News and Commentary Featuring Fred's Work

Same-Sex Couples Redefine Marriage
Patricia Holt
Friday, June 26, 1998
1999 San Francisco Chronicle

What can be said to gay people about same-sex marriage except, ``You can't have one''?

Why, a whole lot more than one would expect, according to a terrific handful of books that say as much to ``straight'' society about the way law (and love) works as to those ``unmarriageable'' gay and lesbian people who keep insisting they have as much right to marry as anyone.

The mere fact that the debate rages on says a great deal about marriage as an institution in the '90s, as San Francisco lawyer Frederick Hertz indicates in Legal Affairs: Essential Advice for Same-Sex Couples (Henry Holt/Owl; 283 pages; $17.95 paperback). Hertz points out that the concept of marriage has been profoundly altered because gender roles have changed so much since the 1950s, with the concept of the ``domestic spouse'' reduced or erased in many households.

'FREEDOM TO CREATE'

By contrast, as Hertz puts it, ``there are no wives in same-sex relationships'' because there are no gender roles to begin with, and this is one of the many benefits gay and lesbian people have realized beyond the prohibitions of society -- ``the freedom to create (our) own kind of marriage'' and to make individual decisions within each partnership about finances, property, children, and, if necessary, dissolution.

Hertz offers solid legal advice for same-sex couples, and throughout he maintains a sense of humor that keeps all the ironies and paradoxes intact. ``Why should straights be the only ones to have their unenforceable promise to love, honor and cherish trap them like houseflies in the web of law?'' he quotes Katha Pollitt of the Nation as saying.

``Marriage will not only open up to gay men and lesbians whole new vistas of guilt, frustration, claustrophobia, bewilderment, declining self-esteem, unfairness and sorrow, it will offer them the opportunity to prolong this misery by tormenting each other in court.''

Hertz also quotes former San Francisco writer Eric Marcus, whose ``Making History: The Strug gle for Gay and Lesbian Equal Rights'' has become something of a bible in gay studies programs, and who has co-written star bios with Greg Louganis and Rudy Galindo.

Now in his latest book, Together Forever: Gay and Lesbian Marriage (Anchor; 347 pages; $23.95), Marcus interviews 40 ``happy'' same-sex couples who have been together from nine to 50 years. It's intriguing to see how emotional needs often are met by the conventions of marriage, whether it's legal or not; but it's fascinating to see how these couples, because their relationships have never been ``sanctified'' by marriage, have found unconventional ways to handle differences.

SLUGGING IT OUT

Here, for example, are Pam and Lindsy, ``the most expressive, passionate, emphatic and volatile communicators I interviewed,'' Marcus writes. The two have been together 20 years and are apparently notorious in their Miami Beach community for yelling at each other in public and private places. On one occasion, after they had been taking martial-arts classes together, they got in an argument while visiting New York and found themselves ``slugging it out in Central Park.''

``Pam: She kicked me! I couldn't believe it . . .

``Lindsy: This is where gay people have that built-in advantage, because we've already had to learn to work through all kinds of things. If we were a straight couple, it's possible that at that point in our relationship, we would have decided to have a kid or something. ``Pam: Or a divorce . . . I think the best thing is to get it all out. It's a horrible thing to try to pretend the problem isn't there and try not to fight, because that's a really fake kind of peace.''

Sometimes not talking is the key. Marcus wasn't the only one who made the wrong assumption when he sat down with one long-term gay couple. ``I said, `You guys are monogamous, aren't you?' Simultaneously, one said yes and the other said no.'' Marcus later found out that the one who said yes had not been monogamous and the one who said no had been.

``What is too often lost in this part of the debate,'' writes Marcus, is ``that heterosexuals don't have to make a commitment to monogamy to get legally married.'' When gays and lesbians enter into the relationships of their own choosing, they shouldn't be judged, either.

Taking self-righteousness out of the marriage is also a theme in Recognizing Ourselves: Ceremonies of Lesbian and Gay Commitment by Ellen Lewin (Columbia University Press; 288 pages; $29.95). Here again the creativity of those who have been denied marriage often changes the lives of those around them.

For example, when Khadija Imani, who was ``raised in a working- class black community that viewed all white people, but especially Jews, with suspicion and hostility,'' pledged her commitment to Shulamith Cohen, whose family of Zionist Jews is ``on the verge of being `separatists,' '' much more is joined together, the families realize, than two people in love.

1999 San Francisco Chronicle Page Page C5

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