Jersey Shore)? This decision is particularly fraught for both of us as marriage equality is Cait’s line of work and law is mine. That we are able to have a legal wedding, just like all of our straight friends and family, is something that matters deeply to both of us. That the location of our wedding might have been determined by 20 weak-kneed New Jersey state senators, is still infuriating.

Fortunately, the state stays out of the engagement business, and ours could not have been more perfect (Cait probably could have done with out the 11th hour ring arrival – more on that from her later) but wherever we end up getting married and whatever the state of the law is at that time, I’ll still be marrying my Caitie, and ain’t life grand?

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  • 1. Ron  |  January 23, 2010 at 12:18 pm

    Thank you for the great post, and please accept my congratulations on your engagement! Being married to the most wonderful husband in the world, I can assure you that being married is fantastic!! It has brought us tremendous joy. Than you Canada!

  • 2. jstueart  |  January 23, 2010 at 12:21 pm

    What a great post! I'm so thrilled for you. Ultimately your lives are moving forward and no one can take your joy away. Rights, sure. But joy is untouchable!

  • 3. michael  |  January 23, 2010 at 12:25 pm

    Congratulations Ladies. Where ever you decide I am sure it will be just perfect!

    Much Love and Happiness to you both,

  • 4. Ronnie  |  January 23, 2010 at 12:34 pm

    Congrats on the engagement!

    I live in NJ and even though I am single, it really hurt when it got rejected a few weeks ago. Weeks before posted articles about the vote on a daily basis even several times a day. The comments were brutal and repetitive. Somebody even told a woman that it was good that her gay son was in a coma(spelling). For weeks the anti SSM people were threatening and calling names and even after it was rejected it got worse.

    Those of us in jersey that were regulars on the board decided to throw their words back at them switching names and they were beyond P.O.ed They were complaining about us calling them bigots and other names that they clearly are, but it was "OK" when they did it in the previous weeks prior to the vote. "Hypocrites!"

    Anywho, even though I do suspect that like in cali the hate crimes will rise in NJ, there are some nice beaches here, such as Asbury Park(which is gay friendly) and LBI (my fav…..very clean sandy beaches….great surfing….Home to the original RonJon surf shop!

    Again congrats and I hope you have a beautiful wedding soon!

  • 5. Richard  |  January 23, 2010 at 12:39 pm

    First off, let me say to Jen and Caitie–CONGRATULATIONS!!! I truly hope that you will be able to get married where you want to get married. You deserve it. Way to go, ladies! Thank you both for being so willing to help us stand up and fight for such a FUNDAMENTAL HUMAN RIGHT as Marriage. We will win in the end, and then our weddings will be just as wonderful as our engagements. And our marriages will be grand also. They will be filled with the usual struggles of married life, but then we are no differnet than anyone else. WE all have our trials and tribulations. But we are more willing to work together to get through those trials and tribulations together.

  • 6. Richard  |  January 23, 2010 at 12:39 pm

    Oh, shoot. I forgot to hit the subscribe link before I submitted.

  • 7. Mrs. R A-W  |  January 23, 2010 at 12:44 pm

    Two things.

    CONGRATULATIONS! Don't ruin the wedding – marriage by having an accident (DWLAR, driving while looking at ring).

    Some day you (others) will not have to concern yourself about which state allows – recognizes – validates your vows, but until then your choices are, sadly, limited.

    Be WELL and be SAFE!

    Mrs. R A-W

    Who has been with her partner for 30+ years, but still NOT married 'legally'. Go figure.

  • 8. Richard W. Fitch  |  January 23, 2010 at 1:03 pm

    First, Congratulations! May your marriage of spirits not be diminished by any human animus. I have been intrigued with the comparison to the Scopes trial. As a teen ( c 1962) I can remember a heated discussion in our SS class centered both on evolution and interracial marriage. If the Bible says it's wrong, it's wrong. In many ways the perspectives of some still have not changed. Ass more of the younger generation become disenchanted with the conservative/right wing of Christianity, there is hope that the balance of devotion and reason will prevail.

  • 9. Glenn I  |  January 23, 2010 at 1:08 pm

    Congratulations. May you have many happy years.

