The Lesbian & Gay Book of Love & Marriage: Creating the Stories of Our Livesby Paula Martinac
Rich with anecdotes, inspiration, and brass-tacks problem solving, The Lesbian and Gay Book of Love and Marriage chronicles the emotional and political heart of gay commitment. Weaving together interviews with lesbian and gay couples and singles with the expert observations and personal testimonies of gay figures such as Candace Gingrich, Craig Lucas,/i>… See more details below
Rich with anecdotes, inspiration, and brass-tacks problem solving, The Lesbian and Gay Book of Love and Marriage chronicles the emotional and political heart of gay commitment. Weaving together interviews with lesbian and gay couples and singles with the expert observations and personal testimonies of gay figures such as Candace Gingrich, Craig Lucas, Gabriel Rotello, and Cris Williamson, Paula Martinac takes you on a journey through the milestones and turning points, the joys and the struggles of gay relationships.
- Broadway Books
- Publication date:
- Edition description:
- 1 ED
- Product dimensions:
- 7.40(w) x 9.20(h) x 0.75(d)
Read an Excerpt
Introduction: The Reality of Lesbian and Gay Love and Marriage
Unless you've been hibernating, with no access to the mass media, it's been almost impossible to avoid the topic of legalizing lesbian and gay marriage. It doesn't matter if you're gay or straight--you've most likely had to think about the potentiality of same-sex marriage and exactly where you stand on this issue. And if you live in Hawaii, you're actually living and breathing it, with headlines in the local papers almost every day about the pending court decision that would permit same-sex couples to legally marry.
The debate engendered by the litigation brought in Hawaii by three same-sex couples who applied and were rejected for marriage licenses has been enormous. It's not only been the focus of media attention, it's been discussed and fought over in almost every state legislature across the country and in the U.S. Congress. Lawsuits have also been brought in the states of Vermont and New York by same-sex couples seeking the right to marry legally.
There are a number of intriguing legal questions raised by this historic civil rights struggle. Will same-sex couples win the right to marry in Hawaii? In all probability, according to Evan Wolfson, director of the Marriage Project at Lambda Legal Defense and Education Fund, a national nonprofit law firm that works for lesbian and gay civil rights. Will couples go to Hawaii, marry, and then return home to face enormous court battles when Pennsylvania or Montana or the federal government refuse to recognize their unions? That's what Wolfson and other same-sex marriage activists anticipate.
But there are also underlying socialquestions, which are even more significant for their immediacy to lesbian and gay lives. What effect has the same-sex marriage struggle in Hawaii and all the debate surrounding it had on lesbian and gay relationships and the community? Are all gay people simply dying to go out and get hitched? Are we just trying to mimic straight people, or are we standing on the brink of a radical transformation of the institution of marriage?
For me, the most interesting element of the Hawaii case is the attention it has drawn to lesbian and gay relationships. The fact is, lesbian and gay couples have for generations been "marrying." I don't mean simply that they've been having ceremonies or weddings to celebrate their unions, though they've been doing that, too, and with greater and greater frequency. But what I mean is that lesbian and gay couples have been creating and enjoying lasting relationships that don't usually get much space in the mainstream media or in popular culture.
That's an amazing feat. Think about it. Lesbians and gay men are essentially without legal rights, except in a handful of jurisdictions. Twenty states still criminalize sodomy. In many cases we can lose our jobs, kids, families of origin, homes--just for being open about who we are. We can't legally marry, and even if we've been with a partner for twenty or thirty years, we still have to check "Single" on official documents and our partners aren't entitled to our Social Security benefits. Not only does the government refuse to accept our relationships as valid, but our chosen partners, in many cases, may not even be acknowledged or welcomed by our families of origin. Many clergy members call our love relationships "abominations" and encourage us to either change or to "sin no more" by leading celibate lives. And until very recently, we saw almost no positive depictions of ourselves and our relationships on television or in the movies.
Yet despite these injustices, same-sex couples have found each other and built lives and families together. It makes me angry that we've had to face so many barriers just to be together, but it also makes me enormously proud that many of us have triumphed against the odds.
