Friday, November 07, 2008

(another chapter of The Brides of March)

The Reception of Love

The kids played upstairs, but came down frequently for food and drink, and to make sure they weren’t missing anything. Thinking in advance, we offered Duncan five bucks to keep the peace and ensure the upstairs didn’t become a disaster zone, or any of the kids get hurt. He did a good job, and without having to become a drill sergeant.

Though he spent the first part of the party telling various adults that we had President Bush to thank for our opportunity to marry, theorizing that Bush had so inflamed the elected officials of the county by his blatant prejudice that they were spurred to take action, and that Bush was making it obvious how wrong a ban on same-sex marriage was.

Dozens of friends came, some dressed up, and others dressed down, most of them with one day’s notice. The mood was exultant. My Aunt Maggie said afterward that it was an incredible group of people. They were thrilled we could get married. Over and over, we were told by friends that when they’d heard about Multnomah County granting marriage licenses to same-sex couples, they’d thought of us. Jannine’s self-described “red neck” cousin Tom, a man famous for his hazardous firework techniques, frequent injuries, and resemblance in size to a refrigerator, told us he didn’t think there were two people more meant to be married than we were.

Our neighbor, John, whose wife, Carol, was one of the first to call after the happy event, said he was thrilled for us.

John seems like an unlikely proponent of same-sex marriage. He is ex-military, a Boy Scout leader, probably a member of the NRA, and the same age as Jannine’s father, someone it would be easy to jump to conclusions about. He stood in our living room telling me how he and other leaders in the local scouting community were pushing to end what he called “the ridiculous” ban on gay participation in scouting. He was appalled at the prejudice and ignorance of the national policy. He told me he and others were working on making change from within.

Their fourteen year-old son, Thad, has spent time with us on almost every Christmas morning for a decade, confused in the early days at the strange lack of sports equipment in the haul, a Santa Clausal inequity he could barely fathom. Their daughter, Xan, was the first babysitter we trusted with our offspring, and Anna still has the bottle of sprinkle glitter she gave her for Christmas one year, to stop a three year-old Anna from raiding her own.

Duncan’s earliest childhood friend was touring the upstairs with her family. They’d been our first friends here, and their older daughter, Blayke, his first playmate, before they moved a decade ago. They’d recently returned to Portland with their younger daughter, Beren, as well, and were checking out the changes in our house, which, when they’d seen it last, had pink wall-to-wall carpeting downstairs, patchwork carpet upstairs, and blue bathrooms on both floors that made us wince.

Duncan’s fourth and fifth grade teachers, Diane and Chris, came giddily in the door, bearing a joint wedding present: Diane, a no-nonsense Brooklynite capable of tough love in the classroom, and Chris, a stylish character out of a picture book hybrid of Madeline and Eloise who never knew a fifth grader she didn’t like. They were beaming.

There is something vulnerable about having your kid’s teachers in your house, as if they have a window into your world they didn’t before, or as if suddenly you are the child again, and they, the adults. Though these women are more than good teachers, they are good friends.
Diane told us she doesn’t get this whole opposition to same-sex marriage thing. She and Chris both reiterated, if we’re good parents, who cares what gender we are? That’s what really counts. Why shouldn’t we get married?

Before we had kids, school had been one of our most constant concerns. Would they be teased? Would their teachers support them? Would the school accept and support our family? Twelve years into lesbian parenting, so far so good. I interviewed our vice-principal for an article last year, and he thought gay and lesbian parents were simply no big deal anymore.

Anna’s guitar teacher, Dan, and his family came, thrilled that our county did something right for a change. He and his wife, Fran, are frighteningly well-informed, and were as excited about this local example of equality as any same-sex couple could be.

Out on the deck were four-fifths of the Manzi clan, an east coast family who have pointed out to us frequently that same-sex couples aren’t the only ones to face difficulties when they fall in love, and assure us that combining an Irish Catholic woman with an Italian Catholic man can be just as problematic in the in-law department as any lesbian couple might encounter. But they agree that it’s ridiculous for us not to be able to marry (if they can), and are proud to be from Massachusetts, where marriage for same-sex partners was then imminent.

We got to know them when our exuberant and verbose sons became friends, despite the fact that their fear philosophies are in exact opposition to ours, and we’ve decided it will be at their house that our children will break their arms for the first time. They openly mock my safety queen status, and gleefully point out any ways that I allow potential harm into our children’s lives (“Look, nail polish remover! Why aren’t those table corners covered? Do you have combination locks on your poison cupboard?”), while assuring us that Graeme, as a third child, is protected by his very own guardian angel.

We had more people in our living room, our kitchen, and spilling onto our deck and front porch than we’d ever had before, and, as lesbians of a certain age, we’ve had some pretty big potlucks. Many of these friends are parents like us, trying to raise their kids the best way they can. We feel lucky to know them, amazed to think that ten years before, we hardly knew anyone in Portland.

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