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More Wedded Bliss

Brian Jewell is right when he notes in his Bay Windows article, The bliss off, the Peabody Essex Museum “Wedded Bliss” exhibit doesn’t explicitly address same-sex marriage. Nonetheless, it does an exceptional job of including art that both celebrates and critiques this central social institution. One of my favorites is a piece by Robert Boyd called “Cake Cutter,” in which a large knife is wielded to hack apart bride and groom wedding toppers. With the white bride and groom lying lifeless by the wedding cake, viewers are invited to think about all those who are excluded from the happy white wedding images that are so common in our culture. That made me think about what it meant to have been newly invited to the wedding party. What has changed for our community in Massachusetts–and now in California? Here’s a little of what I said at the museum on June 26:

Whether we are conformists or rebels, we cannot escape the importance of marriage to our society.  Thus it should be no surprise that gay men and lesbians have finally forced open that once tightly closed door. Being denied the social legitimacy and material benefits of marriage hurt—it hurt our self-esteem, it subjected us to psychological and sometimes physical violence, it threatened our relationships to partners and children. Marriage is no small matter.  

In Massachusetts, after four years of same-sex marriage, we can see the results of broadening the definition of marriage. Same-sex couples and their children have far more legitimacy as “families,” accepted by their communities (whether neighbors, school teachers, hospital personnel, car mechanics, or city clerks) in ways that gay and lesbian people in other parts of the country can hardly imagine. As our friend Steven Galante explained so eloquently in our book Courting Equality, “When marriage was made legal, it relieved people of their moral struggle with this particular issue. It allowed them to follow their hearts, their best instincts, and embrace our family.”

That embrace has been very important to LGBT families. But it is also important to remember, that as we move from the margin to the center, we can wrap ourselves in the romanticized commercialism of the white wedding industry or we can unpack the contradictions as many of the artists do in the Wedded Bliss exhibit.

Karen Kahn
July 6, 2008 

The bliss off
Brian Jewell
arts writer
Wednesday Jul 2, 2008

Sandy Skoglund’s faintly ominous
Sandy Skoglund’s faintly ominous
“The Wedding” provoked much discussion.   

While enjoying the beautiful Wedded Bliss exhibit at The Peabody Essex Museum, it is hard not to notice that something is missing. A survey of weddings as artistic inspiration, the exhibit gathers together both art inspired by marriage and objects associated with marriage (such as American wedding dresses and Japanese furoshiki). As the Museum’s Education Director, Peggy Fogelman, explained at a panel discussion last week, the exhibition explores courtship and weddings “across cultures, across centuries, and across lifestyles.”Yet same-sex relationships and marriage equality are all but ignored. Sharp-eyed viewers will spot a few gay couples in a video montage of wedding imagery, and a copy of Courting Equality, a chronicle of the journey to the country’s first same-sex marriages, on a table with other books about marriage. The biggest innovation in marriage since at least The Divorce Act of 1857 is given less attention than a handful of contemporary critiques of heterosexual marriage, and a couple of humorous nods to divorce. It’s a strange omission for an exhibit whose breadth reminds viewers that marriage rituals and traditions are constantly evolving. Never mind the fact that the country’s first same-sex civil marriages took place right here in Massachusetts.On June 26, the Peabody Essex addressed this omission with a screening of the film The Gay Marriage Thing and a panel discussion on same-sex marriage. Read the rest of this article.

