The youngest of my first cousins was married last month. She wore a gorgeous mermaid-style gown in cream and gold. It was strapless, so she was told she had to wear a little cape overtop while in the church. Apparently bare shoulders are offensive to the Almighty. Or maybe it’s too much temptation for those poor celibate priests to bear. I’m not sure.
Suffice it to say she was stunning. With her bleached blonde hair swept into an elegant updo she looked so lovely and grownup that I couldn’t stop crying as she walked down the aisle.
But once the ceremony started — the full Catholic mass that is de rigueur for a big fat Italian wedding — it was all I could do not to burst out laughing.
More than anything it was the arrogance of it all that got me giggling; the idea that the Catholic Church — or any church, for that matter — truly believes that it is the arbiter of God’s word on earth and has the moral authority to bless — or withhold a blessing — from any relationship.
When the priest congratulated the couple on having known each other for 12 years prior to their wedding day it was all I could do not to lean over and whisper to my honey, “Known each other in the Biblical sense, that is.”
It’s easy to forget, being a downtown queer heathen and all, that there are actually a whole lot of people who are quite comfortable with the apparent hypocrisy of playing now and praying later. But unlike premarital sex, homosexuality is still a sticking point where Catholicism is concerned. It’s not something you can cover up with a shawl while you’re in church.
As the priest droned on about the sacred union of one man and one woman it was either laugh or keep on crying, and by that point I was perilously low on tissues.
I wasn’t the only one giggling. My honey, who was raised Anglican, choked back a chortle as the priest was preparing the Eucharist. Although the Anglican Church is sometimes called “Catholic light,” there is that sticky issue of transubstantiation that all but High Anglicans reject — the idea that through consecration, bread and wine become the body and blood of Christ.
All in all I wished we hadn’t been sitting front and centre in the church. It might have been my imagination, but I couldn’t help but feel that the priest was glaring down at us, both for being irreverent and so clearly a same-sex couple.
The reception was nearly as fraught. The hall was full of hundreds of strangers, many of whom I was related to in some way or another. Unlike my immediate family who know and love my partner, I had no reason to expect that they wouldn’t behave like homophobic jerks. When we took to the dancefloor for a slow song it tasted of terror. Not once were we asked when we’d be tying the knot.
As it happens, marriage isn’t something that I’m planning for. Philosophically, I don’t believe romantic couples should be privileged above other types of relationships, and emotionally, well, I clued in a long time ago that I wouldn’t be having a fairy-tale wedding full of familial approval and lavish gifts.
All of the same-sex marriage laws in the world won’t change the fact that my marriage to my partner would not be greeted with the same uncomplicated celebration as that of my cousin’s. Part of it is religious. To the Italian side of my family, marriage isn’t something that comes from the state. Spousal rights, certainly, but not marriage. Only the Catholic Church can do that.
But part of it is a matter of tradition. Although there is a growing contingent of out queers among the extended network of cousins, none of us has stepped up to claim the spotlight yet, choosing instead to play supporting roles or linger in the background. It may be just a matter of acclimatizing the clan to the idea of a big gay Italian wedding, but with my preexisting outsider status — my parents are divorced, my mother isn’t Italian, I don’t speak Italian let alone Calabrese and I’ve never lived in Woodbridge or a comparable Italian enclave — I know I don’t have the sense of belonging and entitlement to pull it off.