By John Corvino
Recently my partner Mark and I attended the 32nd annual Hume Society conference in Toronto. (David Hume, an eighteenth-century Scottish philosopher, was the subject of my doctoral dissertation.) Mark has traveled with the Humeans before, and they welcome him warmly. On average, academics tend to be a progressive, gay-affirming bunch, and Hume scholars are especially so.
Indeed, perhaps too much so. By chance, the conference took place the week that Canada extended marriage to same-sex couples, thus becoming the fourth nation to do so (after the Netherlands, Belgium, and Spain). That legal watershed prompted several conference-goers to tell us, “You guys should get married! You guys should get married this weekend!”
Which made me want to reply, “Um, you guys should mind your own business.”
Let me be clear. It’s not that I don’t appreciate the outpouring of support. (I can’t imagine the Kantians would be so eager to see us tie the knot, and let’s not even mention the Thomists.) Nor do I have any misgivings about my commitment to Mark. But marriage is serious business, and it’s not the sort of thing one decides to do on a whim during business travel like, say, buying a new watch or shaving one’s moustache.
Besides, my mother would kill us if we eloped. I’m scared enough to tell her that we might not come home for Christmas this year; I can’t imagine telling her that I didn’t invite her and my Dad to our wedding.
So we did not get married that weekend in Toronto. But we have talked about it endlessly since.
Harry Truman once pined for a one-handed economist, so he could avoid being told, “On the one hand on the other hand.” When it comes to the marriage issue, I need both hands, both feet, and various other appendages in order to sort my thoughts.
On the one hand, a Canadian same-sex marriage would not be recognized here in the U.S. and I’m an American, dammit. On the other hand, Canadian marriages (which do not require Canadian residency) are recognized not only in Canada but also in all European Union countries. And such a marriage might serve as yet a further sign of our commitment to each other in the event of a legal crisis in this country.
So why not? We’ve taken other legal steps (powers of attorney, estate plans) to protect our relationship why not this one? Indeed, we could make it a pure formality, simply signing the papers as if we were going to renew our driver’s licenses.
But marriage is not like renewing driver’s licenses. Marriage is an historic institution. It’s deeply personal yet also social. It takes one’s private commitment and professes it publicly, before witnesses, with the state’s recognition (and a religious institution’s blessing, if one is so inclined). There are reasons why people make a big fuss over weddings, for that fuss helps to establish the web of expectation and support that makes marriage more than just a private partnership.
However (which hand am I on?), neither Mark nor I want a big fussy ceremony. We’ve lived together several years and consider ourselves married for all intents and purposes. So do our friends. We don’t need any more china, crystal, or blenders (I think we have four, somehow). A wedding now would seem redundant. If asked, “Do you take this man ?”, I’d want to reply, “Well, duh I already have. Haven’t you all been paying attention for the last several years?”
Snappy comebacks do not make for pleasant wedding ceremonies. And there’s another (not entirely unique) problem. If we were to marry, we’d want to keep things small: family and just a few close friends. But what about the close out-of-town friends? Excluding them on geographical grounds seems arbitrary and rude; including them makes this much more of a fuss than seems appropriate under the circumstances. “Dear Friends: we know that you know that we’re a committed couple, but now we want you to schlep out to Detroit so that we can make it official.” Oy.
We still haven’t decided.
Speaking of Detroit I’ve received more positive feedback on my “Loving Detroit” column than anything I’ve written this year. Thank you. I’ve said it before and I’ll keep saying it: if you don’t like where you live, there are three things you can do. Gripe about it. Move. Or make it better.
That column had no gay content (except that the event it described happened in a gay bar). Interestingly, the night after I submitted it the same thing happened again. A stranger in a bar said, “Where ya from?”, I said “Detroit,” and he smugly replied, “I’m sorry.” This time I shot back, “Don’t be, at least people there aren’t rude, the way you just were.” He nearly dropped his drink.