Gay Wedded Bliss at the PEM

by Pat Gozemba

Karen and I had a great time at the Peabody Essex Museum in Salem on a panel focused on same-sex marriage that was part of the educational program of the beautiful exhibit “Wedded Bliss.” Here’s what The Salem News had to say about the panel.
Expert panel discusses same-sex marriage
By Joe O’Connell
June 27, 2008 05:45 am

SALEM — A documentary film followed by a panel discussion on same-sex marriages was held last night at the Peabody Essex Museum as part of the ongoing “Wedding Bliss” exhibit.
    The event was called to look at not only the events that led up to Massachusetts’ decision to allow same-sex marriages, but also at the effects that the landmark vote has had on our culture four years later.
    Close to 60 people came to view “The Gay Marriage Thing,” a documentary from 2005 by Stephanie Higgins. The film followed a gay couple, Lorre Fritchy and Gayle Green, as they prepared for the state’s decision and ultimately their wedding. It showed views from both pro- and anti-gay marriage individuals.
    The panel discussion that followed included Massachusetts state Rep. Byron Rushing, who helped pioneer the bill that allowed same-sex marriage in Massachusetts. He was joined by Chrys Ingraham, who wrote “White Weddings: Romancing Heterosexuality in Popular Culture,” and is chairwoman of the sociology department at SUNY-Purchase.
    Karen Kahn and Patricia Gozemba, a married couple from Salem, were also on the panel. They authored a book “Courting Equality,” which profiled numerous same-sex marriages in Massachusetts.
    Robin Abrahams, an advice columnist for the Boston Globe, moderated the discussion.
    Here is an account of some of the topics touched upon:
    What is the role of visuals in a wedding?
Gozemba: “Using all those photos in our book made the ordinary extraordinary. Photos would just make it easier to see what a gay marriage would look like.”
Ingraham: “I think that the pictures in your book, they normalize an intensely private affair.”
    What is the relationship between marriages and weddings?
Ingraham: “Weddings are the rituals that signal the readiness for marriage.”
Abrahams: “Weddings are the confirmation of a relationship that already exists.”
    What are ways to counter prejudice that is based on disgust?
Rushing: “I believe the disgust comes out of prejudice. We need the trendsetters to change the trend.”
    With marriages being so bride-oriented, what effect will that have on marriages with two men?
Abrahams: “Every wedding is a gay wedding.”
    When the words, “The power invested in me by the Commonwealth of Massachusetts” are said, to what extent is that a personal or social change?
Gozemba: “It makes a huge political difference. It was not just a spiritual moment, but a political one, too.”
Kahn: “When you go through that ritual, it changes you.”
Copyright © 1999-2008 cnhi, inc.

Gay Marriage: What a Difference a Governor Can Make


Gov. Deval Patrick, Katherine Patrick, Diane Patrick march in Pride

What a Difference a Governor Can Make
by Patricia A. Gozemba
Bay Windows Contributor
Thursday Jun 19, 2008

The First Family of Massachusetts raised the celebratory level of the 2008 Pride Parade in Boston to dizzying new levels. During Pride Week, the Patrick family showed enormous grace, leadership, and love as the political met the personal. In a vacuum of national leadership on marriage equality, governors, and sometimes their families, can and must lead the way.


On June 9, 2007, Governor Deval Patrick made history when he became the first sitting governor to march in a Gay Pride parade. His youngest daughter, Katherine, joined him. As they marched up Beacon Street past the State House, the crowds cheered wildly. MORE

Gay Marriage in California!

Day One
Guest Blogger: Lisa Berg


Beverly Hills District Office of the Los Angeles County Registrar Recorder/County Clerk

It was amazing. It was exciting. It was history! I went to the Beverly Hills District Office of the L.A. County Registrar Recorders office to be a part of the very first day that any homosexual couples could actually apply for and legally receive a marriage license. It was surreal to see how many people felt free to proclaim their love in the sunshine, free of fear. I grew up in a time when a public display of affection by lesbians or gay men was an invitation to violence. There was no such fear today. The mood in the building was positively giddy. There were dozens of couples waiting patiently in line to be a part of this historic day. Here are just a few of the incredible people I met today…


Scott and Gary were the first two men I ran into this morning. They’ve been together for nine years now and Scott is beside himself with excitement about today’s nuptials. When I ask what the social atmosphere was like for them when they first realized they were gay Scott answers by saying that Gary’s father is a Southern Baptist Minister. They immediately bring it back to present day and tell me that they have 2 young sons at home that are one and three years old and they are so excited to be able to be married for themselves and for the boys.

