Your 6-year-old is blasting Black Sabbath on the car stereo while traffic is clogged like a men’s room at halftime. Getting to the church on time will require a feat of derring-do on par with O.J. Simpson’s Hertz-induced airport sprint. This is not how you imagined your wedding day, if you imagined one at all.
Your name is Dan Savage: sex columnist at large, licker of Republican doorknobs (long story) and self-described “righteous libertine.” In The Commitment: Love, Sex, Marriage, and My Family, you anguish over predicaments both original (your 6-year-old opposes “boys marrying boys,” while your Catholic mom practically demands it) and not (basic commitment-phobia).
The world is a complicated place, and so too should be anyone’s decision to wed in this day of the 50-50 shot at death doing the parting. For Savage and his boyfriend of 10 years, Terry Miller, the marriage question goes hand in hand with a larger political one, which boils down to this: Why bother? Sure, the legal benefits of marriage are a no-brainer. But the ritual itself? Why stage it when the nuptial has less legal clout than a Chuck E. Cheese’s gift certificate?
Or is this just a convenient excuse for a fear of commitment? Maybe it’s both. Savage manages to see any public affirmation of love as a means of tempting fate. He’s forever reading about seemingly happy couples who are rewarded for their lavish weddings with breakups so swift they seemed ordained.
The Commitment is a memoir sprinkled with generous lashings of polemic on gay marriage (in the absence of legal recognition) and gay family life (in the absence of established norms). In one memorable scene, Miller says he doesn’t want a wedding because he doesn’t want to act “like straight people” while he’s holding his baby, doing the household laundry and cooking. Savage is no Log Cabin Republican, but nor is he of the waning Queer Nation school that claims it’s every gay person’s solemn duty to subvert heterosexual society. Curiously enough, the traditional family complete with one wage earner (Savage) and one full-time domestician/CEO of childcare (Miller) is something that works for them.
Of course, this book is not all gay marriage all the time. There are lots of diversionary tales; one involving a birthday-cake fetishist (yes, you read that right) will not be forgotten soon. In some ways, The Commitment is a coming-of-age story for a relationship wherein the political is personal, but the personal isn’t always political. For instance, Miller’s fear that getting married means acting like “straight” people smacks of another great American anxiety: the fear of becoming a cliché. Or, more specifically, that a tradition will make you one.
Shortly after September 11—bear with me on this—the first lady quoted a young girl who, in answer to the soon-to-be-over-asked “Why do they hate us?” question, remarked that it might be because they (Mohammed Atta et al.) didn’t know our names.
The same concept applies here. As Savage shows, the rhetorical chirping of James Dobson and Rick Santorum betrays their profound know-nothingness about real gay families. That is, people with names. How would they deal with the fact that Savage and Miller and DJ live in a more structured, traditional environment (the kid’s never been to day care!) than do so many married, straight families? Given the polarized nature of our political culture, one wonders if the “hate the sin, love the sinner” crowd will ever be able to consider these ideas. Despite Savage’s best efforts, one wonders if they’ll ever know our names.