The Irish have put America to shame. In a country long dominated by the Roman Catholic Church, the people were given a chance to express their overwhelming support for gay marriage by popular vote. Who would have thought that Ireland would beat the west as the first country to embrace that choice as among our civil rights?
Legalizing gay marriage is good for the future of families. Why do I say that? I have talked with lesbian couples and gay pairs in recent years who are more committed than many straight people to raising children within a two-parent family. With the ominous rise in single mothers—one-half of American women under 30 who give birth—we should wholeheartedly endorse the desire of same-sex couples to make a serious, legally binding commitment to staying together. Isn’t that better than women without mates who often drift into pregnancy and repeat a cycle of poor education, dead-end jobs, and impoverishment?
The news greeted me as I returned to the U.S. from my annual dropout week in the mountains of Baja/Mexico, at Rancho la Puerta. Allow me to digress…Rancho was the earliest health spa in North America. Founded in the early 1940s by a visionary professor, Edmund Szeckley, he and his18-year-old bride, Deborah, welcomed guests for $17.50 a week to bring their own tents and cultivate wellness by drinking grape juice, eating fresh garden- grown vegetables, and walking a lot.
Today, guests pay considerably more but the returnees are legion. Hiking the mountain or meadows at dawn, then walking the sprawling hills from aerobicS to yoga to dance classes, swooning from the scents of lavender and sage bushes sprawling along the paths, it is scarcely noticeable that the miles are piling up. But at day’s end, there is the number on a pedometer: five, seven, OR maybe even ten miles!
It goes without saying that my ranch sisters will emerge, as do I, physically regenerated, spiritually refreshed, and showing off our flamboyant manicures. But the deeper secret of what one takes home from the Ranch is the intimate sharing of stories and budding of new friendships among the women. (Some men come, too, but they don’t share, they brag)
I gave a talk about life-changing moments over my many decades, drawn from my memoir, DARING: My Passages. Visuals called up memories of historical figures and events shared by many among the attendees—the birth of New York magazine, Bobby Kennedy’s presidential campaign, Bloody Sunday in Northern Ireland, the birth of Passages, the rise of Hillary Clinton, the flirtatious wiles of PM Margaret Thatcher, and the poignant years I spent as a caregiver for my husband, continuing to enjoy new purpose, old friends, travel and jazz right to the end.
The talk stimulated dozens of daring stories that poured out to me over the next days. The most notable story came from three generations of women blessed by what came from a non-conformist union.
Holly Gewandter and Nancy Heller fell in love in 1978 and dared to begin living together as partners. Homosexuality was a criminal offense in Ireland until 1993. Holly, a composer with a tumble of blonde hair and zoftig figure, worked for Nancy at the Public Theater. After Nancy, the cerebral one, became a lawyer with a good income, the two decided they could become parents.
Holly feared telling her conventional Jewish grandmother that she was pregnant. The 85-year-old woman stumbled backwards in a near-faint, but eventually she came around. Holly’s mother was joyful.
The thriving family lived in Greenwich Village for 34 years. It wasn’t until 2011 –more than three decades after their intentional union—before the Marriage Equality Act was passed in New York State. The couple and their whole extended family and friends could finally endorse their choice with the proud ritual of a May marriage ceremony. Their daughter, Haley, painted a breathtaking oil diptych of her two parents in the formal manner of the famous Renaissance portrait of the Duke and Duchess of Urbino by Pierro Della Francesca . Haley, now 23, is as well-grounded a young woman as I have met.
This is a moment of historical shift. Ireland’s “yes” voters on gay marriage cut across both genders, all income levels, young and old, cities and countryside, and drew many expats back to the mother country to add their voices. Even some members of the Catholic clergy dared to voice their support of this alternative family structure as a “moral imperative.” The shouts of the vox populi are the sounds of a long-overdue mini-reformation. When is our country going to catch up?
Isn’t it time for America to put forward a Constitutional amendment to give the voice of our people the right to be heard on this fundamental issue.