TOWARD THE END of this marriage-in-everything-but-name, this wedding-in-every-sense-except-the-legal, the rabbi lay two wrapped glasses on the lawn. One was for my cousin Adam. The other for his partner, Rodrick. The rabbi told the friends and family on that meadow that the custom of breaking the glass had many origins but one seemed to fit this occasion. Once people believed that there were demons in the world out to thwart the chance for human happiness and to harm the couple. So the couple broke the glass to scare them away.
No, there were no demons in our late summer gathering, unless you count the mosquitos. But we understood the rabbi's analogy when he offered his blessing. May the breaking of this glass, he said, protect Adam and Rodrick from "contemporary demons who seek to denigrate their love and deny the sanctity of their relationship."
So when they shattered the glasses with a matched set of determined footsteps, there was a spontaneous cheer of "mazel tov," good luck.
Adam and Rodrick had invited us to celebrate their commitment. It is the word "celebrate" that graced their invitation. We were not invited to tolerate their commitment. We were not invited to accept it. We were invited to celebrate it.
There were some people who had come a long way to be there and I do not mean just geographically. Together, we witnessed this pair standing under the canopy made of one's grandmother's lace tablecloth, drinking the wine out of another's great-grandfather's cup. We were there to toast two people who found each other and pledged to each other.
But I am writing about this family event, with their blessings, because of those demons.
Much is written these days about gay rights and gay marriage, about advances and backlash. Just north of here, in Vermont, the state has approved civil unions. In Canada, gay marriage may soon be the law of the land. In Massachusetts, we are waiting for a high court ruling on whether the state can still deny what many families, friends, rabbis, and ministers now celebrate.
In the meantime, a conservative movement has made opposition to gay marriage its centerpiece of recruiting and fund-raising. One group has declared Oct. 12 Marriage Promotion Week. There's pressure for a constitutional amendment to prevent same-sex marriage. And on some pulpit or dais, a religious or political figure is preaching again that God created Adam and Eve, not Adam and Steve. He doesn't know Adam and Rodrick.
Their ceremony was not a political statement. A lawyer and a college fund-raiser, both in their 30s, they are not a gay poster couple. Adam and Rodrick -- forgive me, guys -- would not make the Fab Five in "Queer Eye for the Straight Guy." Adam would have worn a T-shirt and jeans to this event, if anyone let him get away with it. The closest he's ever been to offering home decorating advice is the day he emptied an impoverished client's apartment of a ton of newspapers so the man wouldn't get evicted.
Still, when I am told by Focus on the Family that gay marriage would be "a devastating and potentially fatal blow to the traditional family," I think about my cousin and the warm, funny Southerner he has brought into our lives.
What exactly is so "devastating" about the couple who bring an annual excess of mixed olives and good cheer to Thanksgiving? How on earth could their commitment -- or marriage -- for better or for worse, be a "fatal blow" to my own marriage? For that matter, how could their desire to adopt and raise children undermine their cousins' families? My daughter, stepdaughter, and nieces, all deep in parenting, only hope that the next generation of cousins will grow up together the way they did.
In the middle of the evening, during dancing far too reckless for any middle-aged back, I realized again that what seems to me so rich about America -- this great, open, changing, diverse society -- is what frightens and sometimes angers others. They see an assault of family values. We see family. Our family. Our values.
My Uncle Mike, who has been married to my Aunt Charlotte for 62 years, carries an image from his days as a World War II bombardier. In aerial navigation no matter how lost you are, once you spot the North Star you're safe and can find your way home. If you are lucky in love and life, he says, you find your North Star, your lodestar, your home in times of trouble, the fixed person in your universe.
That's what we want for our children. It's what we want whether they are Adam and Eve or Adam and Rodrick.
Ellen Goodman's e-mail address is firstname.lastname@example.org.