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04 February 2010

Definition of Marriage II


Just wanted to share with you a film which we saw last night, Tom Ford's A Single Man, based on Christopher Isherwood's novel. Artsy, yes. And, of course, I love the wordplay of the title.

This is one day in one man's life, a single day in a single man's life. But, just as one day is a culmination of an entire life, one has to question as society and the man himself questions, Has Professor George Falconer been single all his life? Or, has he only been single for a short time since the sudden death of Jim, his partner of 16 years?

There are many themes...isolation, an invisible minority, suburban L.A. life in the early 1960s..., but my main pick-up is when is a relationship real?

The sad, sad, saddest part was the telephone call from his partner's cousin, telling George of the accident and death. Jim's cousin tells George that he was calling illicitly, that Jim's parents had not wanted to notify George, and that the funeral service would be "for family only," basically discouraging George's attendance. And, Jim had taken both dogs with him home, including the female Smooth Fox Terrier as his mother was so fond of her. When George asks about the dogs, Jim's cousin says only that he knows of only one dog who had been with Jim in the car and had also died. He did not know about a second dog. And, thus, Jim's mother was able to keep a last living link to Jim and deny George the same. At least to continue after death what Jim's parents must have done in life -- totally ignore and discount an important part of their son's life -- is consistent if cruel policy.

To pound it home to us, there is a second instance of questioning George's relationship with Jim (they had no civil union option from 1946 to 1962). George's long-time friend Charlotte asks if he had never longed for "the real thing" -- a real marriage with wife and children? And, when he reacts angrily, she immediately apologizes, saying, she was just jealous of what George and Jim had. Even with a marriage which lasted 9 years, she had come to the realization that she had never had that kind of relationship, that no one had ever loved her the way Jim had loved George.

Okay, so, one can say, this is just a story! This is fiction! This is a film! This is art! This is not reality! I am not going into all that art copies life argument. I can only say that I wish it were not anywhere close to reality, but just because something is invisible does not mean it is not real.

The bond of marriage is sacred. But, what is so sacred about the word "marriage" that it becomes the exclusive province of one group, to be denied to another? When a bond is formed, what is the reason for denying it? Is fear the reason, as Professor Falconer suggests to his class, for persecution of a minority? How can allowing the words "gay" or"same-sex" residing next to "marriage" be dangerous? Do people against same-sex marriages believe such a term devalues the word and thus, the concept of "marriage"? I happen to believe it does. Why do we have to qualify a marriage? It like saying a "mixed" marriage, as if there is still something not quite right about a marriage between a black and a white, a Jew and a Christian, royalty and commoner.

Do we somehow have the right to believe that a relationship between a man and a woman is more real, more sacred and ultimately, more legitimate than one between a man and a man?

We can debate the civil and religious laws, but when it comes to human emotions, can we not be civil and invoke the Golden Rule? It should cease to amaze me, but does not, the extent of human cruelty. So, "for only family" can become the rallying cry of those who might claim and truly believe that a pet dog or cat or canary is more family than a lesbian daughter's wife or a gay son's "long-time companion," denying them the "right" to the hospital room, to the morgue, to the funeral service; to care, to claim, to grieve. Maybe this cruel denial of the existence of a real relationship is the reason why homosexuals and their advocates push so hard, beyond "civil union" and nothing short of "marriage."

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