Gay Marriage in PA: A Love Story
Newspapers generally don’t bring me to tears–except my own, when it drove me to quit after 30 years–but I was an emotional faucet as I leafed through the New York Times’ Styles section on Sunday.
To mark the first day of New York State-recognized same-sex marriage, the Times dedicated most of the section to queer unions. The couples featured in “Vows” and “State of the Union” were lesbians. Of 35 stand-alone wedding announcements, seven were same-sex, all with photos. (Gender breakdown: Five bride-bride, two groom-groom.)
If that’s not enough homoeroticism for you, the “Modern Love” column was written by a lesbian, who proposed to her partner in the last line. (Say yes, Melinda!) Separate stories addressed such topics as etiquette adjustments for same-sex nuptials; the explosion of new business for party planners; moms who push their gay progeny to marry; gays who don’t want to.
This kind of cultural sea change–some would call it a tsunami— was absolutely unimaginable when I came out in 1969. It would be thirty-three years before the Times ran its first same-sex wedding announcement, an historic event described by writer Charles Kaiser as “the beginning of a quiet revolution.”
The revolution had not yet begun when my gal and I decided to get married in 1993. For queer folk at that time, legalized same-sex marriage was still very much a pipedream. Particularly in the state of Pennsylvania, which, in some regions, could be mistaken for Mississippi.
We knew we were in a situation literally without precedent. Being ahead of one’s time is often a curse, but in this case it was a blessing. We designed our own wedding, creating ritual in some places and honoring it in others.
Being a traditional Jewish lesbian bride, I wanted a rabbi to officiate. That ruled out just about everybody except a Reconstructionist, the most liberal of Judaism’s sects. Without much effort, we found several. My gal, the mystical type, also wanted a shaman. That meant her good friend from Massachusetts, who led the ceremony with our rabbi.
We were married in June under a chuppah at the Ethical Society in Rittenhouse Square. My parents, now both deceased, walked me down the aisle. For my bride, her son and daughter, both grown, did the honors. My daughter, then eight, joined her two young cousins as flower girls.
The ceremony ran more than an hour. Music was performed, poems were read, vows were exchanged, rings were blessed. Guests were encouraged to speak, if so moved. More than a few were, and did.
We laughed. We cried. It was better than Cats.
The reception was held at North Star Bar in Fairmount. For the deejay, there were only two requirements–wear a tux and make every dance Ladies’ Choice. His one screw-up was epic: For the newlyweds’ first dance, he played Whitney Houston’s “I Will Always Love You” instead of our song, Bonnie Raitt’s “Nick of Time.” Regardless, the party rocked.
That was 18 years ago. If we got married today in New York State, Massachusetts, Iowa, Vermont, New Hampshire, Connecticut or Washington, D.C., it would be recognized as legal. But not in good old Pennsylvania.
How far behind the curve is the Keystone State? Let me put it this way: Archie Comics’ first openly-gay character, Kevin Keller, introduced a year ago, will in some future storyline marry a man, it was announced yesterday.
When a comic book that dates back to 1942 embraces equality before your own state does, the real cartoon is in Harrisburg.