Posted by: M. J. Arcangelini | May 2, 2015

A MODEST MARRIAGE PROPOSAL (for the bride, Laura Seelandt, 06/28/48-05/04/04)

This essay was written in the early oughts and published in 2004 in the anthology “I Do/I Don’t: Queers on Marriage” by Suspect Thoughts Press, edited by Greg Wharton and Ian Phillips. The anthology is available on Amazon and has a lot of other really good writing it. I remain honored to appear in its pages.

I am posting this to the blog now because this same bullshit procreation argument was trotted out again before the Supreme Court last Tuesday, April 28, 2015, and unfortunately I feel this piece remains relevant, in spite of the dated references (Hawaii, Prop 22, DOMA). It is my hope that some day, very soon, it will lose all relevance and become history.

*

I have long held the belief that one of the ways gay people naturally fit into their societies, one of the important functions we can fill, is as priests, shamans, etc. On July 4, 1999 I finally got my chance to act on that belief. I was asked to perform a wedding for two heterosexual friends who had first met in my home 8 years before. In order to legally to do this I went online and within minutes became an ordained minister of the Universal Life Church. I was now able to sign all the appropriate paperwork required by the government.

L&P wedding day2

Joe & Teresa, priest & priestess, after the ceremony (photo by Cathy Stanley)

I was working with a priestess, Teresa Von Braun, who had much more experience at such things than I, and the two of us met with the prospective bride and groom several times to put together exactly the kind of wedding they wanted (text at the bottom). We wrote our own text pulling in bits and pieces of things that were important to each of us. It would be spiritual without being religious. We even managed to work in sections from “Behold the Bridegrooms*,” the marriage ceremony James Broughton wrote for he and Joel Singer ‑ my friends liked the idea of using words originally written to unite two gay men in their own wedding.

For the ceremony I would wear a colorful jacket which had been hand sewn with raw silk and other fabrics by Gryphon Blackswan, an African‑American fashion designer, artist, writer, drag entertainer and friend who had died from AIDS several years earlier. Gryphon had really been into ritual and I could feel him smiling as I prepared to marry two people in one of his jackets. There would be a strain of queerness running through this straight wedding.

L&P wedding day

Penguin & Laura after the wedding ceremony, July 4, 1999

The ceremony was held outdoors in a redwood grove next to the Van Duzen river in Northern California. There were over 100 people in attendance, friends and family from both sides. I wasn’t entirely sure how some of them would react to what we were about to do and was trying to prepare for potential Christian indignation. To be on the safe side I did an invocation to Ganesh privately with the bride and groom before the ceremony itself.

Everything went according to plan. The four of us each performed his/her role and things moved along at a good clip so the attendees wouldn’t have a chance to get restless. Quickly we came to that part of the ceremony where I said, “And now, by the power invested in us…” and suddenly I felt something I’d never felt before and have not felt since. I almost stopped in mid‑sentence as I felt literally and abruptly vested with some kind of power. It was a physical sensation ‑ powerful, intimidating and frightening in its unexpectedness; joyous in the way it seized me so completely, like a psychic full‑body orgasm

As soon as possible after the ritual I hightailed it down to the river. I found a comfortable rock and took off my sandals. Stuck my feet in the cool water to ground myself and sat there trying to figure out what had just happened. I could still feel a remnant of the power resonating through me, though it had diminished greatly. Ultimately I could find no rational explanation. It seemed too intense to have simply been an anxiety attack ‑ besides, I know what those feel like. I found myself unable to reach any clear conclusion beyond calling it “magick” and letting go of it.

Later that afternoon I got the bride and groom alone for a moment. I told them what had happened and made it very clear to them that I hoped they had really wanted to be married because after what I’d experienced during that ceremony I was convinced that they really, really were. This had been way more than mere theater. They assured me that they did really, really want to be married, and that they had each felt the power too.

I went to sleep that night knowing I wanted that feeling inside me again. I decided that I would go out and perform more weddings right away (I have yet to do another one…. but I’m available). Beyond that, another thought formed: What had it felt like to be on the receiving end of that power rather than merely being the conduit? I suddenly couldn’t wait to meet Mr. Right so I could get married and find out. I wanted to feel that same power coursing through me and my beloved uniting us in ways we’d never be able to understand.

Meanwhile, over in Hawaii, it looked like that might become a possibility. A lower court had interpreted the Hawaiian constitution to outlaw discrimination of any kind ‑ including allowing people of the same sex to marry. This gave hope to many of us, while sending others into a tailspin of panic.

