Thursday, May 24, 2007

Cross the Line and Feel the Change

01:00 AM EDT on Wednesday, May 23, 2007
By Bob Kerr in The Providence Journal

The key question seems to be: When does the feeling begin?

Does it begin right at the border? Is something clearly different as soon as the crossing is made from East Providence to Seekonk, Tiverton to Fall River, Pawtucket to Attleboro?

Or does it take some time and distance — maybe an hour or two and 50 or 100 miles? Do people have to let Massachusetts spill over them, like spray from a car wash, before they begin to feel the fabric of their lives being pulled loose at its tightly sewn seams?

And what is the feeling like? Can it be compared to getting stuck behind a very old bus on a very narrow road?

Is it anything like walking into the haze of a mosquito- spraying operation?

I guess what I’m asking for here is some real firsthand testimony on the damage gay marriage has done to marriage that isn’t gay. And to do that, of course, I need to hear from two-sex couples struggling to hold their marriages together in the face of the threat from one-sex couples — especially those who have set up their marriages with disturbingly accurate representations of love and devotion.

With the debate going on in other states over whether gay marriage should become part of the social mix, it seems a good time for a damage assessment in Massachusetts. It is the one state that legally recognizes gay marriage, the one state to defy the warnings that allowing men to marry men and women to marry women would undermine what is sometimes called traditional marriage.

Have long-standing marriages between men and women lost some of their vitality in the last three years?

Have husbands and wives found they talk to each other less than they did before gay marriage was made legal?

Have small pleasures in het-erosexual marriage been lost because gays can talk openly in a family way?

It’s been a few years, plenty of time for bad things to happen. Being a Massachusetts resident, I have done the occasional, informal check on those in the neighborhood. Without being too obvious, I’ve tried to look for signs of strain, for a new snappishness perhaps or unsettling incidents of one spouse saying to another, “You were more fun before gay marriage.”

So far, nothing. The couples I know, the ones we stop and talk to while walking the dogs, seem to be holding up well. Whether they have consciously set up gay marriage warning systems or simply updated their heterosexual checklists is difficult to say. It’s hardly something you ask during a casual stroll.

But I have seen long-married couples holding hands, leaning head to shoulder with a shared giggle, even hugging in a fit of marital fondness — all within the borders of the Commonwealth of Massachusetts.

Maybe it’s more subtle. Maybe the toll gay marriage has taken on Massachusetts is something difficult to point at and define. Maybe it’s just a nagging sense that once “they” got to exchange the vows, what “we” had wasn’t quite so special.

Or maybe it’s something that will forever be in the future, a cumulative cultural body blow that will take years, then more years, to completely understand.

Whatever the tales of straight marriage undone by gay marriage, it’s time to bring them out in the open and make them part of the debate. Call them in, e-mail or snail mail.

Or, if you’re a married person in Massachusetts and simply want to say you like the state a little better and find it a fairer and nicer place because of gay marriage, that’s OK, too.

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