June 20, 2008
Believe it or not, that's what a reporter for a mainstream Jewish newspaper asked me last week! At first, I didn't understand.
She had e-mailed me: "What do you think of intermarriage?" I replied: "If women want to marry men, it's perfectly okay with me!" But when the reporter phoned to interview me, she said she meant "interfaith marriage."
Stupid, I'm not. Immediately, I knew this was about my partner, Diane Olson, not being Jewish.
I threw out the first rapid response that came to me: We both believe in a higher power. (I knew this wasn't good enough, but figured it would answer the God question and, I hoped, avoid the "do you keep kosher?" question.) She paused. Obviously, my answer wasn't good enough.
Do you have a mezuzah on your front door? she asked. "Of course we do!" I didn't mention that a huge wooden gate surrounds our property, so no one can see the mezuzah. Also, most people enter the house through my office, which does not have a mezuzah on its door. But my "oy vey"ing every time I read a homophobic rant that comes to me by e-mail can be heard throughout my neighborhood. This should count for something.
She didn't ask me how often we go to synagogue, but I could feel it on the tip of her tongue. So I quickly said: "Last week we attended services at Kol Ami, the synagogue led by the rabbi who is going to marry us, Rabbi Denise Eger." I raved about the service, the music, the cantor and Rabbi Eger, who had been an opera singer. I went on and on about how Rabbi Eger had comforted me and held my emotional and spiritual hand every time Diane and I were shunned by members of our own community who were certain we were going to lose the same sex-marriage lawsuit we had launched in California.
I went on for so long that the reporter forgot the "how often do you go to synagogue?" question. Mission accomplished.
We had a lovely conversation after that. Yes, my partners' last name, Olson, is definitely not a Jewish name, but neither is mine, Tyler. I changed my name when I was in my teens so my mother wouldn't know I was performing on high holidays. My real last name is Chernick, which my relatives who have started reading this blog are going to be really happy I mentioned.
My brother Robert Chernick and his wife, Maureen, came to Los Angeles last weekend and rode on a float in the Los Angeles Gay Pride Parade with me and Diane. They dressed as California Supreme Court justices and held up our hands in victory. Yes, we wore tuxedos, and they had signs saying "Supreme Court" hanging around their necks.
Believe it or not, several gay people asked them for autographs. Right, the California Supreme Court justices who ruled in our favor would definitely ride in a gay parade sandwiched between drag queens and the leather contingent. (My prim and proper British sister-in-law really took to Mr. Leather 2008 and had quite a lengthy chat with him.)
Tomorrow, Diane and I go to see Rabbi Eger. I know she is not going to ask if we are sure about doing it. To be honest, we have been doing 'it' for almost 15 years. But she is going to talk to us about how the service will go. Diane wants a quiet, 'tasteful' Jewish wedding, even though it's going to be in front of the Beverly Hills Courthouse, where we protested every year. I invited everyone we met at the parade and if anyone shows up in feather or leather, it won't exactly be the "tasteful" wedding she had hoped for.
But Robert and Maureen will be there, along with Diane's sister Debra Olson, and Debra's grown daughters, Chrysta and Kaitlyn, some of our close friends and probably one right-wing religious nut holding up a sign saying "Smile, Satan Loves You."
Yes, the California Gold Rush is definitely on. According to Associated Press, during the next three years half of the same-sex couples in California will get married. (The other half will continue living in Sin, the biggest city in California.) It's also estimated that another 68,000 out-of-state same-sex couples will travel to California to exchange vows and $64 million will be generated in taxes for the state as well as $9 million in license fees for the counties. It's projected that gay and lesbian couples will spend $684 million on hotels, flowers, cakes, photographers and a slew of wedding services over the next few years. Needless to say, gay tourism will be rampant.
And nobody has even discussed the revenue Weight Watchers will receive from the thousands of us who have said "to hell with our diets -- let's eat, drink and celebrate" only to wake up months later and drag our asses, excuse me, much larger asses, back to Weight Watchers. Calories don't discriminate.
If you do come to California to get married, it's very important that you read an online article titled "Make Change, Not Lawsuits" [PDF]
The press is constantly calling, asking us if we know of same-sex couples from out of state who have made definite plans to come to California to get married in the next month. We called our good friends at Marriage Equality USA, which does fantastic work on the same-sex marriage issue, and they now have a Wedding Announcement form on their website.
They're asking couples for contact and background information, along with responses to a few questions about why marriage matters, wedding plans, and if they'd be willing to share their stories with the media. They thought they could use this collection of couples stories throughout the year to illustrate that marriage matters to same-sex couples across California and around the nation.
I do know a lot of couples who are coming to California to get married, but many of them are older and still in the closet. It isn't their fault. It's the fault of people like the seven pathetic protesters with anti-gay banners at the Gay Pride Parade last Sunday, Focus on the Family and Prop 22 people who have put a constitutional amendment on the California ballot in November that would stop same-sex marriage. I know that if the hell they describe exists, they are going to burn in it.
The suicide rate of gay youth is still three times higher than that of straight youth. Our communities alcoholism and drug addiction rates are among the highest of any group. You can't grow up being called faggot and dyke and sissy and freak and being rejected by your family and being condemned by society and being told you are sick by science and sinful by religion and still be healthy. Pride is about self-esteem, and self-esteem comes from honesty.
But many people won't be coaxed out of the closet, no matter how safe it is now. The cruelty inflicted on the older generation, the slurs, the violence, the killings, are unforgivable. And this is still happening. Closets are vertical coffins, and the tragic prejudice inflicted on our community stops here, and right now, in California.
The spectacular ruling by the California Supreme Court has found that lesbians and gay people are a minority group that is now legally entitled to all of the rights and benefits afforded non-gay people. We must be treated equally. If we can't get married in California, then heterosexuals should not be able to get married in California. That is what treated equally means. The California Supreme Court realized this was not about our lifestyles but about our lives.
We have won. No more, never again. In California, David has finally slain Goliath. Is that Jewish enough for you?
Robin Tyler is one of the original plaintiffs in the California Supreme Court lawsuit Tyler v. County of Los Angeles. Tyler has been an activist for same-sex marriage and lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgendered rights for four decades. This fall, she will film her one-woman comedy show, Always A Bridesmaid, Never A Groom. She will marry her partner of 15 years, Diane Olson, next week in front of the Beverly Hills Courhtouse. You are all invited. But don't expect cake for everyone. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.