This book is a celebration of lesbian and gay marriages and a reclaiming of that word to describe our unions. It's a chronicle of the ways in which lesbians and gay men have negotiated and maintained relationships without the benefit of societal recognition or legal marriage. It investigates what the words "love" and "marriage"--portrayed all around us as the exclusive territory of heterosexuals--mean in a lesbian and gay context. "There are more lesbians and gay men in long-term relationships than people realize," says New York-based therapist Vanessa Marshall. "They're just not visible." Though there's no reliable way to count how many lesbian and gay couples there actually are in the United States, one 1992 survey found that 56 percent of gay men and 71 percent of lesbians were in steady relationships.
In this book, we'll explore how lesbian and gay couples have traditionally met and "courted" and how that has changed with the evolution of a more visible gay community. We'll talk about how same-sex partners choose each other as lifelong mates, and we'll trace the markers that move our relationships from casual to committed. We'll look at our rituals of commitment, from moving in together, to exchanging rings, to the private and public ceremonies that some couples have held. We'll investigate how same-sex couples negotiate daily life--everything from being out as a couple in the neighborhood to having holidays with the "in-laws"--and we'll talk about whether or not same-sex couples perceive the need to marry legally. And finally, we'll discuss the myriad ways lesbians and gay men have created families of choice, which may include kids, stepkids, ex-lovers, or platonic friends.
A tall order! But a job made easier and more enjoyable by more than one hundred lesbian and gay individuals and couples all around the country who either took the time to answer a lengthy questionnaire or participated in e-mail, phone, or in-person interviews that delved and pried into their private lives. Almost without exception, lesbians and gay men were eager to tell me about their experiences and to document their relationships for posterity, and you'll hear their voices here. They invited me into their homes for lunch and dinner, even if they'd never met me before; they wrote me moving letters to explain the importance of the topic to them or to thank me for undertaking the project.
To my knowledge, unless otherwise noted, the majority of couples interviewed for this book are still together. The relationships range in length from eighteen months to thirty-six years. In what suggests a turning point in the visibility of lesbians and gay men and a move toward ending the stigmatization of homosexuality, many people allowed me to use their real names.
For all these couples, same-sex love and marriage were not hot new media topics but what they'd been living through every day. If marriage rights are never achieved in Hawaii or any other state, if the Defense of Marriage Act remains on the books for a thousand years, lesbians and gay men will still fall in love and "marry," in the truest sense of the word. As one woman in Tennessee poignantly wrote to me, "They can keep us from being legally married, but they can't change the reality of it."
Seriouser and Seriouser: Making It Up
We've all heard the old joke, "What does a lesbian bring on the second date?" Punch line: "A U-Haul." The joke continues, "What does a gay man bring on the second date?" Second punch line: "What second date?" Like all stereotypes, some of us fit them, but many of us do not.
What does it mean for lesbian and gay couples to get serious in a world that doesn't always recognize our right to be together? There seem to be as many meanings as there are grains of sand on the beaches at Provincetown, and they all point to a conundrum. Straight couples have a lot worked out for them by tradition. It's common for them to marry when they get to a turning point in their relationships. But because same-sex couples can't legally marry and, more significantly, because external and internalized homophobia have made us hide our relationships for family, work, or legal reasons, there is no real nomenclature and no established stages for our relationships.
Gay journalist Robert Pela has dubbed the time after dating but before the forever-and-ever of being committed, "the romance hump." With none of the traditional markers of heterosexual relationships--courtship, engagement, marriage--same-sex couples have to make a lot of things up. What steps mark the passing from being casual to being committed? What symbols do we use to validate our relationships? And here's the $64,000 question--what in the world do we call each other?
If you're straight and you get married, chances are pretty good that you'll latch on to the words, "husband," "wife," or "spouse" to identify your beloved. But when I asked lesbian and gay couples how they refer to each other, many people didn't even understand at first what I meant, answering with a shrug, "I call her Honey" or "I call him Punkin."
