Want to defend marriage? Target Trista and Ryan, not gays

December 08, 2003|By Cynthia Tucker

ATLANTA - Trista and Ryan are getting married.

If you don't know who they are, you're somehow immune to the contagion of popular culture. Trista Rehn and Ryan Sutter, the fiancM-i she chose in a televised competition, are all over the airwaves as ABC relentlessly promotes their romance-for-ratings. The network has inflated the nuptial into a three-part miniseries, which culminates Wednesday with the vows.

This marriage has about as much chance of survival as the first of these tasteless spectacles, the union of Who Wants to Marry a Millionaire groom Rick Rockwell and his bride, Darva Conger. It collapsed within days.

Many conservatives have denounced the prospect of gay marriage because, they say, it would make a mockery of traditional marriage. Nonsense. If the institution has been mocked, the blame should be laid firmly at the feet of heterosexuals, including conservative stalwarts such as Rupert Murdoch, whose Fox network pioneered these freak shows three years ago with the Rockwell-Conger stunt.

Since then, I've waited to hear conservative moralizers condemn the Rockwell-Conger clones as loudly as they do the prospect of gay marriage. I've listened for the harrumphs of William J. Bennett and the harangues of James C. Dobson.

So far, however, there has been little in the way of public opprobrium from the crowd that claims to police "family values." Apparently, those upright moralizers are less threatened by a publicity stunt that flouts the principles marriage is supposed to embody - a commitment of love and loyalty based on mutual respect and shared values - than they are by the idea of genuine love and commitment between two members of the same sex.

How can I be so sure Trista and Ryan don't share such a love? Having never met the (publicity) happy couple, I can't claim to know with absolute certainty. But I have strong doubts about this marriage.

As the star of a reality show called The Bachelorette, Ms. Rehn chose her husband-to-be from a group of strangers, all of whom she got to know in six weeks under the glare of TV cameras. Nothing could be less real, since all the contestants were performing. Indeed, many of the contestants on so-called reality shows are aspiring entertainers who are professionally cast.

A former cheerleader for the NBA's Miami Heat, Ms. Rehn is among those with Hollywood ambitions. As one of the contestants in ABC's first season of the wildly popular show The Bachelor, in which several women competed for the affections of one man, she was ultimately rejected by bachelor Alex Michel. (Here's another sign that the Trista-Ryan bond is made of tissue paper: She claimed to have been devastated by Mr. Michel's rejection - "I had developed really strong feelings for Alex," she said - and presumably would have married him, given the opportunity for a televised wedding. A few months later, she was proclaiming her love for Mr. Sutter.) After The Bachelor ended, she moved to Los Angeles to pursue a TV career.

She didn't have to wait long to hit the celebrity mother lode. When ABC decided to reverse the formula for The Bachelor, Ms. Rehn was offered the chance to choose one of several men competing for her affections. And she has milked every one of her 15 minutes.

With ABC paying them a million bucks for wedding filming rights, Ms. Rehn and Mr. Sutter will have enough money to ease their disappointment as their star fades and Ms. Rehn is reduced to celebrity boxing matches. But I doubt their marriage will survive the transition to has-beens.

Meanwhile, the conservative lobby has launched an all-out crusade to keep gay men and women from marrying partners to whom they are deeply committed - with whom they share cooking and cleaning, child-rearing and discipline, and the other routine stuff of real life. It is a very odd view of family values that is more troubled by gay marriage than the Trista-Ryan travesty.

Cynthia Tucker is editorial page editor for The Atlanta Journal-Constitution. Her column appears Mondays in The Sun.

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