Unconstitutional!: Preventing Marriage with A Same Sex Partner
Written on February 7, 2012
About 25 years ago, I recall remarking to a friend that gay marriage was a civil rights issue. And, that this was where the juice of a movement and the real fight lay. I came to that conclusion in the late 80s… it was a slow simmering realization as I reflected on what my family went through in the 70s hiding the love and life that was my father’s. (When you see the movie, Wild About Harry, you’ll get a glimpse into the backstory: mother dies and father picks up the pieces, raising two daughters alone. Well, supposedly alone. And, there’s the rub.)
In making this movie, when the script was written, I heard from so many people — that the character of the father, Harry, was selfish. How could a parent subject his children to this kind of relationship!? How weird & bizarre. I’ve heard it all.
Mr. Phipps and my father have been on my mind this week. I think of what it would have been like if I came home from school today and ran into the workshop for my daily discussion with Mr. Phipps.
I started writing the dialogue… and then stopped. I tried to play out the scenario in my mind’s eye, but I just couldn’t imagine flinging the door open and announcing: ”Mr. Phipps! Mr. Phipps! It’s legal! You and Dad can get married now!”
In 1977, predicting a court victory — in any of the fifty States — over the right to marry your gay lover was akin to meeting a friendly civilization from another planet.
In 1977, there wasn’t a discourse about the civil rights of same sex love partners. Indeed, the notion that relationships founded in love could raise a family together was preposterous; evil; against the Bible; not Christian; a monster with five heads. Even our laws in the United States prevented a gay person from raising a child. Proving that a parent was gay gave grandparents and the courts the ability to take a child away from his biological mother or father — which is still on the books in some States today!
1970s New England — the birthplace of The Great Experiment otherwise known as the Democracy of the United States of America — coupling still depended on the roles men and women were expected to play while in the delirium of heterosexual romance.
A Typical Day After School
During high school, at the end of each day, after the sports bus dropped me off in front of our house, I would run into the workshop and tell Mr. Phipps my revelation of the day. Usually, updates were around a boy I had my eye on that week. We’d dissect the latest permutation of glances shared around a locker or a shelf of books.
While I watched Mr. Phipps paint a ‘primitive’ village in the landscape of eighteenth century Massachusetts, I would describe every furtive exchange. I’d go back the next day, eager to talk about the next installment of this budding crush; in my quest for advice, I might find Mr. Phipps sanding the rough edges of a hutch or a three corner cupboard — which he knocked off routinely in about 48 hours — making sure clients believed it took months to make his replicas of early 18th century American furniture.
While I was growing up, I didn’t know my Dad loved Mr. Phipps. All I knew was that Dad and Mr. Phipps were great friends. (As I described in the teacup story.) In the 70s and especially with children in the picture, there was no language to describe Mr. Phipps’ and my father’s relationship. Sure, there were many derogatory ways to describe two gay men with two kids in tow. Come to think of it, I still don’t know of a positive expression describing raising two girls with a delightful positive spin sanctioned by society. ( I think it’s time to coin an expression.)
Frankly, even gay men at the time — I have come to learn — thought Mr. Phipps’ relationship with my father was bizarre because there were children in the picture. Would Freddy be a step-father since his lover has children? Why does he want to have anything to do with a man that has children?! None of Mr. Phipps’ friends knew how to relate to us; or what to call us… Freddy’s friends? Freddy’s adopted daughters? Freddy’s little girls?… just blank looks. Looking back on it, I think Mr. Phipps’ cabal of independent thinkers and gay men felt betrayed. (Actually, I know so, I spoke with one of Mr. Phipps’ dear friends a few years back describing these days in the early 70s.)
Mr. Phipps & The Pear Tree Collection circa 1971, Manhattan, NYC
In the early 70s, before my Dad came onto the scene, the affable, wild and single Freddy had a formidable following; he ran a popular furniture shop called “The Pear Tree Collection” on Bleecker Street in the Village’s halcyon days. It was the perfect place for men to meet men. And, Mr. Phipps was apparently very popular.
When Mr. Phipps hooked up with a widower and then decided to live with him and his children, Mr. Phipps’ friends never quite recovered from the shock. And, then to move to a suburb in New Jersey and live (secretly) in the home of the dead wife — a family oriented community filled with Madison Avenue husbands and diligent Wall Street fathers was enough to have the Village (not to mention the families of the straight community as well) pass out from over-exposure to the unthinkable.
Meanwhile… Gay!? I never heard of this in the 70s. Queer? Maybe wisps of images and fragments of descriptions. Definitely drag queen. Ah, yes, I did hear of “queens”. But Mr. Phipps wasn’t a queen or remotely queenie so why would I think there was anything odd about him sleeping in the attic and later in another room when we moved to Cape Cod? He was Dad’s friend. Besides he was Dad’s business partner and a bachelor to boot. Doesn’t every bachelor want to be around children?
Mr. Phipps became my sister’s and my friend. He laughed with us; he made dinner for us; he sat on the floor and played with my sister and her dolls. He told stories about his Dad and about his childhood during the Great Depression while living in Massachusetts; he painfully described how his father made just enough money to feed Mr. Phipps’ nine brothers and sisters in an ancient farm house built before the American Revolution of 1776.