With lesbians and gay men, there's a choice involved in what to call your partner, and it can be a baffling and exhausting one. Some of us have appropriated heterosexual terms, but for lesbians in particular, that choice can be fraught with difficulty. "I always called Susan my wife or spouse," says psychotherapist Dr. April Martin--an unusual move in 1978, the heyday of lesbian-feminist activism, when she and Susan became involved. "You didn't say 'wife,' " April continues. "That was demeaning to women." Many of us still shudder at the idea of being someone's "wife," which for many married women spelled loss of self and identity to a man. But "wife" was the word that felt right to April, the one that conveyed the level of commitment they experienced. Twenty years later, more and more lesbians are reclaiming the word.
Some lesbians and gay men told me that their names for each other changed over the course of their relationships. Whereas a gay male squeeze might start out as a "boyfriend," by the end of year one he might become "lover" or "partner," and after a commitment ceremony, he might transform once again into "spouse" or "husband" (or for a more campy male couple, "wife").
Often, lesbians and gay men say they switch words depending on whom they're addressing. "I tend to use the term 'lover' around lesbian and gay people," says Alicia, who lives in Albany, New York. "To me, 'lover' is more of a passionate term. The term 'partner' comes in when I talk about Nancy to my family or friends. I think people hear the word 'partner,' and they automatically think of two gay or lesbian people."
"Partner" does seem to be the word du jour, but it's not as universally recognized as we might imagine. When Zelle and Lesley refer to each other as partner in public, "We have actually been asked by some very unaware people, 'What business are you in? Is she your law partner?'" laughs Lesley. Joseph Ward and Lamont Williams, a Missouri couple who have been together almost fifteen years, try to solve the problem through a simple addition. "We call each other life partner," Lamont says, and many other couples follow suit.
But Tracey Lind and Fran Goldstein ran into confusion over their use of that term. Tracey, an out Episcopal priest, delivered the eulogy at the funeral of Fran's mother, introducing herself to the chapel full of mourners as "Fran Goldstein's life partner."
"I did a quick scan and I could see people elbowing each other," Tracey chuckles, "saying, 'Life partner? What's a life partner?' " Then people suddenly got it, hitting each other and mouthing, "Ahh!"
Luckily, we all have a sense of humor about this recurring problem. It's a running joke in lesbian and gay culture that we don't have the convenience of clearly defined titles for our true loves. Comedian Sara Cytron's stand-up routine, "Take My Domestic Partner . . . Please!"--a play on the classic Henny Youngman one-liner, "Take my wife . . . please!"--was one of the first to point out just how laughable this really can be. But it's also deadly serious. Without even a word to define our relationships, those relationships too easily become marginalized, both by ourselves and by society around us.
"Coming Out" for Gay Rights
Almost every day another company "comes out" in support of their lesbian and gay employees. There are hundreds of private employers across the country that now offer benefits to the domestic partners of their employees, and a partial list follows. Contact Lambda Legal Defense and Education Fund at (212) 809-8585 for a complete listing of companies, organizations, and government agencies that offer such benefits.
Barnes & Noble Booksellers
Ben & Jerry's
Capital Cities/ABC, Inc.
Coors Brewing Company
Creative Artists Agency
The Ford Foundation
Home Box Office
Levi Strauss & Co.
A helpful resource for lobbying for domestic partner benefits at your job is Try This at Home: A Do-It-Yourself Guide to Winning Lesbian and Gay Civil Rights Policy (W.W. Norton & Company, 1996), written by Matt Coles, director of the American Civil Liberties Union's Lesbian and Gay Rights project. This step-by-step guide for individuals and groups suggests the most effective strategies for changing company policies regarding employment and benefits. Coles includes tips on what works and what doesn't and gives samples of domestic partnership clauses from actual employee manuals. Follow Coles's advice, and learn how to add your company's name to the list above.*
*There may be financial drawbacks to acquiring domestic partner benefits. Unless your partner can be claimed as your dependent, you will pay income tax on the value of the domestic partner benefits.
What People are saying about this
and post it to your social network
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
See all customer reviews >