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Thursday, October 13, 2011

Pledging your troth

Thirty-five years ago today, Ms. Conroy and I pledged our troth to each other.

According to the Free (online) Dictionary, to pledge one's troth means:
"troth [trəʊθ]
n Archaic
1. a pledge or oath of fidelity, esp a betrothal
2. truth (esp in the phrase in troth)
3. loyalty; fidelity
[Old English trēowth; related to Old High German gitriuwida loyalty; see truth]
No, we were not "married". We made promises to each other of loyalty and fidelity and truth.

And, for 35 years, we have kept that pledge. Without the "benefit" - however you define that -  of marriage.

It has not been - is not, still - an easy thing to do. For a variety of reasons. Some of them personal. Others of them cultural.

We've co-parented - and continue to co-parent - six children. Five of them have graduated from college. With honors. Four have Master's Degrees. One is working on her doctorate. One is profoundly intellectually and physically challenged and lives in a sheltered group home.  One has died. Four are married. There have been no divorces. Two have given us five grandchildren.

We are all good citizens. We are all gainfully employed. Some of us own homes. One rents an apartment. We pay our bills and our taxes. We all enjoy good health and we have good health insurance plans.

Ms. Conroy and I have a domestic partnership in NJ and will have a civil union in DE when it becomes legal here in January, 2012.

We will do that because it gives our family some measure of protection. Legally. Financially.

But, it's not the "troth".

Which is going to be difficult for some of you to hear.  Hear me clearly: this is not an argument against marriage equality. We both fully support it and will continue to work for it.

Here's the 'troth' of the pledge of our troth: At this point, even if we had Marriage Equality in DE - or, throughout the United States - I'd have a problem talking Ms. Conroy into "tying the knot". She says, at our age, we have all the legal and financial security we're going to get. More than we've ever enjoyed in previous years. Our lawyer agrees.

Besides, she argues, we've had a Blessing of our relationship within the context of our family and our home. That was at our 10 Anniversary. Half of our rag-tag community of faith in Boston made the trek to Lowell, where we lived at the time, to witness and celebrate the event with our rector who, at the time couldn't - wouldn't - bless the 'troth' we had made ten years - and all those kids - earlier within the context of a ceremony in the church.

So, we've been blessed by our community of faith. Indeed, we've been blessed by our family and life itself. We have legal protection. What more could we possibly want?

Well, I say, Marriage Equality.

She shakes her head and says that we've gone this long without it, we don't need it. It won't add anything and may take away some thing.

Like what, I ask.

Like, she says, our integrity.

How, I ask.

By capitulating to the fact that the past 35 years have been somehow illegitimate, she says. That's a lie I'm not going to participate in. I'm not going to let the state suddenly legitimize what I know to be a truth that's been in existence for 35 years.

Think about it for a minute. You have to admit, she's got a point. I don't like it. I don't agree with it. But that doesn't mean it doesn't have validity.

Then again, she's the ultimate pragmatist. I'm the dreamer.

She's a Realist. I'm a Romantic.

I'm a Democrat.  She's a Republican (Hand to Jesus!).

Maybe that's the secret of the past 35 years.

The fascinating thing is that she's more of a cultural rebel than I was 35 years ago. Really. That's something I would have said when we first got together.

Now, hear me again: I - we - will continue to fight for Marriage Equality. For. Every. One. It is a civil right and everyone should have the right to choose that. Or, not.

Indeed, it just may so happen that if the Marriage Faerie came and sprinkled magic dust that removed the homophobic, heterosexist film from the eyes of the bigots and gave courage to our legislators and Marriage Equality came to the land for everyone, I'm not so sure she wouldn't capitulate.

But, that's not the point. Her point. Which really points to the essence of what marriage is really all about.

Is marriage a financial contract? A social status? A legal license?

Yes, of course it is - when viewed only from the perspective of The State.

Is marriage about God's blessing and sacramental grace?

Yes, of course it is - when viewed only from the perspective of The Institutional Church.

The essence of marriage - what we've lost over the centuries or, perhaps, do not clearly understand - is that the heart of marriage is not about contracts and social status and license. Neither is it about the Church's ability to pronounce blessing and sacramental grace.

Marriage is really about sacred covenants and pledging troths.  Truths. 

Neither the church nor the state can either give that to anyone or take it away.

I'm deeply grateful for the 35 years we've had and proud of the things we've been able to accomplish.  I'm especially proud of our family and the people and the citizens they have become.

So, here's to pledging troth and families and love and commitment. 

