December #6
So what about marriage?


It seems to me such a private affair, to which one invites only the public that one loves. I was married once, illegally, as has been well documented. I was very much in love with the man I married, and could not agree with the state that his color made him unacceptable for matrimony. But there has been such a long history of intrusion into matrimony in our country, in the world, I suppose, that this certainly seems a good time to interrogate it. To look for instance at the ban against enslaved people marrying, and how they coped with that. What could they do, really. There they were, these brown and black and tan and chocolate and yes, alabaster, lovers, wanting more than anything to do the right thing by the community and church (although “church” too, for them, was banned for quite a long time). No public sanction for you, they were told. You can’t marry because you’re not even human beings, you’re property. And sure enough Ole Miss and Big Miss and Master Bubba could at any time sell the bride-to-be and the groom-to-be a thousand miles downriver. In separate directions. What would have been the use of nuptials then?

I never intended to marry. But when a handsome prince appeared, and I faced the illegality of claiming and being claimed by him, it seemed a no-brainer. Whose business was it who I married? In what way was my happiness an affront to theirs, assuming they had any? Which I doubted because, having observed people who spent more than a few minutes digging into other people’s personal love intentions, I realized they had no similar love to be fascinated by in their own. Think of all the times you’ve been content with your affectional choices and your life. How much time did you spend wondering about what other folks, especially those two kissing and hugging over by the elevator, did. Did ante-bellum (before the War) folks care about society, and family and civilization? Could one honestly say that slave-owners cared about any of this? Impregnating their own relatives and offspring, selling their children who, because of their mother’s condition were now slaves, and, through sheer avarice destroying, through overproduction of crops, the very earth beneath them, as they did?

It was Daniel Ortega* who said “The Victory Belongs to Love.” It was the most astonishing of the things I heard and experienced on a trip to Nicaragua during the Sandinista Government’s battle against the Contras. There he was, with his wife, Rosario, having fathered nine children, all of them, if I remember correctly, boys. I still remember the charm of their wooden house that seemed to have no real walls, only partitions made of tall house plants. Flowers were everywhere; and, rocking chairs. Over a half dozen of them. And art. It was a wonderful house, or non-house. They seemed not so much to live there as to float through it, as we did, their guests. I did not fail to notice Ortega’s trips to the refrigerator, however, and the thick rows of of cold Coca-Cola cans. Even sipping a coke, grateful for the snowy fizz in the tropical heat, I thought: Oops. Almost free.

So what does this have to do with marriage? Something about choices, I think: how to live, where to live, what are the whimsies and challenges each of us deserves to make for ourselves. Nobody yet being perfectly evolved. Five thousand years of something that makes people unhappy, is long, but given the age of the planet it’s almost nothing. Besides, we now know that Mother rule, which preceded patriarchy, smiled then, as now, on love, whatever its orientation. The way god sent him, is how a recent Oaxaca mother described her gay son.

Besides, the same God who restricted marriage to a woman and man also gave man dominion over the earth. ‘Nuff said.

Almost two years ago I awakened to the realization that I felt married to my dog and my cat. This feeling arose in me: that I would willingly assume responsibility for them for the rest of our lives. That I would love and honor and cherish them. That together we were a family. Calling in a priestess friend, we arranged a wedding ceremony, which was beautiful. Was this an affront to the marriages of men and women, so many of which end in divorce? I don’t think so. I experienced it as a strengthener of spirit, a movement forward in my growing ability to connect with animals other than human. I’ve sometimes wondered how the event felt to them. My dog, Marley, died within months, well loved and well cared for to the end. My cat, Surprise, reigns in our household, secure in her recognized place of queen.

I sent out invitations to our ceremony that read: Marriage Happens! Because that is how it seems to me. That you go along in a relationship of whatever kind, and one day it dawns on you: this is it for life. In truth, you’re already married, when this happens, but perhaps it is human nature to want to share our joy.

*President of Nicaragua in the Eighties, and currently.

Alice Walker ©2008
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