Letter from California

An archive of the weekly "Letter from Calfornia", written by Jim McCarthy.

Tuesday, February 17, 2004

Letter from California-February 17, 2004

I’ve noticed that some people have a thing about putting pictures of themselves and their loved ones around the house. Every square inch of empty counter space has a picture of the family waving like maniacs in front of the Grand Canyon or at least the Giant Sombrero at Pedro’s South of the Border. Somewhere among the knick-knacks, you’ll probably find a wedding photo or two. In those typically, you’ll find a smiling bride in white dancing with her new husband or the newlyweds posed together next to a picturesque oak or something.

The news here in California this week made me think of one particular picture person I know and the very unusual wedding day photo I remember seeing in his dining room a few years back. In the picture, my friend, Jeff, was standing in his wedding tux on a San Francisco trolley car next to his new partner. They both beamed. The tourists that had by chance had been riding the street car when Jeff and his partner jumped on had expressions on their faces ranging from amused to horrified. “Everyone clapped at first when they saw me jump on,” Jeff once told me, “but then they started looking for a bride.” Jeff was standing next to his partner, Jose, on the day they had exchanged their “commitment” vows, pledging to spend their lives together.

The people on the trolley had the same reaction that a lot of people do to the gay marriages happening in San Francisco right now. For many, the idea of gay marriage is strange and shocking, but in Jeff and Jose’s case, the reality is a lot more ordinary. Hilarious “wedding” photo aside, Jeff and Jose live a pretty normal life. They’re both hard-working guys who do their best to get home at a decent hour so they can have dinner together in front of this week’s elimination round of American Idol. When I knew them, they would occasionally have a few people over for dinner and, if I recall correctly, Jeff would cut loose by having a shot or two of Jaegermeister. That was about the extent of the craziness in their lives.

So when I think about the same-sex marriages happening in San Francisco this week, I have a hard time shaking the image of Jeff and Jose eating Chinese take-out food in their den. It makes me think of hearing Jeff nag Jose about not picking up the dry cleaning on the way home. Although Jeff and Jose’s “vows” didn’t really mean anything legally, they are living just as dull and domestic a life as anybody with a marriage certificate they didn’t have to print on the color laser copier down at Kinko’s.

Marriage is important. Strong families make strong societies, not the other way around, and the traditional family has created in America the strongest, healthiest nation that perhaps has ever been. Critics of gay marriage argue quite understandably that we’re messing with a winning formula if we allow the definition of marriage to blur. Many feel strongly that it’s simply immoral.

But I think maybe there’s another reason for the general feeling of creepiness that most Americans get about gay marriage. In my experience, we are “live and let live’ kind of people, so there must be something more to the fact that a majority of us don’t think that marriage between people of the same gender should be allowed.

Most people just don’t have a Jeff and Jose to think about when they consider the subject. The models they do have come instead from the contorted world of Hollywood celebrity. For many people, it’s a far less domesticated California couple that provides their only experience with gay “marriage” and that’s Ellen Degeneres and Anne Heche. Just a few years ago, this pair rose to become the media’s emblem for gay “marriage.” Perhaps unfairly, this one relationship gave most Americans their first view of a same-sex couple. A few months later and Ellen’s show is cancelled; Anne decides she wants to marry a man, then decides she’s from another planet and her name is Celestina. Then she turns up on the streets of Fresno, 200 miles from home, not knowing how she got there.

Yep, just another boring day in the land of married bliss.

Of course, people are going to form their own opinions of gay marriage. Over the weekend, a few hundred couples got married in San Francisco, with the new mayor (yes, this is San Francisco) openly breaking the California law that forbids marriage between people of the same sex. These marriages may or may not end up being valid, as the courts may determine that the mayor acted illegally. No matter what happens though, try to put aside the image of Anne Heche staggering down the street, holding up a coat hanger trying to communicate with her home planet.

And instead picture Jeff holding up a coat hanger looking for the suit jacket Jose forgot to bring home.


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