I do

Tuesday, August 14, 2012

Jack officiating the union.
By Jack DeJesus
I'm not much of a researcher, but I'd venture to say that "I do" has to be one of the most common lines in the history of romantic comedies. And I'm certainly one of the multitudes who had bought in to the idea of it. Everlasting love. Til death do us part. Through sickness and in health. Verbiage so engrained in my head that I can probably recite it on a whim, like a vaguely coded hopeless romantic anthem. And what's not to like about marriage? The romance and dreaminess of it, the house and kids, the two car garage, the bustling dinner table. The security of knowing that you'll be with someone forever and ever. Marriage, according to mainstream Americana, equals success, desirability, and normalcy. Or so I was told.

But in the last few years, I've had to reexamine my notions of marriage. As issues such as the fight for (or opposition to) same-sex marriage became a hot topic, questions came up for me about the actual purpose of this institution. I thought about the idea of the state being so integral in the legitimacy of a couple's relationship. About the concept of ownership, and the weird feeling I got when I'd hear people say "my wife," or "my husband," as if they were one another's property. I thought about the cost of marriage, the ridiculous amounts of money it costs to put on weddings (and to stay married), the rings, the wedding cakes, the fancy invites, and the hotel ballrooms. And along those lines, I thought about who has the privilege to even get married, those with access to money and resources, who benefit from heteronormativity and wealth. And the more I marinated on it, the more discomfort I felt, participating in a celebration that in some ways lifted its nose at those who aren't in the position (or don't want) to get married, like "Hey everybody! Look at us! We're official!!!"

For myself, coming from a Filipino family, where the culture of our homeland has centuries of colonial and imperialist influence, going to weddings is like a tap on the shoulder, of all the trauma and violence that came about (and still continues) from foreign occupation. Traditional Spanish-influenced wardrobe. The "man" having to ask the "woman's" family for her hand in marriage. The rigid, conservative weight of catholic ceremonies. More often than not, weddings feel like a formality, that rite of passage that we assume is the right thing to do but we're not sure why. I wonder how we can celebrate the love and commitment of people in a way that is liberatory, that challenges patriarchy, and that balances love with justice.

A few weeks ago, I officiated the wedding of two very close friends of mine. I thought about all these things as I stood there, "ushering" them into their union as a couple. Part of me was hesitant to do it, considering all the aforementioned critiques. But mostly, I was immensely honored to take part in this very important celebration in the lives of these people who I loved. I felt content with what I was taking part in because—unlike the traditional weddings held in religious institutions, City Halls, and Las Vegases all over the world—I could say with absolute confidence that this wasn't business as usual. I spoke candidly about how I knew them and why I felt good about their relationship. I incorporated rituals that were both traditional yet made sense for them. I even shared my opinions about marriage. I walked away at the end of the day extremely happy for my friends and their future, and more at ease with the possibility that institutions like marriage, that are important to so many people, can also be questioned, assessed, and adjusted to reflect a more just, loving, and revolutionary world.