Monday, December 18, 2006

For Whom the Wedding Bell Tolls

800 words

By Kelly Jean Cogswell

Before I know it, I'll have the right to get down on one knee and ask my girlfriend Marina to marry me. Across the river in New Jersey, lawmakers just gave Jersey queers a separate but unequal civil union. Here in New York, gay marriage may come via Governor-elect Eliot Spitzer who promised to support the real deal, though he'll have to slip a bill past a mostly conservative legislature that would rather burn down every chapel in the state than see two dykes get hitched there.

At least we won't face opposition from presidential hopeful New York Senator Hillary Clinton who said she'd stay out of it, which is easy since a U.S. Senator like her doesn't actually have much to say in what happens back home.

I’m not popping the question yet. Sitting at the Ikea in New Jersey a few weeks ago, I could feel marriage closing in. Or to mix my metaphors, it passed before my eyes like your life is supposed to when you're staring death in the face.

I'd finished my shopping and slouched at the little café near the exit gobbling fifty cent hotdogs and drinking coffee. It seemed like only heterosexual couples went by, the whole range from those just moving in together, to newlyweds, the parents of three, and a handful of bitter old couples sniping at each other with their dentures bared.

At one point I thought that every pregnant woman in New Jersey was there, at least the skinny kind that works out until the last minute, and just grows a bowling ball down there in front.

Each usually had a nervous looking husband in tow, who had probably been all excited at first, but now that it was getting down to brass tacks and baby cribs had started to figure out that he was not just getting a kid, but a hand-over-fist consumer that'll spend eighteen, or twenty, or thirty years devouring that whole eating out, cd-buying, movie-going lifestyle he'd enjoyed after college.

Lift your eyes, you could see one of their possible futures, exhausted looking couples with two or three kids pulling at their clothes and grabbing the Christmas ornaments from the displays. At the café, one woman waiting for her husband to come back with the cinnamon rolls had dropped off to sleep at the little table, one hand on her kid napping in the stroller.

I know there's nothing in the marriage contract that says I have to pop any babies, but in my mind all of that fecundity is tied up somehow with my sense of marriage. Not so much the idea of children, but of expansion, webs weaving, weeds growing like kudzu, and filling up the house with rights and responsibilities.

I was at City Hall once to witness a marriage ceremony, and when the functionary in his shabby best suit started pronouncing the blessings of the state on the happy couple, I felt so claustrophobic I started to cry. Moved by my tears of what he thought was joy, the jaded guy droning the ceremony started to choke up, too.

I cried. He cried. Pink noses all around.

Since then, I hadn't thought about it much, in personal terms, anyway, until last year when I had to get a colonoscopy done at the hospital and the doctor said something along the lines of, "By the way, there's a slight risk of us ripping a chunk out of your intestines. Who do we call?"

And I thought of my mother appearing by my bedside, trying to ban Marina who after thirteen years is still nothing to me under the law. So I spent a couple of hundred dollars and two days with notaries doing paperwork that could've been taken care of with a five minute marriage at City Hall.

Imagine, five minutes, hundred of legal rights -- that we deserve, mind you. We should get the name, too. If we're equal, we're equal. We get the rights and the name. Let's not even call it gay, just plain old marriage.

The thing is, I'm not sure I'll do it even if the chance presents itself.

You can't legislate love, and some of the older couples I saw at Ikea were only together from inertia, a weariness of habit tied-up with all the shackles of law.

Sure, after so many years of a common life with Marina, I wouldn't mind some protection for us. But I'm afraid of what else the law does by "legitimizing" our relationship, cement-shoeing it until death or the state steps in and awards us divorce.

Now, sans marriage, it's all in our hands. The beginning of things and the end. Each day I wake up next to Marina is like saying, "I choose you. I choose you." It means something.

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