In line behind Scott and Gary were Charley and Mark. They’ve been partners for fourteen years. They become fast friends with Scott and Gary and another couple waiting to get married. The six of them decide to be official witnesses for each other. After the three marriages take place they exchange email addresses and make plans to get together later in the day.


Charley and Mark

I then met two youngsters, Errica and Oshea. They have been a couple for one and a half years and are here to make it permanent. They were a reminder to me of what the County Clerk probably sees most on any other day – young lovers making a lifelong commitment. In retrospect, unlike Errica and Oshea, most of those waiting in line have been waiting for this for most of their lives… couples like Becky and Natasha.


Oshea and Errica

Becky and Natasha have been partners for twelve years now and they seem relieved to finally be able to be considered equal in the eyes of the law. I spoke at length with Becky who said she never thought she would see this day in her lifetime. She also expressed a deep respect for the Supreme Court for the courage of their decision. When I asked what it was like for them when they first realized their orientation, Becky said, “There were no role models back then.” Then, referring to the coverage of the marriage of Del Martin and Phyllis Lyon on the news yesterday, Becky commented, “To see a 55 year relationship finally being honored for what it is, was inspiring.” I ask if they will marry today. They say their plans are to marry on August 2nd since that is their anniversary date, but they wanted to be here to get their license today.


Natasha and Becky

As I talked to others in the room I met David and Jim. They have been registered domestic partners for 7 years, but they have been life partners for thirty seven years! When I asked what this means to them to be able to marry Jim told me, “Nothing. It doesn’t mean anything.” Confused I asked then why were they doing it. He said they have to…for financial reasons. You see, after 37 years together they are looking for some added financial security that comes with the marriage certificate. It (obviously) doesn’t change anything about their emotional relationship or their commitment to each other. What it does change, in Jim’s words, is that they are no longer second class citizens.


David and Jim

Noticeably absent from the scene today was any opposition displays. No picketers, no banners, no demonstrations, no negative displays of any kind. Maybe we got lucky or maybe they chose a different location. No matter. I don’t think there was anything that could have dampened the spirits of the people here today. I’m so glad I was able to be in the midst of history in the making. As I write this my partner and I have already applied for our license with plans to marry on September 1st to commemorate the 29th anniversary of our first commitment ceremony.

See the June 3 blog entry below, “Marriage–Again–New Photos,” for photos of Lisa and her partner!

California Overturns Same-Sex Marriage Ban

In a historic ruling, today the California Supreme Court ruled that California’s separate but equal system of relationship recognition is unconstitutional. California grants the rights and benefits of marriage to same-sex couples under its domestic partnership law. The word “marriage” however has been reserved for heterosexual couples. Now California joins Massachusetts, granting marriage equality to same-sex couples and their families. Read the full decision.

Evangelicals Lie About Gay Marriage

James Dobson’s Focus on the Family, a right-wing evangelical group, figures that it has enough power and money that it can lie and get away with it. To a certain extent it is true. One of his so-called “researchers,” Glenn Stanton, released a paper in early March 2008 distorting the American Anthropological Association’s (AAA) stance on marriage.

In the release, Stanton, an employee of Focus in the Family who does not identify himself as an anthropologist, claims “a family is a unit that draws from the two types of humanity, male and female.” He also states that there is a clear consensus among anthropologists on this definition. What a whopper. Check out what the AAA has to say about his position.

Stanton is not a new face to those of us in Massachusetts who had to defend our families against his ersatz research at the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court in the ultimately victorious 2003 Goodridge case that granted marriage equality. We also came up against a lot of his unsubstantiated research that was distributed by the Massachusetts Family Institute, during subsequent legislative struggles to preserve marriage equality.

When you see Glenn Stanton cited as the “expert,” vet the research–thoroughly. He’s more creative writer than researcher.

