This coming Thanksgiving, on our 21st anniversary, my
life partner Gersh and I are getting married in Canada.
Over ten years ago, we sat down with our rabbi to
talk about getting married in our Detroit-suburb synagogue.
It's liberal, welcoming, with mixed marriages, inter-racial
couples, and gay and lesbian couples. The rabbi himself
is gay and fully committed to offering gay couples
the same respect and opportunities for connection
to and in their faith as straight ones.
He suggested we read Anita Diamant's "The New Jewish
Wedding" for ideas, and we did. But our excitement
started to fade as the wedding grew larger and larger
in our head with the addition of more and more family
members, friends, synagogue members. It soon seemed
like that dessert Woody Allen tries to beat down in
"Sleeper": out of control in every way.
I wrote some vows, but we didn't make much more progress
because two of our parents got sick, one died, and
it started to feel less vital, less pressing.
Over the following years, we co-raised two kids with
my partner's ex-wife, extensively remodeled our house,
traveled, wrote over a dozen books together and separately,
and marriage gradually dropped off our radar screen.
In a huge step forward, Michigan State University,
where Gersh taught, offered health benefits to gay
and lesbian partners of faculty and staff, and that
made our lives a lot more comfortable. Marriage receded
further as an imperative.
Changes in marriage law in Belgium, Holland and elsewhere
in Europe cheered us, and depressed us. Europe was
becoming more and more liberal while the U.S.--with
exceptions like Vermont and Massachusetts--drifted
to the right in ways that would have shocked my late
mother, who had survived the Nazis and the Communists
and loathed what Nixon tried doing to this country.
My parents had come to America in 1950 seeking freedom,
but as a gay man, as a liberal, I saw that country
becoming more oppressive. My own state of Michigan
passed a vile anti-gay marriage amendment and its
proponents are trying to strip health benefits from
gay partners who are state employees.
Meanwhile, our next door neighbor Canada was acknowledging
same-sex marriage in one province after another, and
Gersh said, "Let's get married there when it's legal
at a federal level."
That time has come.
For us, Canada has long been a second home. We're
just two hours from the border. We're members of the
Stratford Festival, North America's best repertoire
company, and have been visiting that town for almost
twenty years, sometimes four times a season. This
last year and half alone, we've also been to Vancouver,
Montreal, the Niagara wine country, and to Langdon
Hall, a country manor resort in Ontario. I breathe
more freely in Canada. Whatever its problems and quirks,
I'm not a lesser human being there, and the country
isn't dominated by right wing ideologues.
Stratford is a town whose streets and romantic river
seem etched in my dreams, We've even gotten to know
some of the actors there. It's a relaxed, lovely,
bucolic town where we typically see more plays in
a year than I could ever have seen in the New York
I grew up in. And many of them end up on Broadway
anyway, like Christopher Plummer's one-man show "Barrymore"
and his astonishing "King Lear," which we had front
row center seats for at Stratford.
Stratford was the obvious location for our marriage,
and the place was also obvious, The Church Restaurant,
where we've been enjoying fine dining for years. Planning
the dinner and the next day's post-wedding lunch have
been a blast, because we know the food will be perfect.
We've celebrated many birthdays at The Church, including
my 40th, when Gersh surprised me with something I'd
always wanted but had never mentioned: an emerald
ring. This birthstone gift was the prelude to a sumptuous
four-hour tasting menu that restaurant's owner had
designed just for us. Another year, for dessert, the
pastry chef from London made us spun-sugar apples
with cream piped in, after the manager assured him
we did not want something boring and safe. We have
our favorite table there and always feel walking in
is coming home--so what better place to be married?
All that was clear, but what about the legal aspects?
A quick search on-line brought up several web sites
explaining the steps in applying for a marriage license.
Perhaps the most helpful was All Seasons Wedding Bureau
(http://www.allseasonsweddings.com/), because that's
where I learned that Gersh would have to have his
divorce legally recognized by the Province of Ontario.
We needed a lawyer for that, and the B&B owners
in Stratford we have come to regard as good friends
gave us a name and an email address.
Within two weeks, the paperwork was moving ahead.
The Bureau helped us find an "officiant," someone
registered to perform marriages. We've met with him
twice now in Stratford to plan the wedding and rehearse
the brief ceremony we put together from quotes we
loved, quotes on the Bureau's web site where an array
of sample ceremonies is available, and text we found
there or wrote ourselves, including our favorite lines
from Walt Whitman's "Song of the Open Road":
I give you my hand!
I give you my love more precious than money,
I give you myself before preaching or law;
Will you give me yourself? Will you come travel
Shall we stick by each other as long as we live?"
of the Thanksgiving date, we knew many people wouldn't
be able to attend, but some of our closest friends
can make it, as can both sons and their wives. That's
really enough, because at this stage in our lives,
we're not looking for a circus. What we want to do
is be recognized as a legal couple that's as worthy
of acknowledgement as anyone else. If our own country
doesn't think we deserve it, then our neighbor of
twenty-five million citizens does, and that's not
just good enough, it's terrific. Getting married in
Stratford, we want to strike a blow against the empire
of hatred ruling our country. To celebrate our twenty-one
years together as we head into the next twenty-one,
and all the years after. We're thankful Canada is
giving us that opportunity