And, here's to Marriage Equality for absolutely everyone, everywhere - lesbian, gay, bi, straight, transgender, intersex and queer - if they so choose.

Here's also to being able to pledge one's troth to another, which gives value and worth and status and depth and breath and meaning to the whole enterprise of marriage and makes it matter - whether the church or state recognize it or not.


Muthah+ said...

Hmmm, I thought we had been together longer than you two. We started 34 this summer.

Congratulations to you both and I can't agree with you more. Relationship is about truth. It isn't about vows or promises. It is about loving the other with abandon and finding the source of your being in that love.

But I must admit I am not especially enamored of the 'institution' of marriage in either state or church incarnation. But I will fight for equality.

Elizabeth Kaeton said...

Muthah - We were just babies back then, weren't we? I think the point about Marriage Equality is to have the same option - the same choice - as everyone else. I think folks are going to be surprised how many of us choose NOT to marry OR have our relationships blessed. That's what makes us queer, I suppose.

IT said...

I think the point is to be able to choose, freely, what works for you as a couple. It's a tangle of legal, social, cultural, and religious threads, this marriage thing. How you weave them together is very personal.

Our view of marriage is rather different and I've articulated that over at Friends of Jake; BP and I are legally married for 3 years, as of yesterday, and amazed at its effect, even as we fight to make it fully recognized and available.

It may be an effect of age and era, as we are younger than you, and with substantially different experience.

But as you point out, there's no "right way". Straight or gay, every couple should be free to express their relationship as they choose. SO thank you for your support for marriage equality even if you do not choose to participate in it yourselves!

it's margaret said...

God bless you for the many blessings you have brought and shared with us all! God bless you for years to come! And give us a heads up when you get married --because you wiill --and, cuz that is gonna be sum parti !!!!

Mary Beth said...

oooh, you're married to a Republican too!

Elizabeth Kaeton said...

IT - Choice is absolutely the point. Thanks for supporting that for us. We'll keep on 'keepin' on for Marriage Equality.

Elizabeth Kaeton said...

Margaret - Thanks, babe. You'll be in the top five on our invite list. I want's me a girl who know how to par-tay at my par-tay.

Elizabeth Kaeton said...

Mary Beth - we consider each other a "thorn in the flesh".

rental mobil jakarta said...

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susankay said...

So you are a mixed marriage?

Elizabeth Kaeton said...

Susankay - of the worst kind.

Elizabeth Kaeton said...

RMJ - thanks.

MadPriest said...

I think Ms Conroy is absolutely right. Maybe a public reaffirmation of your "wedding vows" would be more appropriate. It would certainly be a big up-yours to all those who doubted your integrity.

Elizabeth Kaeton said...

Thanks, MP. I've often thought that Ms.Conroy is the female, American version of you

Jim said...

First, Congratulations! 35 years for ANY relationship is an achievement.

I see Ms. Conroy's point, and yet, well, can a straight guy make a counter argument? When, not if, when, DOMA falls and the final barriers are removed from the church, it will be important to claim what always has been yours in a public way. Not to validate your relationship, you do not need that. Not to somehow make your love real, that is a given. As an act of justice, to claim that which always should have been yours is important.

We straight people have had for years, the "reaffirmation of vows" events. I have never understood them; dose someone think vows age away? But maybe in this case that with an actual marriage certificate might be a good idea. So, you might "reaffirm" your truth, and get the certification.

Incidentally, Sue-z, my love, is a Republican too. Or she was until the current crop of idiots came along. She is about to be a Republican for Obama, as is my brother-in-law who has voted for every Republican since Dewey. See, Republican are teachable!


Elizabeth Kaeton said...

Thanks Jim. Its always a woman's perogative to change her mind ;-)

MadPriest said...

When I was a very young man I was married (for less than two years) and then got divorced. It was nobody's fault except my wife's father who had sexually abused her from the age of 4 to 12. I was not mature enough to help in her healing. But the church refused to marry Mrs MP and myself nearly ten years later. And sod them. Even though we could now get married in most C.ofE. churches both me and Mrs MP think they can shove their marriage ceremony up their condescending arses. As I said, I'm with Ms. Conroy. The two of us have something in common, although Ms Conroy has been putting up with her tellings off for 30 more years than I have :-)

MadPriest said...

Thanks Jim. Its always a woman's prerogative to change her mind ;-)

Hang on a minute!!

I thought we had decided that you were disqualified from claiming this right because of your evil lesbian tendencies.

And you spelt "prerogative" wrong. I'll allow you to change your mind on that one.

Matthew said...