California Marriage Equality–“How Long?”

Martin Luther King, Jr. repeatedly asked, “How long?” How long until justice will come?

Just so our gay marriage allies in California like Molly McKay and Davina Kotulski, a couple for 12 years and activists for 10 years on this issue, continue their fight for the civil right of marriage.

King, an inveterate worker in the struggle for justice, persisted doggedly in the face of daunting odds. McKay and Kotulski and their allies in Marriage Equality USA now focus their energies on the California Supreme Court to seek justice. McKay and Kotulski were at the court for the historic argument on March 4, 2008 as were John Lewis and Stuart Gaffney, a couple for over 20 years.

Gaffney explained to interviewers that his interracial parents had to rely on the same court over 60 years ago to be allowed to marry. Now he and his partner Lewis hope the court will grant them the same civil right to marry that it granted to his parents.

The California legislature has voted for marriage equality twice. Twice the governor has vetoed the bill. Couples will not have to continue asking “How long” forever. The court must rule within 90 days. Not long.

Ellen, Murder, and Love in California

My point—and I have one—is that there is a connection between murder and love in the current highly charged culture war going on in California around the issue of marriage equality. Ellen almost makes the point.


Today the CA Supreme Court will hear a landmark case that seeks to bring marriage equality to millions of the state’s LGBT citizens. On February 12, 2008, 15 year-old Larry King of Oxnard, CA was murdered by a fellow eighth grader, Brandon, whom he asked to be his Valentine. My argument seems like a leap, but stay with me.


Ellen DeGeneres spoke up about Larry’s murder on her Leap Year Show. 


Millions of Ellen’s fans watched her thoughtful commentary on Larry’s murder, and over 137,000 have caught it on YouTube. Her arguments prompted over 840 viewers to write a comment on the YouTube site and 14 others to post video responses. Thousands then watch those videos. Well, you get it, the multiplier effect. When Ellen speaks, millions of fans listen and studio audiences go wild. A very good thing.


Ellen talks about the seeds of violence against gay people: punch lines in comedy monologues, gay jokes, verbal and physical abuse that can escalate into murder. I call it The Violence Escalator (see below). Very important information. Had she taken note of the current anti-gay marriage climate that is being whipped up in CA, folks might have made one more important connection. Climates of hate breed violence.


Today in California’s highest court, the Alliance Defense Fund and their ilk will argue that gay people are not worthy of marriage equality. For months, paid signature-gatherers funded by anti-marriage equality groups such as the Colorado-based Focus on the Family and the Virginia-based National Organization for Marriage have been all over California spreading the word of hate against gay people. In shopping centers, outside movie theatres, near coffee shops, the public is learning that they can stand up for prejudice and hate by signing the ballot petition for the November 2008 election to put marriage equality discrimination into the California constitution.


While I’m grateful to Ellen for what she did say, I wish that she had made that last connection: bigots are actively stirring up hate in California. In a climate of hate, innocent kids like Larry get murdered because they think that they are as free to love as everyone else. ~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

The Violence EscalatorViolence starts small but can escalate steadily and rapidly. Here are some of the steps: 

STEP 1 Jokes that disparage classes of people (i.e. women, lesbians, people of color)

STEP 2 Slurs that demean (i.e. “fag,” “bitch,” “gook”)

STEP 3 Threats and blackmail

STEP 4 Bullying that becomes physical

STEP 5 Psychological threats and bullying

STEP 6 Physical violence

STEP 7 Murder

Florida Fairytale or Tale of Terror?

Courting Equality Draft a constitutional amendment that is divisive and sweeping in its possibilities for endangering committed and established relationships of all Floridians, straight and gay, and call it the “Florida Marriage Protection Amendment.” Make sure that it’s ambiguous enough to ultimately be able to do away with domestic partnerships that are recognized in a number of Florida municipalities. Use seemingly transparent language, “Inasmuch as marriage is the legal union of only one man and one woman as husband and wife, no other legal union that is treated as marriage or the substantial equivalent thereof shall be valid or recognized.” Consider the legal arguments that can be hung on “substantial equivalent.”

