by John Corvino
This past weekend I went to a big Italian wedding in New York. I grew up on Long Island, in a family where big Italian weddings are a staple. This one had all the usual trappings: loud music, louder relatives, tons of food.
This one, however, had two grooms.
If you were just passing through the reception hall, you might not have noticed. The male-female ratio was a bit high, but not by much: most of the 140 guests were from the grooms’ families. There was a “Nana” (Grandma) dressed in silver from head to toe: silver hair, silver dress, silver shoes. There were buxom aunts with too much makeup, uncles with big moustaches and perfectly slicked hair; excited mothers, proud fathers. Children ran about, yanking at their bows and neckties, their Sunday clothes increasingly askew as the day progressed. A DJ kept prodding people to dance, and no one–not even the waitstaff–batted an eye at the handful of same-sex couples swaying amidst the others.
At one point my partner leaned over to me and said, “This feels weird.”
I knew what he meant. And it wasn’t just the weirdness that accompanies all weddings: the gaudy pageantry; the forced intimacy with distant relatives and acquaintances; the cheesy running commentary from the DJ (“on this day, the most important day of their lives…”–ugh). It was the fact that, where we would normally be stealth attendees, we were suddenly the main event. This was not some newfangled “commitment ceremony”–it was a big, old-fashioned Italian wedding, with grandparents, aunts, uncles, cousins, nieces, nephews, godparents, and so on.
Most gays have a strange relationship with weddings. We are stereotypically (and often in fact) connected with their planning and execution, as florists, designers, musicians, priests, and so on. But as guests we are typically outsiders. We gather to celebrate love in a world that doesn’t want to hear about ours. We sit at tables with relatives and friends who may not know that we’re gay and may not like it if they do. We are warned not to “spoil things” by “making a scene.” So when the slow songs play, we dance with Nana. Like the guys on “Queer Eye,” we help plan others’ events and then retreat invisibly into the background. I’ve always found it rather cruel.
But not here. And that was weird…in a good way.
One of the grooms has been a friend of mine for 24 years. Bob and I attended high school together: Chaminade, an all-male Catholic prep school on Long Island. In every class we shared I sat behind him, not because of any particular bond between us, but because we sat alphabetically and his last name begins with “Cors”.
Lunch was the only time we could choose our seating partners, and there we sat together again, along with about a half-dozen other guys over the course of our four years there. At least five of those guys have turned out to be gay (another is a Catholic priest whose sexual orientation I’ve never bothered to ask). Go ahead and joke about “gaydar,” but somehow we found kindred spirits years before any of us dared to admit–to ourselves or others–our sexual orientation.
Had you told me then that decades later I would be attending the gay wedding of one of my lunch buddies, I would have prayed for you (I was very Catholic then; skepticism set in later). Had you added that I would be attending with my own male partner, I would have…well, I would have prayed for me. By then I was aware enough of my burgeoning gayness to fear it.
So it was particularly sweet for me, in the same week I received the invitation to our twenty-year high school reunion, to stand up with Bob’s family and friends and witness his wedding to Joe. It felt good to say “Congratulations” to his Mom and Dad in the receiving line–the same Mom and Dad who posed for graduation pictures with us two decades earlier. It was delightful (though a sobering reminder of my age) to meet his younger sister’s children, some of whom will soon be thinking about high school themselves.
The legal rights associated with marriage are important and necessary, but they are only part of the picture. Ultimately, the fight for marriage equality will be won only when our nanas and aunts and uncles and cousins and nieces and nephews see our marriages as the family-extending events that they are.
Dr. John Corvino teaches philosophy at Wayne State University in Detroit and writes bi-weekly for Between the Lines.