  • 10. Ron Longo  |  January 23, 2010 at 1:10 pm

    P.S. I meant "thank you Canada" to mean that my husband and I (both CA residents) had to travel to Vancouver to get married in 2005. Shocking that we cold not even get married in our own country. But that's what we're working on!!

  • 11. michael  |  January 23, 2010 at 1:28 pm
    [youtube =]

  • 12. Straight Ally #3008  |  January 23, 2010 at 1:49 pm

    I love that quote, and let me add my congratulations to the rest!

    I find it fitting that the Scopes trial is being invoked, since those who deny the validity of evolution are, I would bet, overwhelmingly in favor of Prop 8. They share a similar disdain for peer-reviewed research, favoring pseudoscientific claims readily available on the internet, and may even share a basic desire to have religious beliefs trump secular law.

    Now, if there are pro-marriage equality creationists lurking about, then I'm glad we have some common ground…and perhaps I can provide some edification about science. 😉


  • 13. michael  |  January 23, 2010 at 2:11 pm


    The Protect Marriage Prop 8 trial blog is a scream.

    If someone wanted to make a movie, THAT is the story to be told.

    You'll laugh, you'll cry, you'll be amazed at what hypocrites they are (ok, that one is a stretch) and no matter what their politicians may claim, they will never BE "compassionate conservatives".

    And they will never understand us.

  • 14. Casey  |  January 23, 2010 at 2:35 pm

    Jen and Cait, a long and joyful marriage to you! My wife-to-be and I share both your joy and your frustration – and I too have toed the line of safe driving while admiring the light as it passes through my ring!! I understand, as I'm sure you do, that the obsession for one's new engagement ring is such a human thing. It's the thrill of a bright future, the weight of love as it sits on our hand. Nothing could be truer – and more universally understood – than that kind of hope and joy. I believe that this community will continue to expand, with people of all identities joining their voices with ours, until this trial has a place where it belongs – in the history of our ultimate equality.

    Mazel Tov!

  • 15. ZackFord  |  January 23, 2010 at 5:32 pm

    I'm writing a piece on my blog tomorrow appealing to the atheist community to take more of a concern for this trial for just these reasons!

  • 16. JonT  |  January 23, 2010 at 6:43 pm

    What a nice post, thanks! Congratulations… I really wish you both the best of luck! :)

    To the future! ('clink')

  • 17. JonT  |  January 23, 2010 at 6:53 pm

    "And they will never understand us."

    heh – as long as 'absolute truth' is on their side, they will never have to.


    PS: forgive the 'scare quotes', but what the hell.

  • 18. j-dv.  |  January 23, 2010 at 6:55 pm

    Congratulations and here's to a lovely wedding.

    And while I fully appreciate the incredibly important stakes here (I have been glued to my computer and F5 is showing serious signs of wear) let's not underestimate the importance of the scopes trial. The establishment clause is vitally important and especially when it comes to our schools. There's nothing abstract about having a whole generation not learn science because of religious zeal.

    Thank you for the excellent post!

  • 19. Colt  |  January 24, 2010 at 4:09 am

    Congratulations! I hope you have a wonderful wedding and many happy years together!


  • 20. Lies  |  January 24, 2010 at 5:08 am

    Awwwww! As someone who was the happy recipient of an engagement ring only a couple of weeks ago, I completely understand the distracting power such objects have (mine is severely sabotaging my education…).

    I wish you two all the happiness and love in the world!

  • 21. Erin  |  January 24, 2010 at 5:37 am

    I'm an atheist and I take interest in this trial. I don't really know how you'd appeal to the atheist "community" as we don't really meet up for atheist church or anything. We're not really centralized.

    However, if I had to guess, I'd say most atheists would be on this side of the aisle.

    What gives you the sense that we're ignoring this issue?

  • 22. Desert Verdin 1 of 1  |  January 24, 2010 at 6:17 am


    Have the civil ceremony wherever y'all can, then have the wedding ceremony & reception at the Jersey Shore (or wherever strikes your fancy)!

    17-1/2 years together, married since August 2002.

    May you have many happy years together.


  • 23. Desert Verdin 1 of 1  |  January 24, 2010 at 6:21 am

    (Did I say "2002"? Oops. Meant "2008.")

  • 24. truthspew  |  January 24, 2010 at 10:26 am

    Congrats on the engagement! That said, I hope we are victorious in Perry v. Schwarzenegger.

