May 17, 2011
Thank you to Vienna for supplying this excellent guest post. If you’d like to provide a guest post in the coming days please contact me at andy AT courage campaign DOT org. Thanks. -Andy
By Vienna Hagen (aka AnonyGrl)
Last week I was asked to officiate at a wedding. Let me start by saying that I am not a legally ordained minister, nor a justice of the peace. I have no official authority to marry people, but as this wedding was in Second Life (an online world) it was not necessary for me to have any legal standing.
Two friends of mine had decided that they wanted to marry their on line characters. These two are developing a real life relationship at the same time, and are in the throes of that wonderful passion that occurs at the beginning of relationships. They talk on the phone for hours, they have plans to meet up in real life, they share secrets and desires and hopes and dreams, one has just come out to her parents and the other has helped her through it… so real life and Second Life are running somewhat parallel courses.
I mention this because, even though the wedding I performed was not legal, it was still meaningful. And writing the ceremony for these two friends got me thinking about what marriage means.
I thought about metaphors appropriate to the situation because, in addition to being a friend, I am also a writer, and take some pride in making my words meaningful and moving. What I realized is that wedding ceremonies are fraught with metaphors, you can barely walk past one and not hear about ships sailing, knots being tied, two hearts becoming one, or shelters from storms. I chose to use the metaphor of two threads, each strong and beautiful yarn on their own, woven into a stronger, more beautiful tapestry.
I realized, as I was working out that metaphor, as I was , in fact, weaving it through my narrative, that all the various words we use to describe what marriage is only scratch the surface. I could talk for hours about what marriage means and what it entails and never get to the heart of it. I could describe perfect marriages and not so perfect ones and never truly explain what marriage means to those who are entering into it.
To use another metaphor, a wedding ceremony is sort of like the bottle of champagne used to christen a ship. While it makes a big splash and looks impressive, the smashing of a bottle of Moet against the prow of a boat tells almost nothing about the journeys that will ensue. It is a fun, exciting moment, and everyone who attends enjoys the bubbles, but the reality is that the journey will be so much more than could ever be described in its inception.
What we specifically gloss over when performing a wedding ceremony are the bad times, of course. At the launch of the Titanic, it is highly unlikely that anyone discussed in detail how icebergs were a danger, but, of course, ice bergs happen. When writing about tapestry I did not mention scissors, bad dye lots, broken threads, or any of the problems that those occurrences would represent. We all know that the wedding ceremony includes “for worse”, and “in sickness” or some equivalent, but we don’t dwell on it, because a wedding is a celebration, and not the time to deal with harsh reality.
But in a marriage, those harsh realities exist. Bad things do happen. Partners make mistakes, they hurt each other, financial or health worries add stress, all sorts of things can tear a marriage apart. Why, then, do it? Why get married? Why risk all of that?
Why indeed. I was blessed to have parents who were the most married people I’ve ever known. They met, and in fairy tale fashion fell in love at first sight. They married six months later, and were devoted to each other for the next 40 years until my mother passed away. In all those years I never once heard them even raise their voices to each other.
No, their life together was not perfect. Without rehashing all their griefs, suffice it to say that there were, as in any marriage, a fair number of them. But through it all, no matter how hard things got, they were married. They were part of a team. They were always, as a team, more than the sum of their parts.
I think that is why people get married, in the end. Sometimes they do it because there are financial benefits, sometimes it is about insurance, or children, or to have someone to take care of them in their old age. Sometimes they don’t think about any of that and marry only for love. Sometimes people marry against the better judgment of friends and family, sometimes with their blessings. Sometimes marriage is a convenient shelter for its participants, sometimes those participants include children of the couple marrying, either born before or after the wedding.
Whatever the reasons that two people choose to enter into marriage, the results are the same. The joining of two individuals results in a union that is more than the sum of its parts. The very concept of marriage itself enhances the pairing. As they marry, a couple becomes together something more than they were as individuals.
People ask, “Why do gays want to marry? Why isn’t civil union or domestic partnership good enough?”
Here is my answer. Civil unions are not bad. There are certainly benefits to civil unions and domestic partnerships that can be experienced, and that trump not having those options available. What they don’t really do, sufficiently, to my mind, is that bit that really can’t be adequately described, even in a marriage ceremony, that magic something that makes a couple “more than”. Civil unions and domestic partnerships are, specifically, legal contracts that grant certain financial and legal rights. Not a bad thing, but not the same. Marriage, whether religious or civil, is a state of mind that brings two people together and makes them better as a pair than they were as single people.
And that state of mind is just as important as any Social Security checks, tax rebates, insurance premiums or health proxies. The idea of marriage has always been more than any of those things; the affirmation of the union is so vital. It is the most human of institutions, and when we, as same sex couples, are denied access, it says we are somehow less than human.
We are not. We have been pushed and ignored and beaten and discriminated against, but we can never, ever accept being less than human. We are people, just like everyone around us, and we are deserving of being treated equally.
So as I performed a marriage ceremony for a pair of animated avatars on line, I was very aware of the people standing behind those avatars. These are two beautiful women who cannot marry in the states where they live. Two wonderful human beings who are being told tacitly and implicitly day in and day out that they are not equal; they are not worthy. They are not human. And I, for one, won’t stand for it!
We are human, and we will not be less.