Less than a year after performing that wedding Pete Knight and the Christian right (sounding like a bad rock band) managed to get Prop 22 passed by a two‑thirds majority of my fellow Californians. This new law very simply said: “Only marriage between a man and a woman is valid or recognized in California.” I decided that, on a basic level, Prop 22 was a message from my neighbors & fellow citizens reminding me that I am not truly welcome here, but merely tolerated. It was a reinforcement of a sense of second class status and additional license to the marginally sane to continue and perhaps escalate their queer‑bashing and killing.

Gay marriage, which I’d never given much thought to, was suddenly a direct and emotional issue for me, especially since I was, by that time, in the kind of relationship that had me thinking wistfully along the lines of whatever might pass for my marriage options.

When discussion of Prop 22 came up before the election some of my heterosexual friends and acquaintances told me things like: “What’s the big deal? ‑ it has no real legal import.” Huh? Or, “Just ignore them and they’ll go away ‑ you people make way too much out of these things and it only feeds the nut cases.” Excuse me, but I’m the one the “nut cases” want to feed on, so forgive me if I’m a bit concerned.

My favorite comment was: “Don’t you understand that what you’re talking about here is a complete redefinition of marriage?” This from a friend, himself married several times, who was truly expecting me to agree with him. As near as I can see, marriage has been in a continuous process of redefinition for years, maybe centuries, mostly through the liberalization of divorce laws: same‑sex marriage is just a natural progression of the on‑going process of redefinition.

Marriage appeared to be a major dividing line among those who otherwise consider themselves tolerant and accepting. Many folks seem to support gay rights right up to that point, but then drop out saying something like: “But you have to admit ‑ marriage is supposed to be between a man and a woman for the purpose of having children.” And why do I have to admit that? Am I to ignore all that wonderful research John Boswell did and presented in his book “Same‑Sex Unions in Pre‑Modern Europe”?

One thought I’ve had out of all this is to take further the idea that marriage is solely for the purpose of procreating, play it out and see where it leads us. If the intent here is, as alleged, to promote and preserve “the family” then why not go all the way?

I hereby propose that marriage only be allowed between a man and a woman who actually procreate. They will be given a certain amount of time in which to produce offspring, and if they have not done so within that time period, the marriage will be annulled and they will lose all the benefits automatically associated therewith.

Marriage licenses would have expiration dates, just like a drivers license or a credit card. Proof of procreation (live birth) would have to be provided to the county clerk prior to the expiration date in order to make the marriage permanent. A certified birth certificate might do, accompanied by blood test or DNA results attesting to the fact that these two particular people really did produce this specific child. I suppose some kind of life span requirement would be needed as well. The child would have to survive for at least a year, or some other reasonable period of time in order to preserve the marriage.

What if the woman is pregnant but not yet delivered when the marriage expiration date arrives? A certified form filled out and signed by the ob/gyn attesting to the pregnancy under penalty of perjury will get an extension sufficient for the child to be born. After that, see above.

Adoption? Perhaps. Say your marriage is about to expire & you haven’t conceived yet, your only option to annulment could be adoption. But this does present a small problem: single people and same‑gendered couples can and have adopted children. Thus, it is questionable whether marriage is necessary to the adoption process.

What if a couple are trying really hard but it just won’t happen? Sworn affidavits from fertility clinics attesting to the fact that the couple are actively attempting to procreate could be used to delay an annulment. But such delays would have to be limited lest they be used by the hopelessly infertile to merely prolong the fruitless union in a mere charade of true marriage.

You say you want to live with your beloved but don’t want to have kids right away? No problem, just don’t get married until you’re ready to have a family – since it is asserted that “family,” as traditionally defined, is all marriage is about. You can live together, open joint bank accounts, draft mutually beneficial wills, execute Powers of Attorney for Health Care, hold property as joint tenants, and in all ways present yourselves as a couple ‑ you just can’t get married. It’s almost the same thing.

So that’s my proposal. No half‑baked lip service to tradition, no hedging, no discrimination: no marriages without provable, bonafide procreation.

Unfortunately this would mean that my friends’ marriage, the wedding I helped solemnize, would be annulled, since they are blissfully beyond their breeding years. I wonder if that would make them feel less married? Somehow I doubt it.

