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Bliss and Bigotry
Published on Friday, February 27, 2004 by the New York Times
Bliss and Bigotry
by Bob Herbert
 

I wanted to see this threat to the very foundation of civilization close up.

"We met over a noodle kugel that I made that she liked," said Deborah Gar Reichman.

I nodded. Ms. Reichman broke into a wide smile and moved forward in her chair, warming to the topic: her engagement to Shelley Curnow.

I had dropped by their third-floor walk-up in the Carroll Gardens neighborhood of Brooklyn. Very frankly, the two women did not look like revolutionaries. "We're worrying about where to register and arguing with our parents over the guests they want to invite," Ms. Reichman said.

President Bush and others are adamant in their contention that allowing two men or two women to wed would imperil the institution of marriage, which Mr. Bush described as "the most fundamental institution of civilization." The hard-liners on this issue seem convinced that something awful will be unleashed if gays are allowed to walk down the aisle and exchange vows of everlasting love. On Tuesday the president said the nation "must enact a constitutional amendment to protect marriage in America."

I kept staring at Ms. Reichman and Ms. Curnow, trying to locate the threat that others perceive in relationships like theirs. But they never came across as menacing. They just looked happy.

"We've been together almost six years now," Ms. Reichman said. "We had big crushes on each other right from the beginning."

"We started planning our wedding a year ago," Ms. Curnow said.

"We had no idea there was any chance that it might be legal," Ms. Reichman said. "We just found a place that we really liked, and it happened to be in Massachusetts. Of course, we want to be legally married. But that issue was never going to stop us. We wanted to have a wedding. We wanted to celebrate with our family and friends the way all our other friends have done, and the way that's been a tradition in our families.

"My family and I wanted to have a Jewish ceremony, and Shelley's O.K. with that. We found a rabbi that's going to declare us married in the Jewish faith."

"The state sanction is kind of an extra layer, if you will," said Ms. Curnow. "If it doesn't happen, we'll still have our wedding."

In a world beset by ignorance and poverty and suffering, a world wracked with wars and terror attacks and ethnic strife of every kind, it seems crazy to be twisting ourselves into knots over the desire of good men and women to transcend the prison of themselves and affirm their love for another by marrying.

That kind of desire is a good thing, isn't it?

And those of you who are already married, tell the truth: the marriage of Deborah Reichman and Shelley Curnow (planned for May 22) won't make your marriage any weaker, will it?

We should rein in the combative rhetoric on this matter the references to the "defense" of marriage, the "protection" of the institution, the "threat" to civilization. No one is waging war on marriage. It's just the opposite. This is all about people who are longing to embrace it.

"People talk about the marriage penalty," said Mike Rutkowski, a resident of Yardley, Pa., who married Tim Harper 20 years ago in a ceremony that is not legally recognized. "I would gladly pay the marriage penalty for the benefits that go with it."

Mr. Rutkowski is a grant coordinator, and Mr. Harper is a biochemist. They met 22 years ago in a church choir.

The opponents of gay marriage are on the wrong side of history. The interests of civilization are not served by driving mature love underground. And the interests of the United States, which is supposed to be the quintessence of a free society, are not served by enshrining bigotry in law.

The other day I saw a photo on my assistant's computer screen of two women in wedding dresses: Joanna Tessler, a Manhattan real estate agent, and Nicoletta Sellas, a psychology intern at the Bronx Psychiatric Center. Their arms are raised high in the air, and they are dancing joyfully in the aftermath of their marriage ceremony in Miami on Valentine's Day. It's an absolutely beautiful photo. The wedding guests are laughing and applauding.

"Bliss" would have been an appropriate caption. Why anyone would want to turn the people in that picture into outlaws is beyond me.

Copyright 2004 The New York Times Company

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