As California begins to grant marriage licenses to same-sex couples this week, let us hope that ceremonies more resemble that of the first performed in San Francisco this year, that of Del Martin, 87, and Phyllis Lyon, 84, a lesbian together well over half a century than the “wacky circus” atmosphere outside San Francisco City Hall as these two women celebrated their nuptials.
If advocates of gay marriage want to convince the American people they’re serious about extending the benefits of this ancient institution to same-sex couples, they’d do well to focus on couples like Martin and Lyon who understand the meaning of the institution instead of those who would use the recent California Supreme Court ruling as an excuse for a street festival or publicity stunt. I can’t seem to turn on a news channel or view my e-mail in-box without hearing about some public celebration of gay marriage.
With all eyes turned toward the Golden State as the ruling takes effect, it would behoove gay marriage advocates to show they understand the meaning of the institution. It’s too late to prevent the Los Angeles Gay and Lesbian Center or the City of West Hollywood from making a mockery of the institution by their staged ceremonies for the press. At least it seems they’ve resisted the temptation to do marriages “en masse” as San Francisco Mayor Gavin Newsom had planned.
Indeed, I was delighted to hear that gay groups had actually discouraged such mass celebrations. That would make marriage seem more of a media stunt and less an acknowledgment of the life-long commitment that two individuals (heretofore of different genders) celebrate in the presence of their friends and family.
Marriage is not a media stunt.
To be sure, it is newsworthy that the Golden State now grants marriage license to same-sex couples. Given the national conversation on marriage — as well as the initiative slated for this fall’s ballot — gay marriage advocates should focus on images to which the average Californian can relate. San Francisco and West Hollywood street celebrations won’t help much outside these locales themselves. Indeed, they would likely make it more difficult to promote gay marriage.
But, an image of two women who have demonstrated over a period of fifty-six years what the commitment of marriage entails may help convince the American people that gay marriage is more than just an excuse to grant government benefits to two people who shack up. That’s why I’m heartened that Newsom ushered in the era of gay marriage in his city not with a mass wedding, but instead with a simple ceremony bringing together a couple whose lifelong relationship seems to have defined gay marriage.
It seems that, after four years, he finally gets it.