So, here we are, post‑Prop 22, post‑DOMA with same‑sex marriages having been performed in three states in clear defiance of the law, Massachusetts opening the floodgates**, and constitutional amendment proposals popping up like mushrooms on cow pies, and here’s what I’m thinking:

I do not need a government to tell me I’m in love or to validate any relationship I have. My beloved and I and our community, our natural, chosen and found family, can and will provide all the validation we need.

I believe that should the time come when I decide I want to marry I will feel that same power I felt on July 4, 1999 and no slug‑of‑rancid‑pond‑scum who thinks he’s got a direct line to Jesus, Allah, Jehovah or the pResident*** himself is going to be able to stop it. Such people will be defeated and shown as the ignorant and fearful relics they are.

I believe that we will ultimately prevail. I don’t have to become a priest in order to fit into my society. We and our relationships will be recognized by our society for who and what we are. When I look at the history of this country I see a long and noble movement toward the recognition of freedom for ALL people.

There have always been periods, like the one we may be living through now, where movement seems to be going backwards toward repression, but in the end justice and equality will prevail. I have to believe that. For me, there is no other acceptable option.

*

footnotes:

*This poem/ceremony can be found in James Broughton’s book “Ecstasies.”

**As of the date of posting this to my blog I believe there are 38 states, and the District of Columbia, where marriage equality has been achieved. The pending Supreme Court decision could either bring the remaining 12 states into the marriage equality fold or potentially invalidate marriage equality where it currently exists.

***“pResident” is a reference to George W. Bush whose family I believe had purchased the office of president for him with able assistance of a biased and illegal Supreme Court ruling in his favor. I felt therefore that he was not the true president but was instead merely a temporary resident of the White House. Thus my idiosyncratic capitalization.

*

MARRIAGE CEREMONY FOR LAURA AND PENGUIN, JULY 4, 1999

written by Laura, Penguin, Teresa & Joe

INVOCATION TO GANAPATI:

(before the ceremony)

You of the twisted trunk and the massive body, with the dazzle and light of millions of suns, lead us on a path that has no obstacles, no hindrances clearing the way in all that we do, ever and always.

1:45-2:00 (time will be flexible)

– Kent & Steve play acoustic music.

– Ushers bring people into the circle

2:00 – Kent and Steve stop playing music, then go into a special song.

– Teresa, Joe, Dan & Donna take their places in the circle.

– Penguin & Laura come down the steps, enter the circle.

2:05 – The song ends.

– After everyone is in the circle, the people at the four directions will position the benches to close in the circle.

Dan: The ceremony will begin.

Sam puts the rings on the table.

Donna takes flowers from Laura and puts them on the table.

OPENING STATEMENTS:

Joe: Somewhere in the course of Hamlet Shakespeare says: “There is a divinity that shapes our lives, rough hew them as we may.” Perhaps he was puzzling over the unexpected turns his own life had taken. I know I am certainly a bit puzzled to find myself standing here today.

I first met Laura in 1973, and Penguin in 1979. About 8 years ago the two of them met at my home, and now here we all are. So let us begin.

OPENING POEM

(Freely arranged and adapted from James Broughton)

Dearly beloved all,

may all be loved dearly here!

Love is the free play of the divine

and we are here to bring the divine

freely into play.

Divest yourself of grouch,

be intimate with cheer,

be generous with caress.

For here, a wedding shall be solemnized.

Laura and Penguin, these two standing before us,

have assembled us here in this forest temple,

beside the water and between the winds,

to share in their celebration of the

deep astonishments of divine grace.

They ask to be joined sacramentally to

the enravishments of their love.

Here are we gathered to surround two lovers

here are we gathered to witness a grace of souls

here are we partners to a boldness of heart

here we gather love to surround these lovers

Let us praise their fine audacity.

Let us praise their risk of happiness.

Let us salute the spirit of love

that brings Laura and Penguin into

this circle of family and friends assembled

in this place of wondrous beauty.

Teresa: We come together in a spirit of reverence and love to celebrate a truly joyous occasion.

I am here today…

Today is a day of hope and harmony. A day when songs and sermons inspire new beginnings. This is a time for trust and faith, a moment when poems and prayers speak of courage and commitment. Today we witness the beauty in giving and the bounty in giving endlessly. This day is signified by the uniting of couples and families in an age old ritual of balance and completion. For today we gather to join in matrimony Laura and Penguin.

Joe: Laura and Penguin wish to give thanks to each of you gathered here, as well as to those who are unable to be here today, and to all those who are no longer physically among us but who remain always alive in our hearts.

