When I was very small, I loved Sesame Street. I especially loved Ernie, and I had a special Ernie shirt that I had to wear every time it came on. I would run to my room, grab the shirt, put it on and run back and park myself in front of the TV, anxiously awaiting the appearance of Oscar the Grouch, my other favorite. (Raise your hand if you’re surprised by that. Nobody? Yeah…)
And then one day, I couldn’t find it. I remember screaming my little blonde head off; I had to have my “Ownie Showt,” as I pronounced it, with my weird three-year-old lisp. I couldn’t watch Sesame Street without it. I don’t remember how that played out, whether my mom found it and saved the day, or I screamed myself to sleep and missed the show, or realized the warped logic of my position and watched the show in my Hollie Hobbie jammies instead. What I remember is the desperation that I felt, realizing that a tradition I felt tied to was being threatened. I was not a stupid child; at the time of the Great Ownie Showt Meltdown I was probably starting to read, and if you believe my mother, was starting to spell words on my own. I could count to a hundred in English and Spanish, and I knew how to charm my grandpa into sharing his fiber cereal that I swore was tasty delicious dog food. But it fell far beyond my grasp, the idea that I could enjoy Sesame Street without that stupid shirt. That, I just couldn’t understand, at least not in that moment.
I was thinking about that today, reading the usual Facebook posts by people who have been rendered mortally twitchy by the fact that *gasp* gay marriage is now legal in the United States. They are clinging fiercely to their ideas about faith and the Bible as they pertain to legal marriage, and the problem is, those things aren’t pertinent at all. We’re all out there throwing Bible verses at each other; we sound like a bunch of adolescent cretins on some broken-down playground, flinging insults:
Gay abomination verse!
Oh yeah? Well mixed fabrics verse, man! Touching a chick on her period verse, huh? What about that?
Shiiiiit, God said! Old Testament, fucker!
Eating shellfish verse, dipshit! I’ll kick your ass!
It’s pretty stupid, debating the fine points of Biblical dissent when it’s entirely irrelevant to the issue at hand. And we can use all the logic in the world, pointing out again and again things like separation of church and state, and that this decision only applies to the ability to obtain a legal marriage license, and has nothing to do with church weddings, but still, in their minds, marriage is a religious thing. They can’t separate that idea from the larger concept of human rights and legal equality.
Marriage is their Sesame Street, and the Bible is their Ownie Showt. You just can’t have one without the other, and if you try and take the Ownie Showt away, you’re going to have a very pissed off group of people who are missing the substance of the show because they can’t stop screaming out their rage at what they think they’ve lost.
What they’re missing is that legal marriage is a contract, like you enter into when you buy a home or start a new job. It gives you responsibility for another human being. Granted, it is “just a piece of paper” and it has no bearing on the quality of a relationship or the strength of the love of the parties involved, but it’s one of those necessary evils. It is the legal force that says that you can sit by your partner when he or she is lying comatose in the ICU. It is the legal document that says you trust the person on the other end to know when it’s time to pull the plug. It gives you equal rights to all the boring shit like property and taxes that you acquire. Right or wrong, whether you scoff at the made-up romanticism of it or not, marriage is a cultural milestone in the US. To many people, it’s seen as the ultimate show of love and commitment. For some folks, that means having a church wedding after getting the marriage license. For some folks, it doesn’t, and that’s where we’re getting fucked up.
You don’t have to have a church wedding. You don’t have to have your union blessed by a member of the Christian clergy. Not all marriages are Christian ones-and not all Christians disagree with gay marriage.
When you go to get your marriage license, they ask for your name and your age and legal proof of identity. They don’t ask how often you go to church or if you can name and summarize at least ten episodes of Highway to Heaven. It’s a process that’s simpler than registering your vehicle, takes much less time than obtaining a drivers license (and requires pretty much the same information), and is no more religious than signing a lease. Whatever religious aspects you choose to apply to your wedding and your marriage are completely up to you-those aren’t legislated at all, other than within the loose guidelines each state has pertaining to officiants, and in every state, you can be married by a judge, magistrate, or justice of the peace. You don’t have to have a sermon at your wedding. You don’t have to pray to the Christian God. You can be Jewish or atheist or Muslim or Pagan or Buddhist or pantheist or any number of theism-related titles and still get legally married in the United States. So why should a narrow tenet of Christianity apply to every marriage? It shouldn’t.
For a long time, people just kind of accepted the Christian church-based version of marriage. As our world expands and we’re exposed to others with different beliefs, that tradition has changed, and many people are more understanding that legal marriage and a church wedding are not the same thing.
Legal marriage equality doesn’t change the church’s role in marriage, at all. Nobody is going to force a resistant clergy member to perform a gay marriage, but think about it-why would anyone want to get married by someone who doesn’t want to perform the ceremony in the first place? That’s totally illogical. When I got married, there’s no way I would have chosen a Baptist minister or a Catholic priest to perform the ceremony. We had an interfaith minister, who also officiates gay weddings, and there wasn’t a single mention of God in the ceremony. You can do that. A gay couple won’t go to an anti-gay minister any more than an anti-gay couple would choose a flaming gay officiant. Use your brains, people.
Change is scary. We need our traditions to cling to, even when those traditions fly in the face of rational thought. Hold on to your Ownie Showt when you need your God to provide comfort during a dark time, or when you seek fellowship with others who share the same beliefs. Wear it every day, sleep in it if you need to, if you need that security to keep you going after something breaks your heart. Use it as a touchstone: What would Ernie do? But don’t cling to it so fiercely that you scream yourself into darkness and miss the entire show, because I promise, it’s one that’s as full of love and hope and faith and commitment as the one you’re used to watching. There are just a few extra characters you need to get to know.