by Cooper Pfeene
On Wednesday March 15, 2006, the First Unitarian Universalist Church of Nashville, held a screening of “The Gay Marriage Thing,” a documentary directed by Stephanie Higgins. In what I’m told is typical Nashville fashion when it comes to gay social causes, and despite the fact that this showing had been well advertised in advance, there were maybe 30 people in attendance.
“The Gay Marriage Thing” is less than an hour long and follows a lesbian couple – Lorre and her partner Gayle – as they tentatively plan their wedding. The plans are tentative because the bulk of this footage was shot before May 17, 2004, the day when same sex couples were finally allowed to get marriage licenses in Massachusetts.
While I wished the documentary were balanced, also following a similar male couple, it’s clear that Higgins focused on this couple for both pragmatic and illustrative reasons: from the credits, Lorre and Gayle were involved in the filmmaking; but more importantly, the couple are an example of the devotion and responsibility heterosexist America often denies GLBTs because of stereotypes.
Much of the documentary is spent showing the dedication this lesbian couple shows in taking care of Lorre’s sole surviving great aunt, feisty and funny Auntie Germaine, as both women function, more or less, as primary caretakers. The point, though not subtle, is one that needs to be made – namely, that the “gay lifestyle” is often quite at odds with the idea many heterosexuals hold, is, actually, not a “lifestyle” per se as it is a “life” replete with the commitments and dependencies of a “traditional” family.
While well-intentioned, “The Gay Marriage Thing” as is, is more a rough draft than a finished piece. There are some rather poignant moments that are unfortunately marred by the rather heavy-handed chapter breaks of Fred Phelps-style protest footage with all the expected signs. Higgins probably wanted to show the “battle in Massachusetts,” as one person calls it, but these interludes become a skull-caving sledge hammer.
“The Gay Marriage Thing” does include interviews with two reverends, one affirming, the other what Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. would call a “moderate white” – or one “who prefers a negative peace which is the absence of tension to a positive of peace which is the presence of justice” (“Letter from Birmingham Jail”) – and a State Representative, Kathi-Anne Reinstein, who voted in favor of the amendment, but Higgins relies too much on the non-affirming reverend, Richard Weisenbach.
He’s opposed to gay marriage – but not gay people, no, no, no, he repeatedly avows – because “homosexual behavior is dangerous and unhealthy.” He also states, “Part of me sees the homosexual as victim of crossed wires in their [sic] childhood or difficult relations with their [sic] parents.”
Yes, if you can’t understand it, you can always pathologize it. As Southerners often say before insulting someone, “God bless her little heart, but…”
What’s missing from this documentary is a more diverse selection of voices from both sides of the debate. I can play devil’s advocate for all but a few things, so I can concede that not everyone who opposes extending marriage rights to us homosexuals is a religious zealot – a bigot, yes; uneducated, unreasoned, not always – and to paint that camp as being uniform in its opposition is careless at best and disingenuous at worst.
Carlton Smith, the affirming reverend, says that “God was missing from the debate.” This is a central issue, for to deny equal rights under the law is to establish a hierarchy of personal worth that reeks of Eugenics. When we deny the presence of God in others, we’re then able to commit atrocities of varying degrees with minimal moral qualms. A discussion of this aspect of the debate by religious scholars would have broadened the reach of the documentary.
What follows may read, though that’s not how it’s intended, as a backhanded compliment, but if you have a chance to see “The Gay Marriage Thing” you should. While imperfect, it’s both important and, at times, powerful. Hopefully, this screening will be repeated, as we Tennesseans face a November vote on a constitutional amendment that, should it pass, could saddle us with another discriminatory law for at least eight years. While the Tennessee Equality Project (T.E.P.) is working with various groups to defeat the proposed amendment, it needs all the help it can get.
The U.U.C. is willing to lend the movie out for home viewing parties. The First U.U. Church of Nashville can be contacted through its Web site: www.firstuunashville.org
T.E.P. can be contacted through its Web site: tnep.org.