Ancestors, Grandparents and Parents, Aunts and Uncles, Brothers and Sisters, Nieces and Nephews, Children, Spouses of Children, Grandchildren and the Family of Friends who have provided constant and inspirational support: we might not be standing here today if any one of you had been missing from the lives of Penguin and Laura. So, on this day, which is among the happiest of their lives, Penguin and Laura thank you for being who you are and sharing your lives with them.

TERESA: CHARGE TO THE COUPLE

True marriage is not an act of possession, it is a symbol of infinite oneness. It is an ongoing process allowing each to reveal their faith, humanity, aspirations, talents and their love to one another. This fusion of two lives enhances the individuality of each partner as it creates a supple and richly woven union.

This marriage is an intimate sharing arising from deep and abiding love. A love that provides both the courage to stand apart and the willingness to stand together. A love that has created a solid and lasting foundation. This commitment will support you through all the changes that inevitably occur as you each continue to learn and grow. Into this partnership, this state of matrimony, Laura and Penguin come now to be wed.

JOE: Introduction to the Vows

These sacred vows serve as an affirmation of mutual love, unity and life itself. The faith of two persons who love each other transcends all time, all places and boundaries. Creation is made more complete and meaningful with this miracle of love and fulfillment.

The VOWS

Teresa: Do you, Laura, take Penguin to be your wedded husband, to love and honor him, to cherish him as he is, to support and inspire him on his own path of growth, and to be a loving wife from this day forward?

Laura: I do.

Joe: Do you, Penguin, take Laura to be your wedded wife, to love and honor her, to cherish her as she is, to support and inspire her on her own path of growth, and to be a loving husband from this day forward?

Penguin: I do.

Teresa: Laura, please repeat after me: I, Laura, take you, Penguin, to be my wedded husband, to share my life and love. I vow to accept you and enjoy you as my partner. I will do my best to nourish our love as the inspiration for everything we do.

Joe: Penguin, please repeat after me: I, Penguin, take you, Laura, to be my wedded wife, to share my life and love. I vow to accept you and enjoy you as my partner. I will do my best to nourish our love as the inspiration for everything we do.

Teresa: INTRO TO RING VOWS

The ring is an image of the cosmic marriage, the wedding of heaven and earth, strength and yielding, male and female – the circle of life. These rings are symbols of your vows joining the wholeness of each person with the other within the cosmic oneness in which we all dwell.

This act of giving and receiving rings reminds us that love itself is an act of giving and receiving, the greatest gift that life has to offer. These rings proclaim to all your love and commitment to each other.

Penguin: You are my beloved and my friend. With this ring I thee wed.

Laura: You are my beloved and my friend. With this ring I thee wed.

Joe: Love seeks to grow, to draw us out of our own ways into co-operative ways. Love expands us to greater awareness. Love calls us out of ourselves into the pleasure of giving to one another. Love never ceases. Love opens us up to the mysteries of a live well-lived together. This day represents the beginning of an adventure shared in love.

Teresa: CLOSING PRAYER

Let us join together in prayer. Infinite and Eternal Spirit with whom to be in conscious union is pure joy, may this man and woman always be conscious of Your divine and indwelling presence. May their pathway be recognized through the light of love, causing their lives to unfold in harmony, abundance, health and joy. May their home always radiate love, unity, well-being and happiness. May whoever they encounter be blessed by the love and harmony of this marriage.

Thank you for giving us this day and this wonderful gathering of friends and family.

May your peace be upon us all.

Joe: It is not a priest, priestess or minister who marry you. You are married through your own commitment, each to the other, and through the presence that dwells within you. Now Laura and Penguin, under the authority vested in us by the State of California, and through the power of the Holy Spirit, who performs every true marriage, we pronounce you husband and wife.

Teresa: Those whom God has joined together may be generously blessed forever. You may kiss each other.

Joe: Greet the newly married couple, Laura and Penguin, husband and wife.

Music begins (from “Powaquattsi”).

Dan: The reception and Wedding Feast will begin at 4:00 up at the cookhouse.

Donna: The bride and groom will greet everyone in the meadow.

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Responses

  1. You’re a wonderful writer, Joe, I’ve read some of you’re poetry too and appreciate your soulful vulnerability and courage!

    • Thank you, James! That’s very kind. I’m glad you enjoyed that piece. It is a little dated now, with marriage equality in all 50 states, but good to remember what things were like before.


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