Parting Glances: Sequins and Wedding Rice

BY CHARLES ALEXANDER

On the topic of marriage screen legend Greta Garbo boasted, "There are some who get married and others who don't. I have never had an impulse to go to the altar. I am a difficult person to lead."

What she really meant is that she had no interest in being led to wedded bliss by a man. She did, however, have what gay author and cultural historian Rodger Streitmatter calls "an outlaw marriage" on and off for over 30 years with MGM film writer Mercedes de Acosta.

Acosta mentored Garbo, teaching her society manners, nuances of excellent English, and often choose Garbo's next film success.

Streitmatter's 2012 "Outlaw Marriages" book is devoted to the hidden partnerships of 15 famous persons -- the obvious: Walt Whitman, Peter Doyle; Gertrude Stein, Alice B. Toklas; Tennessee Williams, Frankie Merlo -- and the not-so-well-known: Jasper Johns, Robert Rauschenberg; Jane Adams, Mary Rozet Smith.

(According to Streitmatter, the length of these relationships varies from 8 years to 56. The record holders: Janet Flanner and Solita Solano.)

Outlaw marriages in America are nothing new. In the 19th Century such were called "Boston Marriages". Two women living together. (Presumably without sex.) And Hollywood publicity-arranged marriages are legendary. (Robert Taylor, Barbara Stanwyck).

The Supreme Court endorsement of same-sex marriage has brought "Outlaw Marriages" out of solitary confinement into the open. (How long it remains so with Trump -- with his lockup in Cell #45 mania -- is of serious LGBT concern.)

According to a 2016 Gallop Report, "There are now about 491,000 same-sex marriages in the U.S., up from roughly 368,000 in 2015. Gallup estimates that 3.9 percent of U.S. adults are lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgender.

Of these adults, 9.6 percent report being married to a same-sex spouse, up from 7.9 percent before the court decision on June 26, 2015.

According to Gallup, the percentage of LGBT Americans living with a same-sex domestic partner declined from 12.8 percent to 10.1 percent over the past year, reflecting couples who got married and those who ended their partnership. Half of LGBT Americans continue to identify as single or never married."

The first public gay wedding took place nearly 50 years ago in a house at 6205 Miles Avenue, Huntington Park, Los Angeles where the Metropolitan Community Church held its first meeting. The church, founded by Reverend Troy D. Perry in October 1968, welcomed LGBT members.

Perry was born in 1940, and had been ousted in 1967 from his prior Pentecostal church because of his homosexual orientation.

In December 1968, Perry performed a ceremony for two Latino men. TIME Magazine would call it the very first public same-sex wedding in the U.S. In December of 1969, the L.A. Times printed a front-page article about a "church for homosexuals."

A year later, two women were married there, also officiated by Rev. Perry. In 1970, he would file a lawsuit on behalf of these two women--Neva Heckman and Judith Bellew--asking for their marriage to be legally recognized. This lawsuit was ultimately dismissed.

Over 240,000 gay weddings would be performed by the Fellowship over the next 45 years. Perry would tell each couple that their marriage was "blessed by God, but is not yet recognized by the government. We're working on that." While the marriages weren't legally binding, the church would perform them if a couple had been dating for at least six months.

Rev. Dr. Roland Stringfellow, current pastor of MCCDetroit, and its pastoral staff, have to date performed several hundred, blessed and legal same-sex marriages. Hallelujah! Amen! Awomyn! Go catch the bouquet! Throw sequins with your rice!

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