Just pretend that the amendment is aimed only at preventing the marriage equality of same-sex couples and that it is vitally needed. Posture that the 1997 Florida Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) statute is not solid enough to prevent “activist” judges from undoing it. Keep up the pretense for four years as you gather the requisite 611,009 signatures to place the amendment on the November 2008 ballot. When you get 612,192 signatures by late December 2007, weeks before the February 1, 2008 deadline, hold a press conference in Orlando and announce it with fanfare. More

Thank You, Mary Bonauto and GLAD

Thank You, Mary Bonauto and GLAD for Four Years of Equality!


Four years ago today at a press conference in Boston, on November 18, 2003, Mary Bonauto of Gay Lesbian Advocates&Defenders and the Goodridge plaintiffs taught me an important lesson in American democracy. Their visionary leadership and commitment made me see that marriage equality for LGBT families is an issue of democracy, a fundamental civil right. I had not seen it that way. Marriage was not on my political agenda. I’m a convert now married to Karen Kahn.

If my friend Marilyn Humphries, Bay Windows lead photographer, had not neglected to bring her largest photo flash card in to Boston that day, I might have missed the historic press conference. I got the job of fetching the flash card from Marilyn’s house and schlepping it to the Omni Parker Hotel. I stayed for the press conference. A year and a half later, Karen Kahn and I would begin writing a book featuring Marilyn’s photographs, Courting Equality: A Documentary History of America’s First Legal Same-Sex Marriages (Beacon Press, 2007).

Here’s part of what we said in the book about Nov. 18, 2003:

The Marriage Victory Press Conference

            On the walk over to the Omni Parker House Hotel, Bonauto and the plaintiffs had TV, radio, and print media trailing them and jockeying for the best shots and sound bites. The proud smiles on the faces of the plaintiffs told it all. Bonauto began the press conference. “Wow this is a very, very big day; it’s obviously a historic day . . . because finally all families in the Commonwealth of Massachusetts will have the opportunity to be equal families under the law.” With her voice ringing with conviction, Bonauto gave pause, “A court finally had the courage to say that this really is an issue about human equality and human dignity, and it’s time that the government treat these people fairly.”

            Continuing her effort to ensure that Massachusetts did not adopt civil unions, Bonauto clearly asserted her understanding of the ruling: “The issue in this case was whether or not it was constitutional to exclude same-sex couples from civil, legal, governmental marriages as well as all the protections that flow from that. That’s what the court ruled on today. It didn’t rule on a parallel system.” Bonauto then insisted that the plaintiffs be allowed to speak.

Protections of Marriage

            Julie Goodridge pointed out that the court affirmed what they had always felt: “We are a couple that is worthy of the protections of marriage, and that after 16 and a half years Hillary and I are finally going to be able to get married and protect our family.”

            Gary Chalmers, with Rich Linnell at his side, told the assembled press, “My partner of 15 years, finally after today, will be my official spouse come June. . . . We’ll finally be able to have health insurance and so many other legal benefits we need to keep our family safe and secure.”

Marriage as a Civil Right

            Poignantly, Wilson and Smith, both African American, noted the important civil rights dimension of the decision. Wilson smiled as he asserted, “It means I’m a full citizen with all the rights of a citizen.” Expanding on that point, Smith insisted, “The struggle for people to be treated equal is a long one, and it continues, and it gives me chills to think about that connection.”

            Towards the end of the press conference, the media questioned Bonauto again about why civil unions would not satisfy her clients. Her concise reply had probably been on her mind since the
Vermont legislature invented civil unions. “We think the word ‘marriage’ is one of the important protections because everybody knows what it means.” A TV reporter then asked her if she would get married and the usually very businesslike Bonauto looked down and then with a broad grin looked up, “You betcha!”