OPINION | Open Forum
by Brandon Panaligan
January 08, 2004
I've heard some truly absurd explanations for Britney Spears' marital excursion last weekend. One friend is convinced she was tired of being a virgin. Another fashions Britney as the ultimate fag hag, trying to lift her gay buddy out of his lonely holiday depression. This friend of mine imagines Britney's friend lamenting he might never get to toss the bouquet, especially with the Republicans getting all up in his business recently.
Being a fan of "Alias," my favorite theory is that Ms. Spears is actually a secret agent and that her now-annulled marriage in a Sin City chapel was a public relations coup designed by a sleek and sexy team in a fashionable underground bunker.
In this scenario, good ol' Dubya huddled with some cronies, like Secretary of War Rumsfeld, to figure out how on earth they were gonna keep us drunk, happy and shopping, totally forgetting the orange-colored terror alert, the grounding of at least 12 passenger flights and the deaths of hundreds of soldiers who are still fighting a war for freedom.
"How can we distract them?" good ol' Georgie asked, while signing yet another bill to curtail American liberties at home and political advisor Karl Rove was preparing an all-out assault on gay equality for the coming election. Let's not forget, gay and lesbian soldiers are fighting for the freedom of the Iraqis to pursue happiness when they do not have the same freedom at home.
At the White House, after tapping out a nice ditty on the piano, strategic grandmistress Condoleezza Rice remembered Agent Spears was on assignment in Las Vegas. The team got excited and ran the consumer-confidence numbers on endless scenarios. What if Agent Britney performed a free concert for the children outside the Venetian? Would toy sales balloon? Or what if she "overdosed on fun" at the Hard Rock? What could Agent Spears do to pull the nation's interest away from our continuing losses abroad and make us exercise those gift certificates stuffed by estranged relatives in our stockings?
"I know, I know," Condi yelped. "She can get married!"
I love a good story, but even I have to admit there is a fundamental problem with this Britney-as-agent scenario. In their battle to prevent gays and lesbians from marrying, conservative crusaders repeat again and again that the "institution" of marriage is sacred and must be protected. If she was a secret agent, Ms. Spears was definitely not acting under orders when she demonstrated how "sacred" heterosexual marriage is in modern America.
I cast no judgment on Ms. Spears or Mr. Alexander, nor do I intend to make anything more of their actions than what is self-evident -- marriage is not an institution, like a citadel, which can be attacked or defended. It is neither sacred nor profane. Rather, it is a state of mind and a covenant between two people.
Performing the rite of marriage does nothing to create love, and the phrases "I do" or "Till death do us part" are intrinsically no more profound than "Why not?" or "Till we done kicked the bucket." The ceremony and the agreements made within it only becomes sacred when two people in love give them meaning over time, maintaining their commitment to each other through all the hardship and heartache unimagined when standing at the altar.
To Britney and Jason, it was all in good fun. There are probably some hilarious pictures of Ms. Spears being led down the aisle by the bellman, who hopefully was wearing an outrageous Beefeater suit. I can hear the giggles of her friends when she met Jason at the front of the chapel. Everyone must have been in shock at how easy it was to mock, trash and defile such a sacred institution. But I forget -- civilization is only in danger when two men or two women in love get married. That must have made the assembled guests rest easy. I'm sure no one wanted to destroy the bedrock of Western civilization.
Ten years ago, Ross Perot colorfully warned that under the North American Free Trade Agreement we would all hear a sucking sound as jobs poured into Mexico. While that particular vacuum never materialized, it was replaced by the enormous sucking sound of logic leaving the heads of conservatives as they discuss gays. For example, in June Pennsylvania Senator Rick Santorum wrote, "Every civilization since the beginning of man has recognized the need for marriage. This country and healthy societies around the world give marriage special legal protection for a vital reason -- it is the institution that ensures the society's future through the upbringing of children."
Like a broken record, they go on and on about families, tradition, history and children, blaming the deterioration of every good thing in this society on foggy abstractions such as decadence, prurience and sin. They neglect to consider that families might fall apart when two parents, each working 40 hours a week, still cannot pay the bills, buy a home and afford health care, let alone spend time reading to their children.
Last November, the Christian Coalition released a condemnation of the Massachusetts court decision that opened the door for same-sex marriage in the Commonwealth. The Coalition urges "each Member of Congress to secure the future for our children and grandchildren. ... Each congressional candidate, each presidential candidate ... needs to take a clear stand on support for a constitutional amendment which will permanently protect marriage for generations to come."
Since gays and lesbians (don't even get me started on transgender folks) are apparently so dangerous to civilization itself, it seems prudent that we be rounded up immediately and sent to Guantanamo Bay, where we might be charged with nothing and be subjected to anyone's caprice. The reality is that anti-homosexual politics is just another war on an abstraction, like terror or drugs. It's a great distraction that gets Middle Americans scared, and thus more willing to write a check. Who doesn't want to defend civilization, after all? Like other abstract bogeymen, we're easy targets. We come out at night, we have different norms and, let's not forget, we like anal sex. It's easy to hate us, and most often we don't bite back.
It's no wonder half the country is blind and deaf to politics when political discourse is so removed from the concerns of the people. The media continues to fail as well. For example, CNN's news crawl reported Britney's marriage directly before a story about multiple soldiers dying from a grenade in Iraq. Columns (including this one) are being written about the significance of her wedding. Something is wrong with American priorities.
I am not calling marriage petty. To the contrary, someday, when I meet that man with whom I will build a beautiful, lasting relationship, I would like to affirm our commitment to each other in front of our families and friends and have that covenant affirmed and protected by the state. Together, we'll decide where, when and how.
There is nothing inherently demeaning to marriage when it happens at the drive-thru by an Elvis impersonator. The choice of venue could be an inside joke, or it could be the first stop on a lifetime of marital bliss, a commitment made with smiles and laughter without the pomp and bleeding wallets a traditional ceremony might cost.
In order to bring marriage out of the gutter, where forces such as reality TV, Jerry Springer and endless divorces have dragged it, we must remember that marriage is more than a piece of paper. It is about intention. It is about sacrifice. It is about commitment. And more than anything, it is about love. With those principles in mind, with or without the state's sanction, tens of thousands of queer couples across the country are already married, with more joining every day. Those commitments deserve equality, respect and legal protection.
This is going to be a pivotal year in the struggle for our freedom. Even with friends like Britney, we are certain to lose unless we wake up and fight seriously.