To Be Wed or Not

2009.Dec.02 Wednesday · 3 comments

in Life

“Now very often events are set up for photographers… The weddings are orchestrated about the photographers taking the picture, because if it hasn’t been photographed it doesn’t really exist.”

– Elliott Erwitt, photographer

I do wish it would all go away, this question of gay marriage. I really do. But then, that’s because, at least in the way that marriage is currently constituted, I wish it would go away too. When it comes right down to it, the whole thing about gay marriage or interracial marriage or any other kind of marriage has come to be about receiving civil benefits, and not about love. Oh sure, in interviews, gay couples or any other couples, always start with something to the effect of “we just want our love recognized by society”… sorry, but having a ceremony in front of a justice of the peace or an agent of the civil registry here, does not constitute recognition. Society, other than some fringe groups, already recognizes that gay people can love each other, they’re just not interested in giving it legitimacy. And why? Because the legitimacy comes with a price tag. And even the smiling, hand holding couple, quickly enters that territory – they, we, want joint property ownership, hospital visitation rights, medical and life/death decision rights, insurance, inheritance, bank accounts….

To the traditionalists, who say they want to preserve the sanctity of and all that, hey, no you don’t, or you’d sign for and pass things like this new anti-divorce initiative that’s floating around California. More than half of you who get married would stop getting divorced to begin with. The Catholic church would eliminate annulments. You’d stop cheating on your spouses. And, if you really want to get down to it, at least within the Judeo-Christian tradition, you’d go back to having women and young girls simply be the property of men, in polygamous marriages, and all that… And the gay community (by which, I’m including all the G, L, B, and T folk) would, on the other hand, just have their own commitment ceremonies and be done with it. No, it’s about “stuff”… enter George Carlin, ya know?

In my imaginary world, we’d just scrap the whole thing, worldwide, make marriage or whatever you want to call it a private and/or religious ceremony that was nothing more than a community blessing of a commitment between two people (or three, or…) but that included no benefits of any sort that cost that community anything other than their blessing and good will. And we’d have some sort of civil union, domestic partnership or what-have-you, that people could sign up for, and which provided all those legal benefits and rights everyone wants. And never the twain shall meet, as they say.

But, we live in this world, and in this one, right now, there’s a bunch of stuff going on here in Buenos Aires related to the question of gay marriage. Since February 2008 there’s been a petition before the Supreme Court that was introduced by the leaders of the national gay movement to clarify the Constitution, in particular the part that guarantees all citizens equal rights, benefits, etc., regardless of their private lives – estimates are that the Court will get to that one in another six months or so. There’s proposed legislation in Congress to declare null and void any civil codes that prohibit gay marriage, under that same Constitution. And now, there’s a new case, with a sense of urgency attached. And it all started about two weeks ago.

Crowd at Civil Registry

It gets a little confusing as I’m not clear about all the judicial processes here, but this is what I understand, in a nutshell… Almost two weeks ago, in response to a petition from a gay couple, José María Di Bello y Alejandro Freyre, a municipal judge here wrote an opinion that the portion of the civil code that limited marriage licenses to only a man and a woman, was unconstitutional, and ordered the Civil Registry to grant the couple a license. Now, instead of rushing right over for the nuptials, for political reasons, the couple decided on yesterday, December 1st, World AIDS Day (they’re both HIV+), would be the day – press conferences were arranged, they’ve been interviewed ad nauseum, etc.

Crowd at Civil Registry

Enter judge #2, a federal trial judge, not an appellate judge, who, at the behest of unnamed parties, but presumably fairly conservative elements of the government waits until about 20 hours before the planned ceremony at the Civil Registry and issues an opinion that says that the municipal judge had no right to make a constitutional ruling, it’s a matter for legislation and the Supreme Court, and the civil code therefore is to be complied with, and any civil registry employee who issues a license to the couple will be held in contempt of federal law, having violated the Constitution and will be prosecuted by the federal prosecutor’s office.

