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Making vows for

Making vows for


Straight couples like Tracy and Vivek are dedicating their weddings to the fight for equal marriage rights

When Vivek Tiwary and his wife, Tracy, exchanged vows on June 11 in Manhattan's TriBeCa neighborhood, they toasted guests with a plea on behalf of gay and lesbian couples. "The fact that Tracy and I found each other and were able to nurture our relationship to the point of marriage truly is a blessing," Vivek told his friends and family. "But we feel that the ability to honor that relationship by getting married is a right."

Marriage equality had always been important to the couple, but the 2004 election--when 11 states passed constitutional amendments banning legal marriage for gay and lesbian couples--shocked Vivek. The New Yorker is of Indian and Guyanese descent, and Tracy is half Irish and half Italian. The recent blows against gay and lesbian couples conjured an unpleasant reminder of the days when differing skin colors barred couples from marriage.

"I was like, 'Wow, I really need to get off my ass and do something like I've been saying I was going to.' If the government can't tell you who you should love, how can they tell you who you should marry?" Tiwary asks. "I couldn't help but feel a little uncomfortable having such a wonderful experience with my wife and knowing that there were close friends of ours who were sharing that experience and who, at least in the near term, aren't allowed to have that experience themselves."

During the past year, the New York City-based Freedom to Marry group--which fights for the right of gay and lesbian couples to be legally married--has been fielding a steady stream of inquiries from straight couples wanting to know how they can take a stand.

They want to dedicate their own weddings--that one special day they will ideally cherish for years to come--to the endorsement of marriage equality for gay and lesbian couples. "People are coming to understand that it matters, and that it matters to them," says Evan Wolfson, executive director of Freedom to Marry.

When financial services marketer Cynthia Kopec and health care marketing expert Steve Berley were married in Piedmont, Calif., in May, they asked their guests to make a donation to Freedom to Marry.

"It was so much fun to think about having all the people that you love in one place at one time to celebrate your union," Cynthia recalls. "And the only thing that was making me sad was thinking of all the people who were coming to the wedding who didn't have the same right to do exactly what we were doing."

Both Kopec and Berley were in their late 30s and "didn't need pots and pans and china," Cynthia says. Instead, they needed a way of fulfilling the traditional wedding "mitzvah" of "tikkun olam," or the commandment to "repair the world through good deeds." The mission was not just about gay men and lesbians. "It's for all of us," Cynthia says.

"No civil rights movement has ever been won solely by the people who bear the direct brunt of the discrimination," says Wolfson. "In America the way social change happens is when it crosses over to the broader public, not necessarily the majority, but the broader public of fair-minded people whose hearts and minds are open and who begin to take action and speak out against injustice."

Wolfson points out the fact that most white Americans would have taken a stand for civil rights had they been old enough to do so in the 1950s and '60s.

Likewise, ordinary people who have given gay men and lesbians their silent support in the past see the national hostility unleashed by Christian conservatives empowered by the George W. Bush administration and are stirred to action. The demonization of gays, solidified by the 14 antigay constitutional amendments passed since August 2004, has not just been an effort to stop same-sex marriage, Wolfson says. It has also been an effort to send a drumbeat of rejection throughout the polity.

"They're trying to send the idea out to the public that the public has thought about marriage equality for gay people and rejected it. And therefore fair-minded people need not wake up. Politicians need not rise," Wolfson says.

That a growing number of Americans support some kind of legal protections for gay and lesbian couples--though civil unions confer only a fraction of the benefits of marriage--indicates increasing acceptance of the idea that same-sex couples are families, with all the complexities and joys that accompany love and commitment, marriage experts say.

In an August 3 Pew Research poll, Americans' support for same-sex marriage rebounded to its July 2003 level: 36%. Meanwhile, 53% of those surveyed backed some kind of legal union for same-sex couples.

New Yorkers Ann Beirne and David Freiman have just begun to plan their wedding, set for next summer or fall. And as a matter of principle, despite the inconvenience for many of their guests, they will hold the ceremony in Massachusetts, contributing their taxes to the only state in the country that allows same-sex marriage. And yes, it's going to be a large affair. Ann's father is the youngest of six brothers, all of whom have kids, and everyone's close. "In my family, weddings get kind of big," she says.

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