My first gay wedding
Twenty-five years ago I was walking with a friend on the lower west side of Manhattan, nearly in the shadows of the World Trade Center towers. He was about my age and, as you figured out by my choice of pronouns, a guy. A male friend—one of my best friends, in fact. As we walked something suddenly clanked against the curb beside us. It was a half-full beer can, and a car full of youngish punks from New Jersey (their car had Jersey plates), yelled out, “Go home, faggots!”
We were taken aback in so many ways. Not only were we not gay, we were not anti-gay, and the slur surprised us. At first we laughed at their mistake, and then we talked about it more seriously. What idiots, we said. What jerks. They got everything wrong in three words. And here in New York City, the capital of metropolitan sophistication, the great global trendsetter, the melting pot of America! Who would have known that, 25 years later, I’d be attending my first gay wedding in Orlando, Florida.
But let’s take a step back. Ten years ago there were virtually no gay characters on TV. Now a TV show isn’t cool unless it has a gay character. Five years ago the states of Washington, Oregon and New Hampshire took the first steps toward allowing same sex marriages. Today, in the midst of the uproar over Indiana’s new law that allows businesses to make decisions on the basis of their religious beliefs, opening the door to discrimination against the LGBT communities, among others, 37 states have made same sex marriages legal.
The astounding social change, much of which occurred within the last five years, has made acceptance of the gay community much more the norm than ever before. That’s not to say there aren’t still prejudices, biases and hatreds that cause great pain and unforgivable suffering, or barriers that continue to be broken—in business (see Tim Cook), in sports (see Jason Richardson and Michael Sam), in life. Amazing as it sounds, in my circle of Jewish friends more than half have a gay or bisexual child.
So it should come as no surprise that I recently attended the wedding of two young women. Perhaps the real surprise is that I hadn’t attended a gay wedding until now. Let’s set the context. A beautiful, upscale, fully catered, somewhat alternative wedding at a popular outdoor venue in the heart of Orlando. A Jewish wedding officiated by a local rabbi. A sizeable crowd of well-wishers, all of whom appeared as happy, as natural, as at ease as any crowd I’ve seen at any wedding. Our synagogue, and many other synagogues and churches, both locally and nationally, have openly embraced the idea of gay marriages and perform them regularly. But again, this was my first, and I was struck, not so much by the relationship of the women (which was loving), or the ceremony (which was both traditional and new), or the toasts afterwards (which were all good, thank God, with the possible exception of an expected, extended monologue about hemorrhoids), but about the nuances of choice and language that permeated the event. And it’s these nuances that I believe will ultimately, finally change our society into one that fully accepts.
One of the women wore pants and the other a wedding gown, and the one in pants walked down the aisle first, followed by the “bride.” Perhaps this is common in lesbian weddings and relationships, but I wondered if there needn’t be further dissolution of stereotypes. After all, why should the one in pants (the “male” role) go first? Why should there be pants, with all their male symbolism attached, at all, or dresses, for that matter? Maybe there should be some new and different attire that becomes the tradition as we do away with sexual cliches. They took the last name of the woman in pants. Why not a new last name, or a joined name? They were announced on the dance floor as “Mrs. and Mrs.” Again, as language reflects our choices, Mrs. is the abbreviated form of “Mr.’s,” someone who belongs to the man. Why not Ms. and Ms.? And rather than being grooms (male) or brides (female), should we come up with a new term that better captures a new era in lifelong commitments? How about grides, or brooms (as we sweep away the old and bring in the new)?
The truth is, it was a lovely evening, a brilliant evening, a fun evening, as good a wedding as one hopes for. And the hope is, as we move toward broader, more open and genuine acceptance of people as people and lifestyles as personal and wholly appropriate choices, as the different becomes more and more the norm, let’s take it to the next level and do away with (or at least question) the negative hints of sexual bias that remain and permeate our language, our fashions, and our traditions. It’s time for a conscious move forward that reflects a core shift in values. Gay, we all know, also means happy, and the joy and happiness that comes with complete validation and social acceptance is where we all want to be.
And that’s the good word.
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