I wonder if it will be different -- and maybe is different -- among the young who are growing up now. I grew up in a small town (Lutheran, Scandinavian) in Northern Minnesota when no one even dreamed of civil unions much less marriage equality. It was a different day (in the church and in society). But I go back home now and again and meet young people. During a holiday visit I met a young gay man (early twenties)who had moved to the nearest medium sized city (Bemidji -- you would not have heard of it -- when I was coming out you had to move to Minneapolis to find gay people). He met another young man -- also a farm boy -- and everyone in both of their families and the church just expects them to "get married" because its part of their vocabulary. For me, my parents would find it weird if we got married with a ceremony because the stability of our relationship pre-dated their introduction to the vocabulary so they had to find other ways to speak about it. For people who begin courting now, it might be different.

Jim said...

Madone, I believe Rev Elizabeth was referring to Sue-Z's prerogative to become an Obama voter. ;-)


Grandmère Mimi said...

Elizabeth, I'm a day late, but I give you and Ms Conroy my blessing and heartiest congratulations. You have plighted your troth and been faithful to your pledge of fidelity for 35 years. Splendid!

Elizabeth Kaeton said...

Jonathan - another part of your story I didn't know. God Lord, you mean we're both living in sin? I knew there was something I liked about you. Besides the humour.

Elizabeth Kaeton said...

MP - my bad. No excuses. Just wasn't paying attention and it passed spell check.

Elizabeth Kaeton said...

Matthew, I have no doubt and every hope that it will be different for the next generation. It had better be so all this work will have been worth it.

Elizabeth Kaeton said...

Jim - I ain't sayin'

Elizabeth Kaeton said...

Mimi - Thanks, my dear.

Turtle Woman said...

i really have serious questions about our stampede into heteronormativity... marriage. My partner and I have had a fine life for 36 years. These count, and I am not going to have the state or some damn church anywhere in the world discount our lesbian commitment and our radical belief that we want a strong intellectual life free of the hetero normative world. NO we are not like het couples, I get horrified at the lesbian bay-bee boom... heavens, we have to be bored with lesbian baby babble now? No, we are old school. I hate the patriarchy and anything reeking of male supremacy, which is what marriage is... it is about the sexual control of women, the theft of our labor, the legal rape and PIV forced on all women in these attrocious slave houses know as het marriage.
If lesbians can't figure out how to create a world we we don't need the benefits of "the man" "the government" the dopey hets down the street, what is the world coming to? Where is our radical past... the Mary Dalys..? And where are the radical voices of lesbians everywhere... who should be as suspicious as hell at this hetero immitative nonsense. Why would I ever want to be anything like the slave state know as women MARRIED to men? Are we daft?

IT said...

Rachel Maddow recently said that she has no interest in marrying her partner and that she's sad about the absorption of LGBT people into the broader society, that will mean a loss of gay culture. Andrew Sullivan has also has written extensively that the price of victory in gay equality will be a loss of gay culture. (Worth reading).

On my side, I don't see myself as part of a different culture. I'm not the least interested in being part of a gay ghetto or male-free "womyn's" environment. I'm very happy to be a happily married lesbian living a boring, conventional, middle class life, with friends who are gay, straight, lesbian, or trans.

Maybe its a generational thing, as we came of age as a lesbian couple in the current era, where Lawrence v. Kansas was in the offing and domestic partnerships were slowly getting on the books. In Sullivan's terms, gay culture was ending with assimilation. Perhaps we'd have been radicalized if we'd been older. Older feminists and civil rights activists probably feel the same way about the generations that followed, when people no longer saw themselves as separate and apart.

@Turtlewoman, I know lots of happy, married straight women who are not at all in " attrocious slave houses know as het marriage" . Hyperbole much?

Personally, I don't see how flinging insults at people who have made different choices and see themselves differently, is at all helpful. I never have found purity tests justifiable. You don't get to define what it means to be a lesbian for other women, nor establish rules.

Don't want to marry? Then by all means, don't marry! No one is making you do so! But don't impose your will on those who come to different conclusions. That's no different than letting the Mormon thought-police write discrimination into the state constitution.

In any case, I have not much in common with a separatist viewpoint that would define me by my sexuality. I just don't think it's the most interesting thing about me.

Mich Magness said...

"I'm a Democrat. She's a Republican (Hand to Jesus!)."
I had to laugh out loud when I read this... I'm in a 30-year mixed marriage as well, and it really is such an interesting and aggravating combination. Love really does conquer all. Congratulations to you both on 35 years together, and thanks for sharing your perspective on life and love.