How do we resolve a problematic institution like marriage? Rooted in a less than ideal history of married women once being equated with chattel, anti-miscegenation laws and its current state of being only universally available to heterosexual couples, marriage still endures to mean something unique within our society. So, does one participate, hoping to reform the institution from within its confines? Does one abstain and protest for a society without such constructs? Where does love enter in? What does desiring to waltz down the aisle in a white ball gown, resplendent with lace, in front of 250 friends and family members say about one’s commitment to feminism and individuality? And how do these issues become compounded and made more complex when there are two brides instead of one? Here Come the Brides!: Reflections on Lesbian Love and Marriage attempts to answer these questions by illustrating an array of thoughts and feelings lesbians have about marriage in the wake of a rapidly changing political landscape, which has made the matter of ‘I do!’ or ‘I don’t!’ all the more real and pressing.
In this anthology edited by Audrey Bilger and Michele Kort, we are treated to a variety of viewpoints from a cross-section of lesbian voices that generally skews towards the middle-class and highly educated (academia is very well represented within these pages.) Bilger and Kort have done well to include a racially, ethnically and biologically diverse group of women – refreshing for a tome about weddings, as such enterprises often seem more white-washed than the featured cakes and dresses. The editors endeavored and succeeded in culling essays, poems, plays and comic strips from across the spectrum of beliefs about same-sex marriage and marriage in general. The individual writers render impassioned accounts of their personal love stories, replete with surprise proposals, supportive families and public validation. Others offer stories of their traumatic heartaches over divorces and separations, made more complicated by the patchwork of legal frameworks that validate a marriage between two women in one state but not another, and definitely not federally. Some tell us why the institution is too fraught with peril and shackled in oppressive history to seem at all tantalizing or desirable; these authors fight for the notion of radical queer feminism, worrying that the ideals of reforming society are being lost to an ever-growing marriage equality movement – that smashing the patriarchy is being discarded in favor of assimilating into a heteronormative society. There are also those who had mixed feelings towards marriage and all that it entails and implies, but, in the wake of same-sex marriage and civil unions becoming legal, were awakened to the possibility of affirming a long-standing commitment, or began to contemplate what it might mean to have access to a right long denied them.
Throughout this book, there is the inescapable backdrop of legality, feminism and homophobia – both internal and external. Kate Kendall of the National Center for Lesbian Rights, Phyllis Lyon (who with her late partner founded the first US lesbian organization, and was the first woman to be married by then mayor Gavin Newsom in San Francisco in 2004) and Heather Purser (who advocated for same-sex unions to be recognized by the Suquamish tribe in Washington State) have directly influenced the lives of many lesbian women seeking to marry, and it is a pleasure to read their words. Helen Zia, former executive editor of Ms. magazine, educated me about the banner of support for marriage equality in the Bay Area’s Asian/Pacific Islander communities. For each voice advocating marriage, there is often the nagging concern of, “Should we?” and it is interesting, though at times repetitive, to read another author’s justification for getting married. Perhaps for a more seamless work, there needed to be fewer voices and definitely fewer poems and plays (sorry to all my open-mic-night-loving sisters at the womyn’s coffeehouse). But which voices to silence? Whose story should have hit the cutting room floor? I am at loss to choose. Here Come the Brides! is survival literature that seeks to illuminate the panoramic panoply of thought within the lesbian community. As sculptor Patricia Cronin notes in her essay, “Women’s history gets erased all the time. Lesbian history is often not written at all.” Audrey Bilger, Michele Kort and all the authors included in Here Come the Brides! triumph in making history, reminding us with each essay at just how political the personal truly is.
Patrice Rankine is a healthcare professional who has long been a member of NOW and the NYC Dyke March. She sporadically blogs at This Lobster Loves You, tweets from @PatriceIsHere and tumbles only in the privacy of her own home.