Meanwhile, in all this, while the local archbishop has been screaming for action, and while there have been demonstrations both pro and con, our local mayor/governor (he’s both, as, like WDC, BA is an autonomous federal district), has pretty much stated all along that he’s not getting involved on one side or the other.

Crowd at Civil Registry

Cue to yesterday, 2 p.m. at the Civil Registry (some confusion there, myself, some television crews, a few others, and representatives of INADI – the national civil rights council – were there at noon, which had been announced in a few places). The happy couple arrived, pretty much already knowing they’d be denied a license. The press and supporters swarmed into the building as much as possible, a couple of hundred people would be my guess, with about a hundred of us who opted or by default remained outside. Unfortunately, with no speaker system setup, things were pretty much left to people yelling out over the crowd, and those outside or in the back couldn’t hear a thing, but I gather that they applied, were denied, and then the speeches started. They had their ducks in a row, the original judge, various lawyers, representatives from one organization or another, politicians – all very orchestrated, not surprisingly.

And, people ate it up, swells of applause and cheers followed one pronouncement after another. But in the end, the upshot, despite declarations that they’d stay put until they were married, appeals to the mayor/governor, to the president, etc., the result was that the matter got turned over to the Supreme Court. Now, it’s expected to be pushed through to them quickly, but let’s face it, this is a pretty big deal, and the court isn’t likely to take it lightly. It will probably be weeks if not months before they make a decision (a morning news report says the couple and supporters “held out” for 3 hours before leaving… making it about half an hour after I did, and about the time the building was being locked up for the day).

So all in all, an interesting, but not overly action packed day, no real surprises. Except two, I have to admit. A few minutes after I first got there at noon a federal police van pulled up out front, opened the rear doors and a couple of officers got out in partial riot gear and stood around, though most of the officers stayed in the van. After about ten minutes, a supervisor from the Civil Registry came out and told them to leave – that they were only going to cause problems by being there, and weren’t necessary. They argued a bit, pretty loudly, but she must have had some cards up her sleeve, or someone on the police side was being smart about it, because they moved the van onto the next block, and stayed there throughout the whole event.

Crowd at Civil Registry

The second surprise, no active protest against this – I don’t know whether the conservative folk were just satisfied that nothing would happen so they didn’t bother, or what, but they weren’t really in evidence. I think the three in my last photo above were probably protesters, only because the woman in the middle was wearing a t-shirt that said “Jesus is the alternative”, but perhaps not. They did look pretty sour-faced through it all, and the guy kept texting almost continuously, and they didn’t join in with any of the applause, but on the other hand, they didn’t do anything else. They stayed about two hours and then left. They might have just been curious and got bored.

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{ 3 comments… read them below or add one }

msmarmitelover December 2, 2009 at 10:07

Many of my gay friends who are of the anarchist persuasion don’t believe in marriage full stop and don’t see why gay people want to imitate hetero institutions.
Other gay friends need to get married, get that legal recognition for say, visa reasons.
Personally I never believed in marriage until I had a kid, got left, didn’t get maintenance ect ect…I suddenly understood why it would be in my interests and those of my child to have been married…
Great piece, thanks for this reportage.

Ken Sternberg December 3, 2009 at 12:28

Excellent coverage of the event and thought provoking writing about your views. I like your idea of marriage and rights-bearing civil unions being separate. There are still too many situations where only legally married people can be involved in their partner’s affairs, so that separation doesn’t seem like it will happen tomorrow. As the line goes in Camelot about love and marriage: “Don’t scramble the two together.”

dan December 8, 2009 at 10:27

In the category of, “really?”, the assistant attorney general (Carlos Guaia) of Argentina resigned yesterday in protest because his boss, the attorney general, and the governor/mayor of Buenos Aires are waiting for a Supreme Court decision on this issue rather than going full ahead and banning gay marriage on their own – something neither of them have the authority to do, but apparently he’s having an arch-conservative hissy fit. Hey, one less naysayer in power.

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