In Washington area, gays' new right stirs up old conflicts
On the first day same-sex weddings were held in the District, Dustin Rhodes could barely stomach the outpouring of matrimonial enthusiasm: the joyful couples exchanging vows in front of family, friends and colleagues, with all the flowers, cake and flash photography that come with the show.
"It's so personally revolting to me," said Rhodes, 36, who has been in a committed relationship with a man for 13 years.
"I'd rather see marriage abolished than see me married," he said as he ate lunch in a Columbia Heights cafe with his partner, Bray Creech. "The materialism of it, what I perceive as kind of a narcissism. Like all the money and decoration. . . . I have no interest in having a performance, which to me is what weddings are."
Creech, 33, got a faraway look on his face. "I would do it," he said, with a little smile of resignation that comes with years of losing the same argument. "You get all those gifts; that would be so nice. I have no problem with the performance part of it."
Many same-sex couples who rushed to make history this week by marrying in the District cited reasons such as spousal benefits, inheritance and hospital visitation rights, and greater societal legitimacy. But for some couples, the option to legally marry has raised a thorny issue -- to wed or not -- that had long remained safely in the realm of the hypothetical. For those who can't agree on whether to tie the knot, the new horizons have stirred up old conflicts.
"You don't know to wish for something when it's so far off," said a 45-year-old lesbian in Frederick, who did not want to be named out of concern for the effect it could have on her employer. She would like to marry, but her partner of 13 years doesn't want to.
In the past, getting married "wasn't in the global gay conversation, but all of a sudden it comes home," she said. "Little by little, it becomes closer: First you can go to Denmark to get married; then you can go to Canada; then you can go to Vermont. And now all of a sudden you can go to D.C." and have the marriage recognized in Maryland. "So all of a sudden, this pie in the sky became a choice for us, and having a choice, you have to evaluate your priorities, and the closer it came, the more we've been talking about it."
A number of other couples they know are having the same argument, she added.
As with heterosexual couples, the reasons for one same-sex partner balking are myriad. Some simply aren't ready to commit; others refuse to consider marrying until the right is extended nationwide and includes federal benefits. Some say that although they committed to their partners long ago in their hearts, they oppose the idea of marriage as an institution -- especially because it is one that so often collapses.
"I'm not against gay marriage in any way, shape or form, but having been married before, I think you legitimately have concerns about the failure of marriage in general for the majority of people," said Nash Blain, 43, a lawyer in Harpers Ferry, W.Va., who was married to a man for eight years before she and Marla Seymour, 57, a bookseller, got together 13 years ago.
Blain said she can think of few happy marriages, and she still chafes at the memory of receiving letters addressed to "Mr. and Mrs." followed by her husband's name. "I think it's very hard not to have some diminishment of each person occur."
An outdated norm?
Why, some wonder, would anyone want to fit into that cracked mold?