Bet­ter cluck next time, Chicken Lit­tle

Pasatiempo - - In Other Words - Rob DeWalt The New Mex­i­can

The drive to pass do­mes­tic-part­ner­ship leg­is­la­tion con­tin­ues to be an up­hill bat­tle in New Mex­ico. And while civil-rights ac­tivists have yet to see such laws pass here, they are hope­ful that they will soon, even if they have to go to court to get it done.

One of the ma­jor hur­dles in se­cur­ing rights for gay part­ner­ships, many ac­tivists agree, is over­com­ing the fears ex­pressed — to the point of vi­o­lat­ing the sep­a­ra­tion of church and state, some same-sex-mar­riage ad­vo­cates ar­gue — by the Arch­dio­cese of Santa Fe and other op­po­nents that of­fer­ing equal pro­tec­tion un­der the law to do­mes­tic part­ners is noth­ing but a gate­way to the le­gal­iza­tion of same-sex mar­riage, a con­cept that many anti-gay ac­tivists be­lieve will erode or de­stroy the sanc­tity of “tra­di­tional” mar­riage be­tween a man and a woman.

Af­ter speak­ing to Province­town, Mas­sachusetts, res­i­dents Jon Arter­ton and James Mack, one may won­der if it’s a lit­tle late to start wor­ry­ing about what gay mar­riage might do. Arter­ton and Mack were mar­ried in Mas­sachusetts in April 2005 and ap­pear in Santa Fe on Satur­day and Sun­day, March 20 and 21, to ben­e­fit the na­tional Free­dom to Marry or­ga­ni­za­tion and the lo­cal chap­ter of PFLAG (Par­ents, Fam­i­lies and Friends of Les­bians and Gays). On the cou­ple’s Web site, www.jo­nand­james.com, they re­port: “Legally mar­ried — and the sky didn’t fall.” Legally mar­ried for al­most five years, and cathe­drals in Bos­ton have not crum­bled. Legally mar­ried for al­most half a decade and to­gether for nearly 20 years, and swarms of lo­custs and plagues have yet to de­scend upon the Elvis chapel in Las Ve­gas.

Since get­ting mar­ried (gay mar­riage be­came le­gal in Mas­sachusetts in 2003, and same-sex mar­riage li­censes be­gan to be is­sued in the state in May 2004), Arter­ton and Mack have also been singing about their nup­tials. In an orig­i­nal re­vue ti­tled Just Mar­ried! (The Mu­si­cal), the cou­ple tells the story of their courtship and mar­riage, and in broader fash­ion, talks openly, hon­estly, and hu­mor­ously about Amer­i­can mis­per­cep­tions of gay re­la­tion­ships, re­li­gious med­dling in civil­rights is­sues, and gay mar­riage.

Arter­ton and Mack lived just a few blocks from each other in Green­wich Vil­lage in the early 1990s, but they didn’t meet un­til they both moved to Province­town a few years later. Mem­phis-born Mack, who was raised South­ern Bap­tist and came out to his mother when he was 21 (she didn’t take it well, but she learned to ac­cept it), was the “class sissy” be­fore go­ing to a South­ern Bap­tist col­lege and be­com­ing a preacher. “That didn’t last long,” Arter­ton said. Af­ter a move to New York for a ca­reer in fash­ion, Mack headed to Province­town, where he opened the Snug Cot­tage bed-and- break­fast and met his fu­ture hus­band. When they were ready to make in­vi­ta­tions for their wed­ding in the small burg of Province­town, Mack and Arter­ton didn’t want to leave any­one out — “so we took an ad out in the lo­cal pa­per and in­vited the whole town,” Arter­ton said. More than 300 at­tended the ser­vice.

Arter­ton ad­mits that he was a late bloomer. “I came out when I was 35 years old. My mother had se­ri­ous Alzheimer’s, so I don’t quite know how my com­ing out af­fected her or how she re­ally felt about it. My sis­ter was very sup­port­ive, though.”

Mack and Arter­ton both have strong per­for­mance back­grounds, which helped them nail down the writ­ing and as­sem­ble and ar­range songs for the re­vue. They met while singing in a cho­rus, and Mack, who has a mas­ter’s de­gree in the­ater, is also the founder of gay a cap­pella group The Flir­ta­tions.

Just Mar­ried! isn’t your av­er­age wed­dingth­emed mu­si­cal. Songs by Elvis, Bing Crosby, Frank Si­na­tra, Phil Spec­tor, Tom Jones, and Har­vey Sch­midt min­gle with work by Gio­vanni Pier­luigi da Palest­rina and oth­ers. Some rather sharp (but mostly PG-rated) and hi­lar­i­ous lan­guage is aimed at the au­thors and sign­ers of the De­fense of Mar­riage Act (in­clud­ing Bill Clin­ton), bib­li­cal lit­er­al­ists, and out-of-touch politi­cians and church leaders.

Have there been a lot of neg­a­tive re­ac­tions to the show? “Not re­ally,” Arter­ton said, “and in fact, we were ner­vous when we did the show in Iowa once. We were like, what do Iowans think about this is­sue? And to our re­lief, we were over­whelmed by the pos­i­tive re­sponse to the show.”

Arter­ton and Mack ad­mit that when they per­form Just Mar­ried!, they’re prob­a­bly not chang­ing many minds among the audiences they visit. “We do it mainly at UU [Uni­tar­ian Univer­sal­ist] places,” he said, “so we are, in a way, preach­ing to the choir. The main com­plaint we get from peo­ple with an op­pos­ing view of gay mar­riage who go into the show is that James and I are try­ing to change their minds or some­thing through this per­for­mance. But fre­quently, those same peo­ple tell us af­ter the show that Just Mar­ried! wasn’t what they ex­pected it to be at all. They of­ten say, re­ally, it was just a love story.”

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