    And even here in RI, I'm doing my part to move this forward. Had a nice little conversation with my state senator this evening. Of course the lead in was watching him scrape dog crap from his shoe outside a drug store and mentioning we need to enforce a pooper scooper law, but hey, you need your opening right? And talk to these people, you find out ALL about what the current zeitgeist is in their particular chamber.

  • 25. Womyn2me  |  January 24, 2010 at 11:19 am

    Having finally found a venue for our Oct wedding, I have to post something about marriage. We live in Washington state, so we have 'everything but marriage' here. basically we have all the rights the state applies to marriage except for the word. We got 'everything but married' Dec 8th.

    I would have sworn that there was nothing to this marriage stuff, that the hets could keep it since they seemed to be doing such a crappy job at it. but in all honestly, I have found that there is a strange intangible difference to be married. I have been looking for words that describe what exactly happened when we signed papers in front of a notary but something did happen. I look at Shelley now and think, 'she's my wife' and there is a sense of wholeness and comfort and a depth of connectedness after that notary stamp that has to have some other catalyst than the simple act of signing.

    There is something so bizarre about it I can only liken it to being blind and knowing that there was something I was missing out on, then gaining my sight and wow. the sighted, married world IS categorically, absolutely different. like (yes, I go with the traditional memes) Dorothy, I stepped from black and white workd to a technicolor land, and quite frankly, I aint going back.

    and I live there now, in this glory of colour and support. Now when I say wife, people have a frame of reference beyond that of domestic partner.

    it seems so simple, but it is stunning in its complexity and depth, Jen and Cait. Welcome home to the place you always suspected was there, just not for you. Its for you, friends, it is for all of us.

  • 26. Rules of (same-sex) Engag&hellip  |  January 24, 2010 at 11:57 am

    […] Campaign's Equality Hub Manager. She proposed to her fiance Jennifer Alesio last weekend, who wrote a guest post of her own yesterday. That's Jen on the left and Cait on the […]

  • 27. Marching Toward Theocracy&hellip  |  January 24, 2010 at 3:26 pm

    […] number of observers have noted some parallels between the Scopes Monkey Trial and Perry v. Schwarzenegger, the federal trial over the constitutionality of Proposition 8 which banned marriage equality in […]

  • 28. Ariel  |  January 25, 2010 at 4:25 am

    Congratulations and best wishes to you both! I know *exactly* what you mean about distracting rings. 😉

    There's a lot to be said for a lovely New England wedding, but then, I'm prejudiced; I danced for weeks over getting to sign my MA marriage license as a proud Spouse B.

    That said…. it sucks to no end that you can't have both the party and the wedding where *you* want. Good luck making your decision!

  • 29. Peter  |  January 26, 2010 at 11:34 am

    As many of you are deciding in which state (if any) to be wed, I feel lucky just to have the option to marry. My fiancé is Spanish. He lives in Spain. You could think of my situation as fortunate, I mean, he lives in one of the few countries where gay marriage is fully legal on the federal level. So there's our option, but it's our only option.

    It wouldn't matter what state we got married in if we wanted to do it here. The visa issues would persist. If the government found out about our matrimony, we'd be in an even tighter spot, as he'd be at risk for deportation for displaying a desire to remain here permanently. Not kidding here, apparently this happens. (Add THAT to the list of discrimination.)

    But I'm not commenting for sympathy here, I'm merely trying to represent the thousands of couples whom are extremely discriminated against due to DOMA and the various forms of prejudice that center around withholding the freedom to marry from gays and lesbians. I'm just curious as to when this issue will arise in court? Anyone who knows me can tell you that my happiness purely revolves around being with David. HIs presence makes my world shine brighter. So how is my pursuit of happiness being protected here? I doubt anyone can answer that.

    So the plan? Save for as long as possible until we can't hold out any longer, (it's already been three months since we've last seen each other,) and then I'll migrate to Spain. We both have dreams of someday coming back to the States. But until our voices are heard, our pleas answered, adiós to my family and my homeland.

    I plan to write an open letter to prop8 supporters, and will post a link to said letter here then. Until then, thank you everyone who is spreading the word, and fighting for what rightfully belongs to all of us!

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