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What's So Gay About Marriage? The Literary Record Is Grim

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When I grew up, the rap on gay people was that they were promiscuous, emotionally stunted and immature, fixated somewhere back in adolescence and had never grown up. Which meant that they were totally incapable of adult relationships -- i.e. marriage. "Homosexuals" were therefore unworthy of respect and deserving of contempt.

But what was so great about marriage anyway?

Sure, it was how romantic comedies ended, but I grew up with a very sour image of marriage, determined never to let the same fate pull me under.

My Holocaust survivor parents could argue like fiends, my father passive aggressively getting my mother to ignite. And boy could that Gemini explode! It didn't have to be about money or us kids or anything major at all. They once had a row over which dish to serve the green beans in when my brother's girlfriend was over for dinner. World War III was raging (in Yiddish) in the kitchen while the rest of us sat at the dining room table. My brother and I were unfazed, but his girlfriend was astonished when we told her what exactly was going on. "Have some more wine," I said. "It helps."

Reading American and world literature didn't improve my perspective on marriage. Everywhere you looked there was dissatisfaction and adultery in one classic novel after another: Anna Karenina, Madame Bovary, Effi Briest, Sister Carrie, The Great Gatsby and many, many more.

My all-time favorite novel, The Portrait of a Lady, was no exception to the rule that marriage was definitely a grim fate. The elderly Touchetts in that novel can't live together for more than a few days at a time, and the heroine, Isabel Archer, makes a completely disastrous marriage. She expects openness and understanding from Gilbert Osmond but instead finds dumbness, deafness, and suffocation. And that's on a good day.

D. H. Lawrence put it bluntly in Women in Love where Birkin grouses about "the world all in couples, each in its own little house, watching its own little interests, and stewing in its own little privacy--it's the most repulsive thing on earth." I can't recall a single good novel I've read -- classic, modern or contemporary -- that paints marriage as even mildly happy.

And yet here I am watching the world change via court rulings and legislative decisions, eagerly waiting with my partner of 26 years to see what happens next in the Prop 8 case, and what it means.

Chris Rock raised gay marriage in one of his routines a few years ago: "Why the fuck shouldn't gay people be as miserable as the rest of us?"

Why indeed? Give us the chance, let us feel your pain. It's not a bad price to pay if we get full citizenship and equal treatment under the law.

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