Vows and votes

editorial notebook

October 18, 2008|By Michael Cross-Barnet

On a beautiful, clear October day, at a rustic ranch high above Silicon Valley in the Santa Cruz Mountains, a couple did what couples have so often done on beautiful, clear days: They got married.

People arrived from near and far for my cousin Cyndi's wedding. Her brother flew in from New England; my daughter and I were the Mid-Atlantic contingent. And from all over California came uncles, aunts, cousins, in-laws and friends by the dozen. They signed the katubah, a Jewish marriage contract. They recited their vows, each promising the other to "hold you in my heart as I hold you in my arms." They exchanged rings.

Then the bride kissed the bride, and Cyndi Morris and Kitt Caffall joined more than 10,000 same-sex couples who have married since June 17, when the California Supreme Court began allowing such weddings.

At the reception that followed, kids tugged uncomfortably at the collars of their white shirts. A toast was offered to the newlyweds. Plates were piled high with fresh California produce. There were photographs and more photographs. If something was strange about any of this, it was just how normal it all seemed.

Of course not everyone would agree with that view. And a vocal, organized group in California is hoping to put an end to such occasions on Nov. 4, when Californians will vote on whether to amend the state's constitution to deny same-sex couples the right to marry.

Denial of rights is what Proposition 8 is about, despite talk of "preserving marriage." Marriage in America may be endangered, but it is under no threat from those who want to marry. Some worry about what's best for children. Cyndi and Kitt's son, Charles, is surrounded by more caring relatives and friends than any child I've known.

But why marry? After 12 years of struggle and success to build a life together, what do a ceremony and a piece of paper add? For one thing, as Cyndi explains, public recognition can make a private commitment stronger: "It gave us a chance to share our relationship with family and friends, honor our community, and to thank them for the support that allows our relationship to flourish."

Despite California's tradition of tolerance, Proposition 8 might succeed. Its backers have the advantage in fundraising, and it is gaining support in the polls. Opponents of the measure say it would not apply retroactively; supporters disagree. The validity of Cyndi and Kitt's marriage could wind up in the courts.

The passage of Proposition 8 would be a pyrrhic victory at best. Massachusetts has had same-sex marriage for four years; Connecticut made it legal last week. Acceptance is on the rise, as more people get to know colleagues, neighbors and relatives who are gay, understand their desire for legally recognized marriage, and realize they have nothing to fear.

Twenty years from now, Cyndi thinks, we will look back at this time and wonder what all the fuss was about: "People have seen that the sky doesn't fall when two people make a commitment to one another and form a family." No, the sky didn't fall - and the ground didn't shake either, which was a greater concern. This was California, after all.

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