Last week, The New Civil Rights Movement published the second of our exclusive excerpts from writer and composer Joel Derfner’s new book, Lawfully Wedded Husband: How My Gay Marriage Will Save the American Family.
Today, we are proud to share with our readers Part III.
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Joel Derfner didn’t want to get gay married. He doesn’t gay grocery shop and he doesn’t have a gay driver’s license. Joel’s road to marriage was burdened with barriers and labels simply because the love of his life is of the same sex. Recognizing that his personal story is a reflection of the national conversation about the “new civil rights movement,” Joel, with searing wit and unrelenting honesty and humor, wrote Lawfully Wedded Husband: How My Gay Marriage Will Save the American Family.
The more I think about it, the more I think that’s what’s at the root of all the furor—the idea that same-sexers can forge kinship. After all, if people really didn’t think we were capable of committing to caring for those we love, they wouldn’t be churning out what Jonathan Rauch calls “Anything But Marriage” laws faster than you can say “Britney Spears and Jason who?,” because such laws do allow us to make that commitment, albeit in a second-class way. No, it’s got to be something about the word “marriage.”
Because I’ll tell you, if the United States government passed a civil-unions law tomorrow and enforced it vigorously, if civilly united same-sex couples really did have every legal right married opposite-sex couples had, it would still be unjust. And here’s why:
Joel and Mike
Sitting in a tree
First comes love
Then comes civil union
Then comes baby in a baby carriage.
No child is ever going to mock another child in the schoolyard with such a rhyme. It doesn’t work that way. No parent is ever going to answer the question, “How do people become a family?” by saying, “Well, when two people love each other very much, they enter a relationship of mutual interdependence and then they have kids.”
The word “marriage” means “family.”
I think opponents of marriage equality are absolutely terrified of the idea that same-sexers can form families. We can and do form families, of course, but, as long as we can’t get married, society can pretend that we don’t. That’s the reason for all the marriage hysteria. And it’s the real reason that we need the right to marry.
There are LGBT activists who oppose the struggle for marriage equality, pointing out that it can distract us from the plight of people whose problems are far more severe than ours, which is true, that it can reinforce societal inequalities, which is true too, that it can stifle the subversion that has always been a part of same-sexer life, which is also true, and that it will benefit only the mostly white and well-to-do subsection of the same-sexer community agitating for the right to marry. But that’s where I think they’re wrong. I think that marriage equality will benefit the entire same-sexer community, not because of what it will allow married same-sexers to do but because of what it will allow—perhaps force—straight people to perceive. It wasn’t lack of a marriage certificate that kept Janice Langbehn from Lisa Pond’s side as she died, not the absence of paperwork that led county workers to deliver Harold Scull and Clay Greene’s cat to the pound, not a legal question that forced Louise Walpin and Marsha Shapiro to bankrupt themselves caring for their dying son; it was a failure to understand that these were—and that we are—families.
And if my gay marriage, as the overweening subtitle of this book suggests, is going to save the American family, this is how it’s going to do it. Every same-sex couple that gets married in this country will create one honest-to-goodness, undeniable American family. And maybe that will be enough to make up for all the marriages—and therefore all the families—being ostensibly destroyed by things like Illinois’s civil-union law.
As far as why the Defenders of Traditional Marriage are so horrified at this notion, I’m not sure, but I suspect it’s that, if two people of the same sex can become a family, then the family can exist without a man’s authority over a woman. And according to Stephanie Coontz, author of Marriage, a History, changes in marital gender roles have tended to go hand in hand with changes in societal gender roles; during the Enlightenment, for example, political thinkers began to question absolute monarchy at the same time as ordinary men and women began to choose spouses for themselves rather than simply doing whatever the paterfamilias told them to do.
Which means that the idea of same-sexers marrying each other might be the mirror image of a society that can function without the oppression of women.
A frightening vision indeed.
Joel is from South Carolina, where his great-grandmother had an affair with George Gershwin. After leaving the south, he got a B.A. in linguistics from Harvard. Realizing that linguistics was not his métier, he moved to New York to get an M.F.A. in musical theater writing from the Tisch School of the Arts.
Musicals for which he has written include Postcards from Another Planet, Signs of Life, Another Annette and Swish. The scores have been produced in London, Chicago, Seattle, New York, and various cities in between.
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