Yeah, before that, American men and women often exchanged engagement rings. And, nowadays in other countries, from Poland to Brazil, the couple purchases and exchanges engagement rings. And, often, the engagement rings are switched from one hand to the other during the wedding ceremony.
Of course, there are as many permutations to marriage proposals as there are people, but the idea giving each other engagement rings is something, as a gay man, I can get behind. An engagement as a true exchange. One ring for each. Chosen together. Some of the romance might be lost, some of the surprise might be lessened, but perhaps that’s an opportunity for another ritual to be started. Friends could choose the rings for gay men. Family could purchase one or the other or both. Options are good. We’ll do it our way! Such an obvious solution.
But this thought made me momentarily sad. We LGBT people don’t have our own ritual for this. We’ve done without for so long that we’ve lost sight of the practicalities and impracticalities of building a life with someone else, starting with something as prosaic as an engagement ring.
Funny that this is just now occurring to me. I’ve written extensively about marriage equality but, really, it’s been only recently that I’ve come to wonder about marriage itself, starting with The Kids Are All Right.
When I went home to San Diego, my sister and I talked quite a bit. One night, over a glass of wine, we started talking about gay marriage. She told me that if she and her husband hadn’t been married, they might have broken up a long time ago. “Marriage forced us to look at what we have together. We could have split up so easily so many times. Without marriage, I doubt we would have any of this,” she said. We looked around her beautiful home, the pictures of her family on the wall. Marriage as a speed bump. I loved it.
The meaning of marriage seems to crop up wherever I look lately. I recently read Joan Didion’s The Year of Magical Thinking. In it she writes:
This will not be a story in which the death of the husband or wife becomes what amounts to the credit sequence for a new life, a catalyst for the discover that . . . “you can love more than one person.” Of course you can, but marriage is something different. Marriage is memory, marriage is time . . . Marriage is not only time: it is also, paradoxically, the denial of time. For forty years I saw myself through John’s eyes. I did not age.
This sense of marriage as something more, something singular and transformative, is echoed by the actor David Hyde Pierce, who recently said of his marriage to Brian Hargrove:
I felt transformed … We’d been together 26 years when we were legally allowed to get married in California. We went and did it, and we both agree it had a power, an importance to us in our lives that we can’t really put into words, but that is totally palpable and intrinsic to who we are.
Every marriage, gay or straight, begins with a proposal. But each one that we gays proffer now becomes the origin of a new ritual, our ritual, one that demonstrates for whoever cares to glance at our hands that we belong to each other and to a larger culture of humanity.
While we ponder rings, as we rightly should, we should also wonder at what they signify — a life both seen and unseen.
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